There are people in the world with life-stories that defy human imagination and expand our idea of what the human experience is like. And there are some people whose stories cross out of reality and into what reads a lot like a science fiction or fantasy epic. Take a look at the most fantastical tales that people have sold as memoirs.
10. Communion, by Whitley Strieber
This memoir by famous science fiction author Whitley Strieber (later made into a movie with Christopher Walken) is about how Strieber was kidnapped and - yes - anally probed by aliens as a child. As an adult, he has to deal with the fearful memories these experiences evoke, and puzzle out whether he was abducted by two different groups of aliens with different goals. Plus, it's possible they're back now for his son. To this day Strieber insists that Communion is a memoir, despite the fact that it reads exactly like one of his science fiction novels.
9. Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, by Monique de Wael
There are a disturbing number of false memoirs about the holocaust, but this one stands out. Not only does its author, 'Misha,' claim to have gone on 1,900 mile journey across Europe during war time, but she claimed to have lived with a pack of wolves. The fantasy implications in a magical relationship to animals are right there.
8. In His Image: The Cloning of a Man, by David Rorvik
Guess what this one's about. Published in 1978, the author still claims that this book is truthful.
7. Anna and the King of Siam, by Various People
This is not so much a single story as a suite of slightly different stories in a shared fantasy universe. The original stories, based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, are not entirely undisputed themselves. Leonowens was in the process of shedding her comfortable-but-not-upper-class background when she was at court. She was known to exaggerate certain facts, while keeping conveniently quiet about others. When Margaret Landon wrote a novel based on the diaries, she added love stories, and strange customs, and a despotic bent to the king. When the film and then the musical came out, the disparity grew - and the films were actually banned in Thailand for their inaccuracy. The overall universe builds to the great fantasy or sci-fi concepts of a single person visiting a strange and hostile land which bears no resemblance to anything in reality.
6. Mutant Message Down Under, by Marlo Morgan
A strange tribe, a long journey, surreal and supernatural happenings and a spiritual awakening; these are the ingredients for many a fantasy inspirational novel. They're also Marlo Morgan's travels with "The Real People," an Aboriginal tribe, across the Australian desert. The fact that no one has ever found evidence for this tribe, and that the Dumbartung Aboriginal Organisation has vocally dismissed the book as patronizing fiction, punctures the poignancy of this memoir. It has since been reclassified as fiction, and the author has written a sequel.
5. The works of Karl May, by Karl May
This German author went to his grave claiming he had had the adventures described in his books. This would have been difficult, considering he wrote under names such as, Capitan Ramon Diaz de la Escosura, Emma Pollmer, Prinz Muhamel Lautréamont, and most famously Old Shatterhand. Old Shatterhand was supposedly the name he got when he passed an 'Apache test' that consisted of tying him to a tree and leaving him with one hand free to fight off an attack. He did, with one punch. Ah, the glories of fiction. Karl May wove fiction and life interchangeably, telling fantastical tales of his heroics in Asia, America, Africa, and Europe. He also changed his reported religion when writing for certain journals, and added a fake doctorate when he needed to. His works became a sort of serialized scifi series, in which a protagonist travels to many different worlds and lives many different lives by changing places. His actual life wasn't as fluid. When he did travel to Asia, he had several nervous breakdowns when reality shattered his fantasies.
4. Cradle of the Deep, by Joan Lowell
A young woman is ripped from her comfortable life and taken in by a no-nonsense rogue trader. She is raised by his rag-tag crew, sees fantastic things, makes friends with special animals, and at last must shed her childhood and become an independent woman by breaking away from her circumstances and striking out on her own. Or, she spends a little over a year on a ship off the coast of California. Joan Lowell's 1929 memoir describes her life from infancy to the age of 17 on a trading ship that roamed the world. She grew up with an all-male crew, only seeing women when the ship came into harbors. At last, just as things may get metaphorically incestuous, the ship burns down. She jumps from the burning vessel and swims to a new island shore, with a family of kittens on her back. I don't care that it's fake - it's a good story.
3. Jihad!:The Secret War in Afghanistan, by Tom Carew
This book, published in September of 2001, became an instant bestseller after 9/11. The author was a former mercenary named Philip Sessarego who took the name of Tom Carew, and claimed to be a former SAS member who conducted behind-the-scenes operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s. His talk about training camps and intercepted Russian arms shipments could easily have made for a series of Bond novels. At first no one questioned his story, possibly because Sessarego faked his own death in the 1990s to avoid paying child support. But eventually a BBC reporter unmasked Carew as Sessaro, a merc who tried to be an SAS member, but failed the physical endurance test twice. There was no evidence that he took part in any of the operations he wrote about, though he had been part of several covert operations as a mercenary. When his fraud was revealed, he moved to Belgium and lived in a garage while working as a body guard at strip clubs. In a gruesome twist, he died of carbon monoxide inhalation in his garage home, and wasn't found for months. Police identified him using DNA samples.
2. Abel Fosdyk's Story, by Someone
In 1872, the Mary Celeste was found in the Atlantic. The ship was in good condition, with the sails up, and sailing for Gibraltar. With no crew. One lifeboat was missing, but otherwise there was no indication that anything was wrong with the ship. It was a great mystery until Abel Fosdyk's memoir was published in Strand Magazine in 1917. According to 'Fosdyk,' the crew of the Mary Celeste all managed to endure the earliest imaginable version of Shark Night 3D. Everyone on board was standing on a specially-made deck to watch a swim race, when suddenly vicious sharks ate the swimmers! And then the deck collapsed and the sharks ate the spectators! Luckily, Fosdyk somehow was tossed from the bloodied waters, land on a piece of the deck, and float unscathed to Africa. Sounds plausible, right? You won't be surprised to learn there was no Fosdyk on the ship's manifest.
1. Jay's Journal, by Beatrice Sparks
What fake memoir collection is complete without a little Satanism? Jay's Journal is the journal of a depressed youth who falls in with a Satanic cult. While some memoirs only delve into the depravity of the cult, this one brings in a full-on demon. 'Jay' is haunted by Raul, a demon he believes he called up, and eventually kills himself. This false memoir is based on real events. There are very strong allegations that Sparks took the diary of a teen who committed suicide because he was depressed, and who happened to have friends who dabbled (in a teenage way) in the occult, and spun it into a story about a kid involved with real Satanism. Sparks wrote another 'memoir,' Go Ask Alice, about a girl who died after she got into drugs. Each book starts out with a clean cut teenager encountering hippie-dippie philosophy. In one case it leads to a sort of Woodstock-hellscape of drug addiction and prostitution. In another, there is animal sacrifice, out-of-body experiences, and eventual hauntings. Both are considered to be more the author's version of a scared-straight story than based on actual fact. Unfortunately, the teenager that Jay's Journal was 'based on' was easily identified, and his family has been protesting the book ever since. This is one 'memoir' that the author should have published as fiction immediately.