- Yesterday upon the stair
- I met a man who wasn't there.
- He wasn't there again today
- Oh how I wish he'd go away.
- -- William Hughes Mearns
This bit of doggerel - or a variation of it - was the basis for "The Yehudi Principle", a short story by Fredrick Brown. It's a cautionary tale, a sort of warning that tells you: You may think you know what's going on, and you may even think you can use that knowledge to shape the world. But the real world is stranger than you realize, and sooner or later, you're going to have to face the fact that Yehudi exists. He's the man who wasn't there... and he's not going away anytime soon.
Back when I was in high school, I had a job working at a local library. It was a dream job for a bibliophile, even if it didn't pay nearly as well as flipping burgers at McDonald's. I came out of those years with a love for odd books. While I was working there, though, there were a couple of books that really caught my attention. A Yiddish dictionary. The Foxfire series of books, documenting the ways and means of live in the back woods. Books on calculus, science, languages, religion, philosophy...
... and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
The Dictionary was a collection of things that weren't there, and which weren't going to go away any time soon. It details a thousand fanciful places from imagination and mythology: the land of Oz, Middle Earth, Prospero's island, Utopia, and more. As extensive as it is, the Dictionary was a finite resource, and left out some of those places that caught the imaginations of others. Many of those abandoned imaginings can now be found on the internet, as part of Wikipedia or a user-generated series of articles in an online Dictionary.
The Dictionary isn't the be-all and end-all of if you're interested in the imaginary, though. You can browse through Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy if you're interested in a more personal view of the critters that make up the fantasy realm. There, you can find details about Peter S. Beagle's unicorns or Stephen R. Donaldson's cavewights. If SF is more to your liking, you can spend time leafing through Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials to discover information about Niven's Puppeteers or Herbert's Guild Steersman; or you can spend time at Jeff Russel's Starship Dimensions web site to get an idea of just how big a Star Wars mythos Rancor is when compared to, oh, your average wet-behind-the-ears Jedi knight.
A less detailed, but more expansive book in the same category as the Dictionary is the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. As the title suggests, this volume covers a greater breadth of imagination. While the Dictionary restricts itself to imaginary, in the Encyclopedia, anything that never existed is fair game: people, places, weapons, ships, monsters, and more.
There we go. Six - no, seven - collections of things that were not there, never were there, and will probably never be there. Things that never were, and yet, like Yehudi, things that aren't going away anytime soon.