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Prester John: The True Story of Medieval Europe’s Favorite Fake Emperor

People tend to think of urban legends as a fully modern phenomenon, inextricably linked to 20th century ephemera like highway hitchhiking or teens being menaced at Makeout Creek. In point of fact, the subject matter isn’t what makes an urban legend, it’s the way the stories spread. We’re talking about stories transmitted primarily by word-of-mouth, reinforced by the implied trustworthiness of friend-of-a-friend corroboration.  Your cousin’s friend’s boss totally found an entire cow eyeball in his Big Mac, why would he lie about that? And why would a hundred generations of Europeans lie about the existence of a mighty Christian utopia ruled by an immortal priest-king?  The answer is that it’s…

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