Many of you will have heard of Nicolas Flamel, a late 14th/ early 15th century French Parisian alchemist. Except he wasn’t an alchemist, and was dreamt up as one in the 17th century, by a couple of Frenchmen who wanted an indigenous famous alchemist and give alchemy better historical depth than they thought it had.
Nevertheless, I am sure that lots of people will continue to think he was, going by vague memories of information picked up from various sources, such as the Harry Potter series.
Anyway, some of an interesting account of his life is available on google books:
It seems that Flamel was a scribe, married a richer older widow, used her money in a lifetime of cunning property based transactions (buying, renting out, selling) to amass an impressive fortune. Alchemy doesn’t come into it at all, for more information on that, see Nigel Wilkins book Nicolas Flamel Des livres et de l’or.
The problem is of course that the idea that Flamel was a genuine medieval alchemist is already well embedded, in popular and esoteric culture. I suggest that the best thing to be done is simply flood the culture and popular mind with real, good histories of alchemy, in which the Flamel myth is mentioned as appropriate as part of early 17th century cultural shenanigans. That way people will learn only the real history of alchemy.
I have read that evidence shows that repeating a falsehood and then debunking it tends to cement the falsehood in people’s minds as being true. (Naturally I don’t suffer from that…) Therefore often the best thing to do is just flood it out with better information about a topic, but without mentioning the actual falsehood, so next time someone thinks of knights on horseback, they think of charges or jousting, not of cranes and winches, which is a Victorian myth that might come from some comedy book.
That at least is the theory. Lacking a Murdochian control of the world’s media, it is unlikely that I’ll ever get to try it.