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Urban Legends

19 Dec

We’ve all heard them, the stories that are alleged to have happened to a ‘friend of a friend’ of someone whom we know. Folklorists use the term ‘urban legend’ to describe such tales in order to distinguish them from traditional fairy tales from pre-industrial times, although the two story forms have much in common. Like any other story they have a cast of characters and a beginning, middle and end. They often serve as cautionary tales but are presented in a compelling format due to the utilisation of such elements as mystery, horror, fear and (often dark) humour. Nevertheless they are at heart still morality tales that depict someone acting in a disagreeable manner, only to wind up in trouble, hurt, or dead by way of comeuppance. Many urban legends depict horrific crimes or frightening supernatural occurrences e.g. the story of a woman killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo; the ‘kidney heist’ story of people being ambushed, anaesthetised, and waking up minus one kidney; and ‘The Death Car’ story, which is probably too gruesome to go into here. The existence of popular contemporary legends is compelling evidence that myths and folklore do not occur exclusively in so-called primitive or traditional societies and that there seems to be an in-built human need to terrify in order to educate. Two of the best examples of such urban legends are Bloody Mary and The Hook Man legend.

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