No. 53                                                                                                      December 2002

ISSN 1026-1001



Conference Abstracts

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By Véronique Campion-Vincent


Corner Brook Conference Call for Papers


Perspectives on Contemporary Legend 2002 – Conference Abstracts

Sheffield, UK



“‘From Sticks and Stones to Toilet Ghosts’:  An Examination of Story and Character Development in Children’s Pretend Play as They Progress Through School”

Armitage, Marc


    One of the strongest elements of children’s play that contributes to our adult memories and defining of ‘childhood’ is the imaginary and pretence play. Solitary and socio-dramatic role-play such as playing at schools, hospitals and even ‘mums and dads’ is instantly recognizable as part of the childhood experience. And yet there is a less well recognized and darker side to what Plato referred to as ‘the biggest menace that could ever inflict a state’. The pretend play of even very young children is full of elements such as kidnap, murder, death ... and worse.

    Much of this play within the school is based on the existence of a well known - and more importantly named - ghost-like character.  However, despite the fact that there are strong similarities in the detail and structure of this type of play around the world, the availability of research material on the characters, stories and the rituals associated with them is disappointingly low. What consistencies there are between the stories proves interesting in its self but in addition, "More recently psychologists' concern with such figures has been with the light they can shed on children's ability to distinguish systematically between fantasy and reality, … and therefore the role that fantasy plays in cognitive development." (Goldman 1998: 176).

    There seems to be an observable progression in the way that children use such figures in their play: in the early years of structured play episodes amongst groups of younger children (either at school or day-care centre) the play is almost exclusively connected with the use of natural materials in outside spaces, and character usage seems almost incidental; however, by the time children reach their middle years the characters are well developed, narrative takes over as the dominant play type, and the central figures have generally moved indoors.

    This paper is based on original fieldwork in the form of detailed case studies of children’s play at primary/elementary schools in the UK, Japan and the Scandinavian countries (the author has competed around 280 of these studies to date) and is supported by references to previous research. It examines the changes that take place in this type of play as children progress through school and examine what (if any) uses such play might hold within human development and conclude with the existence of the ‘toilet ghost’. This character, always female and always based principally in the same part of the school buildings, has been found to be well known in more than 70% of the schools studied.



“Contemporary Legend and the Folklife of Birders:  Revising Extinction in the Quest for the Ivory‑Billed Woodpecker”

Baldwin, Karen


    Once a bird of the American south, the Ivory‑billed Woodpecker is supposedly extinct, lost to the destruction of its old growth bottomland hardwood habitat. The Ivorybill never was a common species, but by the early 1900s it was one of the rarest in the United States. One of the last unquestionable Ivorybill documentations occurred in 1939 in a Louisiana forest owned and subsequently logged out by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. James Tanner, lead researcher in the Singer Tract expedition, estimated then that there were fewer than 25 species individuals remaining.

    Unverified, but credible, as well as highly questionable reports of Ivorybill sightings have continued since the 1930s. One most recent comes from a wild turkey hunter in the Pearl River WMA, Louisiana. The hunter reports having observed male and female Ivorybills feeding for 10 minutes within 30 feet of him. David Kulivan, the hunter, saw the birds on April 1, 1999. No joke. "All joking suddenly stops when we talk about the idea of spotting one of these things," comments John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.

    The natural history of the Ivorybill also describes the habitat of an Ivory‑bill‑centered legend complex (including a scientific expedition analogous to legend‑tripping) reactivated among birders since Kulivan's encounter. This paper describes and analyses the significance of current narrative revisions of the Ivorybill's extinction, noting a range of personal experience reports, and relating birders' "sightings," as expressive narrative forms, to other folkloric features of birder culture.

    Such sightings as Kulivan's are referred to in the news media with a vocabulary of "disbelief"‑ having seen the "ghost bird" of the swamp, like sighting Bigfoot, UFOs, or Elvis. Indeed, the locale of the recent sightings is also home to the Honey Island Swamp monster, a hirsute humanoid, and Feufolay, a green mist presence in the riverine wetlands of the lower Pearl River. The rejuvenation of efforts to locate what may be a remnant few Ivorybill individuals, the sighting narratives, and the appearance of iconographic items‑body tattoos and shirt emblems‑are all part of the Ivorybill‑centered complex of expressive forms in birder culture, which is then contextualized within the broader reach of legend ideas about crypto‑zoological and folkloric creatures held by hunters and other denizens of southern swamps.



“Of Monsters and Other Cops:  Rumour and Contemporary Legend Among a Homeless Youth Community in Downtown Toronto

Bodner, John M.


    This presentation is concerned with a small number of narratives and proto-narratives of police brutality that are circulated among a group of street kids in downtown Toronto.  The corpus of tales generally focuses on an individual kidnapped by police, taken to a deserted location and severely beaten or killed.  Their short length, reportage style of delivery and vague information on the time and people involved, characterizes the narratives.  While these attributes are hallmarks of contemporary legends, it is necessary to understand that, like Eleanor Wachs’ collection of many New York City crime victim stories, these tales are based on actual historic events.  While these instances are separated in both space and time from my informants (sometimes by thirty years) the narrators localize the events, creating a sense of intimacy and highlighting the immanent threat to the listeners. 

My presentation will be broken down into three main areas.  The first will locate these narratives in their ethnographic context.   I will argue that the chief reason for the generation and maintenance of this narrative tradition is the relationship between street kids and the various agents of state power.  It is not reductionary to note that these narratives are a response to the massive power disparities between the police and street youth.  The situation was heightened during my fieldwork by the passing Bill 64, commonly known as the “Safe Streets Act.”  This law gave police increased powers to arrest and fine individuals engaged in “aggressive” panhandling or squeegeeing.  Street kids viewed the law as a criminalization of their economic activities and an invitation to increased policing of all aspects of their lives.  Within this context, narratives of arbitrary, systematic or chaotic abuses of power responded to, and reinforced the community’s fear. 

The second part of my talk will address the relationship between rumor and contemporary legend.  Following Gary Alan Fine I will argue that there is a great deal of overlap between rumor and contemporary legends; both act to secure interpretations of events, expound moral positions and outline group boundaries and norms (1997).  Looking at samples of narratives in performance I will argue that there is a continuum between the two forms.  In order to determine street kids generic distinctions I will argue that esoteric genre distinctions are primarily based on performance and rhetoric rather than text and/or content.  Finally, my presentation will suggest that the study of contemporary legends and rumors, when located within their ethnographic context, allows investigation of knowledge production as an exercise in power and control.



“The Invisible Field-worker:  Contemporary Legend Research on Usenet

Burger, Peter


    The Internet and, specifically, Usenet, is still a relatively unexplored field for contemporary legend research. Some folklorists even seem to doubt that it is worth studying at all. Recently, Linda Dégh, in Legend and belief (2001), dismissed on-line legend telling as an activity for the socially challenged, wondering whether 'chat-group members will eventually come to the point of leaving the safety of their homes and entering real relationships […]' (115). Looking at legends on the Internet, Dégh states: 'Many old legends appear in regenerated forms, but so far no continuity has captured the attention of folklorists. And without continuity and the formation of conduits, these stories succumb quickly.' (126)

    Less skeptical, in an early paper on the subject Ingo Schneider (1996) urged folklorists to study legend telling on the Internet, but suggested as a major problem the anonymity of the tellers and the consequent lack of context for their narratives.

    Finally, considering the influence of the Internet on contemporary legends, Jan Brunvand noticed a shift towards the ever more rapid circulation of legends in cyberspace. In his Encyclopedia of Urban Legends Brunvand calls it 'the vanishing (or at least the decline) of oral-traditional urban legends' (2001:xxxiii).

    In contrast, focusing on Usenet threads featuring contemporary legends rather than on individual postings, I will argue that virtual legend telling sessions are as real and as much part of a chain of tradition as off-line ones. Besides, they offer folklorists the possibility of unobtrusively collecting and studying the legends and their context - the primary context being the newsgroup in which they are told.

    This new potential for 'invisible fieldwork' raises questions of interpretation (how does one deal with the pseudonymity that is the norm in many parts of Usenet?) and ethics (should fair use be our only restriction in quoting from Usenet postings?). The collected material illustrates the boundary-testing nature of the contemporary legend genre, but shows new characteristics as well, stemming from a medium that encourages its users to mingle features of oral and written discourse with genuinely new expressive possibilities offered by computer-mediated communication (Crystal 2001).

    Finally, the Internet does seem to raise the consciousness of contemporary legend as a genre, but this does not diminish its appeal on the tellers.



“Phantom Soldiers, Angel Helpers, and Barbarella

Burke, Carol


    Whether they are from the same branch of the service, the same subspeciality, or the same company, members of the armed services recycle the repertoire of their immediate predecessors and invent new stories to fit their immediate circumstances.  They pass along legends glorious and inglorious from soldier to soldier, from unit to unit, and from war to war: stories of bullets deflected by Bibles, dogtags, and amulets; of battlefield ghosts, and of crazed combat soldiers.  These legends deal in the marvelous and the uncanny.  The tellers claim authenticity for the events they narrate and demand credence from their auditors.  The legends of preternatural visitations, undeserved luck, and unforeseen misfortune are located in historical (as opposed to mythic) time, and involve strange events which occurred to someone just like them, just over the horizon of this hill, this battle, this war.

    Every war produces its share of angel helper stories.  In the typical story an older soldier helps a younger struggling soldier, one too tired or too wounded to keep up with his fellow retreating buddies.  Upon waking the next morning, eager to thank his rescuer, the young soldier finds that the one who helped him back to friendly lines never existed or was someone who had himself died in combat months or years before.  Phantom soldiers fight in every war.  The spirits of downed pilots repeat their distress calls on the anniversary of their death.  In one Vietnam account an army combat soldier fights valorously until one day when he sees himself in VC clothing stalking through the bushes.  Such radical ambivalence marks the end of his tour of duty.

    The Vietnam War, more than any other, produced a constellation of lore associated with the return home.  An account often told to sum up the returning vet, his sacrifices unacknowledged, his heroism unhailed by an American population fed up with the war, is the spat upon story.  The war‑weary soldier, so many accounts go, taxis into the gate, deplanes, but as he walks across the tarmac, instead of hearing the cheers and bands that welcomed his predecessors, he walks through a jeering crowd one of whom spits on him.  Although the account defies reality (how many troop transport planes flew into commercial airports?) it is always told seriously.  This story epitomized for many the terrible irony of the war.  But such a story predates Vietnam.  It was told about Korean vets whose pain and hardship seemed to many stateside to have been for little. The story penetrated popular culture as well.  In the fifties film, “Shock Corridor,” a journalist going undercover in an insane asylum tells a first‑person version of this story in order to ensure his disguise as a shell‑shocked Korean vet.

    Stories of unappreciative civilians spitting on veterans, of soldiers returning home from Vietnam early, only to be shot by their fathers suspecting them intruders, of extraordinary draft evasion attempts that failed, even those of crazed combat soldiers fashioning necklaces from the ears of the enemy, these stories and many more constitute the legendary repertoire of Vietnam.  Although the Vietnam era legends circulated during the war and into the 1980Æs, most now rest dormant.  Most, but not all.

    A few legends, particularly those dealing with American prisoners of war, continue to circulate widely among active duty and veteran chat rooms on the internet.  Despite repeated and public attempts to repudiate these legends, they, nevertheless persist.  This paper examines why a handful of thirty‑year‑old legends peculiar to Vietnam thrive today.



“The Silver Jubilee of the Foaf”

Dale, Rodney A.M.


    This paper is proposed as much as an examination as an exposition. It is an attempt to look at the mechanisms of the history of the Urban Legend (UL) as well as at the ULs themselves. In examining my affaire with the UL as we celebrate its Silver Jubilee, I want to look at the interaction between me and the emergence of the genre.

    Like many other people, I had noted the existence of the UL long before it was named and for me it emerged not as the UL, or the Modern Myth, but as the Whale-Tumor Story, or WTS (for reasons that I’ll explain), a heading under which I still mark and file examples.

I will also recount the development of the idea into the book (books) and look at some of the archetypal stories that emerged. I will look at the provenance of some of the stories, with particular reference to any that were, or came to be, true. And, en passant, I will look at the technique of foaftale embroidery, and my experience of the birth of foaftales.

    As I do so, I hope also that, for the record, we might be able to establish a chronology of events in those early days, placing in context the first Sheffield Conference to which I was invited, using Kipling’s “Six Honest Serving-men,” and would ask participants to note any memories that will help with the task. Where, in Sheffield, was the conference held? What was the origin of the Department that spawned it? Who were the speakers, who invited them, how were they identified? Some of the answers are well known; some more obscure or completely forgotten. But perhaps the most important question is: what was the morphic resonance that determined that I, and Jan Harold Brunvand, and many others, were all inspired to work on WTSs at the same time?

    Being an acronymist, the word foaf came naturally to me, delightful with its clodhopping connotations. But who was the genius who recognized the homophony between ëfoaftaleí and ëfolktaleí? He or she should be honored, and I hope that this Conference will identify whoever it was.



“The Roots of ‘Perspectives on Contemporary Legend’:  ‘Urban Myths’ in the 1960 Rhodes-Livingstone Institute for Social Research Conference”

Ellis, Bill


    Critics of the “contemporary legend” scholarship of the 1980s have commented on how key figures like Gillian Bennett, W.F.H. Nicolaisen, Paul Smith, and myself found it difficult to define key terms and concepts.  Response has ranged from dismissive (Alan Dundes, Heda Jason) to combative (Linda Dégh), while other scholars like Gary Alan Fine and Patricia Turner have dropped use of “legend” to rely on sociological research on “rumor” to interpret similar material.  The inconclusive nature of this research, and the reluctance of scholars to build on it, could lead one to believe that these earlier meetings, however exhilarating for those participating, were quixotic in more ways than one.

    On the twentieth anniversary of the first of these conferences, I would like to put these theoretical tangles into perspective by comparing these early insights with similar difficulties encountered twenty-two years earlier by participants in the 14th Conference of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute for Social Research in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).  This conference, held in 1960 at the beginning of the African nationalist movement, brought together a group of European scholars to discuss the theme “Myth in Modern Africa.”  The proceedings, now recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary as containing the first known uses of the phrases “modern myth” and “urban myth,” should be better known to legend and rumor scholars, as the material discussed focuses on familiar kinds of emergent narratives, particularly those with political implications.

    My paper will note the continuities between the active discussion among participants at the 1960 meeting and themes that emerged among the Sheffield participants during the 1980s.  Particularly interesting is the way in which they (and we) argued over the exact bounds of what should and should not be part of our discussion.  I will survey the topics proposed as “modern myths” (which ranged widely from Europeans’ and Africans’ misconceptions of the Other’s habits to the well-known “Body-Parts Theft” legend) along with the definitions and theories proposed to handle them.

    I suggest that the early Sheffield Seminars were right to raise these and similar issues again, this time using the term “legend,” and that legend scholarship as a result can describe such cultural material more accurately than conventional sociological concepts of “rumor” and “truth claim”.  Prof. M. Wilson, in summing up the discussion, commented:

One last point that I would mention is that it seems that myth has been equated with ignorance.  The implication is that with knowledge myth would disappear.  But I think that it is one of the characteristics of a lively myth that it will continue beside the facts, and that the demonstration of its falsity does not destroy it (152).

Twenty years after the first Sheffield Seminar and 42 years after the Rhodes-Livingston Conference, the “lively” nature of our quarry continues to draw us on, in spite of its elusiveness –indeed, perhaps because of it.



“Memorates As Legends of Fate in Immigrants' Stories:  ‘Russians’ in Israel and Their Experience”

Fialkova, Larisa & Yelenevskaya, Maria N.


    The material presented in this paper comprises personal narratives of our contemporaries, secular urban dwellers. Since religion carries little weight with our subjects, they don't look for signs of divine intervention when confronted with the extraordinary. But when they cannot find a rational explanation for some events or phenomena, they tend to attribute them to Fate. Some of the narrators refrain from interpretations of extraordinary coincidences, or unexpected turns of events, others seek to grasp their meaning and decipher the message. But irrespective of whether the storytellers are inclined to reflection or not, they all reveal that events they describe have had an important impact on their life. Life in a new country is far less predictable than at home, the unfamiliar often inspires wonder, and some of the interviewees view their immigrant experiences as overriding the normal pattern of events.

    The paper is based on 120 in‑depth interviews with 134 subjects. All our informants immigrated in the 1990s, and integration in the new society is an important and often difficult issue for them. Among the interviewees there are Jews and non‑Jewish spouses and family members, mostly ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. All the interviews except one, which is in Hebrew, were conducted in Russian, the native language of the interviewees and interviewers (approximately 80 hours of recording, transcribed in full).



“Legends and Tourism:  The Case of Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh”

Fraser, Joy


    Mary King’s Close is one of Edinburgh’s most famous, and most legendary, thoroughfares.  Named after one of its seventeenth-century inhabitants, local tradition has it that the Close was sealed off during a devastating outbreak of plague in the city in 1645, with its occupants (sick and healthy alike) left trapped inside to die.  Unsurprisingly, the Close has since developed a reputation as one of “the most haunted place[s] in Edinburgh” (Wilson et al 2), attracting a number of supernatural legends which focus largely, though not exclusively, on the spirits of the plague victims who died there.  Its mystique has been enhanced by the fact that a section of the Close, which was partially destroyed by fire in 1750, was later incorporated into the foundations of what is now the headquarters of the City of Edinburgh Council, built between 1753 and 1761.  The subsequent subterraneity of this section, the only part of the Close to survive into the twentieth century, has led to its incorporation into a wider legend tradition concerning the existence of an “underground city” beneath the Edinburgh streets.

    In the early 1990s, the Close was given a second life as a visitor attraction, when the Council began offering occasional tours of the site, guided by volunteers from among its employees.  The Close was opened to visitors on a regular basis in 1997, when the Council awarded a contract for conducting tours of the site to a private company, Mercat Tours, already well-established as a ghost tour operator in the city.  Mercat has continued to operate daily, year-round tours of the site until the present day.  The opening of the Close to visitors has resulted in the growth of a new body of legendry pertaining to the site, and in the widespread dissemination of its haunted reputation, including national and international media coverage. 

    Despite the Close’s growing popularity, to date no substantial physical alterations have been made to make it more attractive or accessible; the Close as it exists today is “eerily bare” (Puttick 4), and the interpretation of the site to its visitors takes place almost entirely through the oral narration of the individual tour guides.  In January 2002, however, the Council awarded York-based company The Continuum Group a lucrative ten-year contract to “transform [the Close] into one of Scotland’s leading tourist attractions” (O’Donnell 9).  Though Continuum has as yet released few details concerning its plans for the site, the company, which operates a number of successful heritage attractions in the UK and beyond, is expected “to use the latest multimedia technology to bring the past back to life” (Puttick 4).  Prompted by news of this development, this paper uses the case of Mary King’s Close to explore the relationship between legends and tourism.  I survey existing legendry pertaining to the site, examine the influence of its new role as a visitor attraction on the legends and their transmission, and speculate on the possible implications of its impending redevelopment for its interpretation to visitors and to the public at large.



“Same Stories, Different Histories:  Rumor and Contemporary Legends”

Froissart, Pascal


    Rumor theories and folklore researches share the same time of emergence in the social sciences history: the end of xixth century. But their “career” start to diverge rapidly. Why and how? That’s the point of this presentation.

    The concept of rumor seems to be born out of the “forensic psychology”, when it was redefined as a “series of testimonies” (Bernheim, 1889). Before, rumor has another acceptation. Rumor and legends, fama or reputation, were similar in their linguistic use and meaning.

    The semantic evolution has been actually very slow and diffuse, but the year 1902 is a turning point: then, the rumor acquires the status of a measurable phenomenon. Why 1902? Because it’s the first time ever a paper is written to describe an “experimental protocol”. A renown psychologist, L. William Stern, is the author, but he doesn’t notice the significance of its work and abandons it as soon as he raises it up. His paper however is wide diffused and commented in the German scientific literature (by Jung in particular), in France (Binet’s school) or Great-Britain (Hart, Bartlett).

One of Stern’s scholars is an American student, which makes somewhat postdoctoral stay in his laboratory, before going to Bartlett’s one. The name of this scholar is important for the history of the concept of the rumor: Gordon W. Allport. He will write the famous post‑wwii Psychology of rumor, after he has worked for psychological units in the us Army. And the book will put in the light a concept who was not dedicated to.

    The concept of rumor is actually defined by its materiality: in a global way, rumors are stories that are diffused by mass-media’s. But the stories that are bosom of rumor are similar to the ones’ folklorists and ethnologists knew well before. Then the meeting between rumor theories and folklore researches was inevitable. Since the 1980’s the debate is raging. For example, both rumor theorists and folklore researchers are confronted with the problem of centralization of the material they collect: how far Brunvand’s works are diffusing the stories they try to debug? The history of concept is one of the keys to understand the different pathways the two concepts have followed, and may be one of the ways to re-harmonize it…



A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: the Proliferation and Suppression of Foreknowledge Legends in Times of Terror

Goldstein, Diane E.


    This paper explores issues of self‑censorship, narrative suppression and untellability, through an exploration of rumors and legends which circulated in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, in reaction to the events of September 11th 2001.  The paper will focus on the importance of, and problems with, the analysis of stories NOT told, especially in the context of intense fear and suspicion.  Using Labov's notion of tellability, the reverse concept of untellability, and recent work on the use of master narratives to fill interstitial gaps in the un‑narratable, this paper will explore present and absent themes by contrasting September 11th rumors with other similar narratives of disaster, war and terrorism.

    Times of domestic or international crisis typically spark a proliferation of contemporary legends and rumors, many of which have received widespread attention and documentation.   During WWII, rumors got so out of hand that the United States and Canadian governments created rumor management clinics to prevent inflammatory stories from gaining credibility (Turner 1993).  The tragic events of September 11th were no different, resulting in the on‑line archiving and publication of large numbers of rumors and legends about terrorism and related issues.  While the rumors and legends associated with September 11th are numerous and varied, a remarkable percentage (I would estimate conservatively 60%) of the collected narratives from Canada, the US and the UK, focus on the theme of foreknowledge.  While the most widely circulated foreknowledge narrative features a grateful Middle Eastern stranger who warns someone to "stay out of the malls on Halloween" or "not to travel the tube in London on a certain date" other  motifs are similarly prophetic; large numbers of Israeli WTC employees said to call in sick on September 11, magazines said to feature words such as Pilot, Terror and Allah in their crossword puzzle that day, and numerous narratives about pre‑event artistic renderings of the New York skyline without the twin towers. The foreknowledge motif is so significant in "911" rumor tradition that it has also been self‑consciously elaborated in numerous terrorism jokes. 

    Foreknowledge and coincidence narratives typically attach themselves to disasters; but generally in celebration of lucky or miraculous prophetic escapes (like those who missed boarding the Titanic).  Prophetic and coincidence narratives found in the rumor and legend collections concerning September 11 are not celebratory; they imply guilt.   The correlation of foreknowledge with guilt creates an implication of blame and conspiracy in the very same narrative motifs which were positive reflections during other disasters.  This paper will argue that the knowledge equals guilt equation results in the suppression of certain types of narratives and the proliferation of other types, negating the potential for certain empowerment themes crucial to the restoration of equilibrium following disastrous events.  Based on interviews with members of one church who deliberately suppressed a circulating miracle narrative concerning narrow escapes on September 11 because of fear of the implication of guilt, textual and contextual information on the collected rumors, and contrasts with other disaster rumor collections; this paper will try to suggest both method and potential for the analysis of the un‑narrated.  The paper will also examine the general theme of the untellable in relation to post 9/11 events.



“The Falklands Veteran and the Grateful Arab:  Government Politics and Legend”

Hobbs, Sandy


    Brunvand's, A Type Index of Urban Legends (The Baby Train, 1993), includes as category Eight, "Legends about Government". Under this heading there are five sub‑categories: Inefficiency, Conspiracy, Science versus Religion, Military and Wartime Legends, and Miscellaneous.

    This paper will draw on rumors, rumor legends and related lore circulating in the British Isles from the 1960s until the present day. This material will be reviewed for the light it throws on the appropriateness or otherwise of Brunvand's category and its subcategories. The differing psychological functions such stories may perform will be considered. Particular stress will be laid on interstitiality and ambiguity.

    It will be proposed that a different category to be termed "political legends" may be helpful in illuminating the significance of these types of contemporary folklore.



"The Terror Tale: Contemporary Legends and The Slasher Film"

Koven, Mikel J.


    Mark Kermode begins his documentary film about the slasher genre, Scream and Scream Again ‑ A History of the Slasher Film (Andrew Abbott and Russell Leven, 2000), with a comparison between the slasher film and the contemporary legend known as "The Hook." According to Kermode, "The Hook" works as a morality archetype for the entire slasher phenomenon: the young couple are threatened specifically because they have strayed from the moral path (by engaging in sexual activity), but are ultimately saved from certain death because their adolescent sexuality did not get the better of them. Within this documentary film, and following Kermode's introduction, is a montage retelling of this legend by a variety of horror movie filmmakers including Wes Craven, William Lustig, Sean Cunningham, John McNaughton, and Tobe Hooper; each filmmaker relates a sentence or two of the story. Kermode concludes this sequence by noting that "The Hook" had a direct influence on slasher films like Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), when fused with previous films about psychotic killers like Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974).  But it is a single comment by Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974), which got me thinking directly about the connection between the slasher film and contemporary legends: Hooper notes that the enduring power of both these films and these legends is their "close call with death." In many contemporary legends, as well as films, about psycho killers, the protagonists survive; they met death (consciously or unawares as in the case of "The Hook") and lived to tell about it. That experience of surviving the maniac's rampage is, in Vera Dika's morphology of the slasher film, what she notes as the concluding structural facet, "the heroine is not free" (Dika, 60). Surviving a slasher movie, just like surviving a contemporary legend, scars the narrative's protagonists at the point of diegetic closure.

    This study examines the narrative structure of the slasher film, with particular attention to its relation to contemporary orally circulated stories (contemporary legends). Although contemporary legends have directly inspired some slasher films (When a Stranger Calls (Fred Walton, 1979) or Urban Legend (Jamie Blanks, 1998) for example), most utilize a narrative structure analogous to this kind of modern folklore. In addition, this study seeks to problematize both the legends' and films' overtly content‑derived taxonomies through a morphological consideration, including the issue of the film/story's affect.



“Chocolates as an Aphrodisiac:  Are Green M and M ® Randy Candy?”

MacGregor, Robert M.



    Perhaps the earliest discussion of chocolate’s aphrodisiac properties was written in 1570-1572 by Francisco Hernández, a royal physician and naturalist to Philip II of Spain.  Stubbes (1682) in England and Gudenfridi (1680) in Italy also wrote about chocolate as an aphrodisiac.  The legends, the myths, surrounding this seed, in a European context, have been passed down through the generations for over four hundred years.

    In the 1970's green M and M’s were reportedly being hoarded by college students to feed them to the individuals of their sexual desires.  The green candies were believed to possess aphrodisiac powers.  In 1976, when the American Food and Drug Administration banned the use of red dye number 2 another related rumor spread.  This time with the banning of the red dye it was believed that red M and M’s were such a powerful aphrodisiac that Mars Company employees had stolen all red M and M’s off the production on line and kept these candies for their own use.

    In early 1990's, a California lawyer, and entrepreneur, Wendy Jaffe cashed in on the legend and started a company called Cool Chocolates Inc.  Her only product was a green M and M-like chocolate candy named “The Green One.”  Mars Company, manufacturer of M and M’s successfully sued Ms. Jaffee for trademark infringement.  She changed her product’s name to “Greenies” and continued to use her main selling point “Greenies, They make you horny.”

    The debate about chocolate, and green M and M’s abated.  Then, 1997 Mars launched the female trade character, GREEN, as a sex symbol.  Since 1997 continuing into year 2002, there flowed a steady stream of advertisements about sex, sexiness, sexual desire and double entendre innuendoes about M and M’s and Ms. Green.  One of the recent slogans asked “What Is It About the Green Ones?”

    Initially the paper will discuss historical factors in this debate, does chocolate stimulate sexual desire and prowess.  Green as a symbolic color, fertility, Mother Earth, regeneration, for example, will also be mentioned.

    Additionally, the presentation will explore the use of the anthropomorphized GREEN trade character.  The discussion of Ms. GREEN will be grounded in Dégh’s (1994) work on magical and other trade characters used by advertisers.  In 2002, the M and M. GREEN sex symbol can now be found on various computer web-sites as an urban legend.



“Tales That Wagged the Dog

McConnell, Brian


    I would like to respectfully offer a paper for the July conference on the historic basis of the legends from Dulwich, London, home of Dulwich College, the public school founded (1619) by Edward Alleyn (1566-1626) the Lord of the manor and Shakespearean actor, which taught or provided the attached list of illuminati with legends galore.

    (1). From that time until today, scholars have been steeped in the legends which include that Alleyn was nothing but a drunken Bankside brothel keeper who, while playing in Marlowe’s Faustus saw one Devil too many, flung a pot of paint at the phantom, then bought all Dulwich and swore to devote the rest of his life to charity, the school, almshouses and residences in the surrounding estate.  Quite apart from the legend-bearing pupils (1), Dulwich was the watering place for writers, poets and others who stopped off for boozy Sunday lunches at nearby Sydenham.

    (2). Thirdly, Dulwich is the home of “The Dog,” affectionate name for the Crown and Greyound in Dulwich Village, still a regular nightly stopping off place for “one last drink” for suburban-to-city commuters and who have received and transmitted yet another seemingly never ending catalogue of legends and (3) proof of the perpetual interchange of legends to and from literature and verbal transmission.

    List 1. Home of scholars who include authors P.G. Woodehouse, Raymond Chandler, Dennis Wheatley, lawyers attorney-general Hartley Shawcross, Old Bailey judge Melford Stevenson, heroes including seven holders of the Victoria Cross, etc.

    List 2 includes poets Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Leigh Hunt, the editors of the scurrilous Tory weekly John Bull and the monthly illustrated Mirror.  They were among other things broadcasters of the sensational “facts” behind the later aborted George the Third divorce action against Queen Caroline, and the ten year abandoned corruption trial against Warren Hastings, the Indian colonist.  Both defendant’s lawyers were Dulwich residents and providers of much of the journalistic material.

    List 3 deals with people like Prof. Eysenck, more recently resident and psychologist, who put me on the trail of the insomniac detective who committed a murder and investigated it himself.



“To Believe or Not to Believe:  The Crop Circle Phenomenon in the Netherlands”

Meder, Theo


    It all started in the south of England in the 1980s: circles appeared in the crops. In due time the forms changed from plain circles to intricate pictograms and ‑ today ‑ even matrix print‑like figures. The belief in an extraterrestrial explanation grew. After a few years two trickster artists confessed they had created the crop circles, but a considerable number of people argued that this elderly duo could not have made them all. If such crop circles were not made by man, who or what did create them and to what purpose? Do these forms contain a message of some kind? Questions like these gave rise to speculations and tales, not only in England, but in the Netherlands as well, since these circles turned up in our crops (and grass, snow and ice) in the 1990s.

    Sixteen formations have been reported for the Netherlands in 2001. The crop circle found in Lelystad was considered an obvious hoax, even by the so‑called 'crop circle researchers' who tend to believe in extraterrestrial, supernatural or ecological causes. In a 'real' formation in Stadskanaal, though, strange phenomena occurred. Most Dutchmen think nothing of it ‑ at best they may be briefly charmed by the mystery, but they tend to believe in a human (perhaps meteorological) origin of crop circles. As far as most farmers are concerned, crop circles are a plain nuisance. Journalists write their stories on crop circles during the silly season, and tourists visit the formations during the holidays. A genuine ideological battle is fought out, though, between the 'sceptics' and the 'believers'. For the first group, crop circle stories are just contemporary legends, for the latter the tales have a function as exempla to strengthen their spiritual New Age convictions. Their most recent theory is that crop circles are created by Balls of Light ‑ luminescent phenomena that man has seen for ages.

    For a specific group of people, crop circles are part of a holistic cosmology in which ufo's, alien abductions, ley lines, energy, spiritual dimensions and even reincarnation find their place. In their view, ancient civilizations possessed the knowledge of the aliens who once created man, and who were considered to be gods. These divine aliens are about to return to earth, perhaps in the year 2012. The crop circles are to be read as signs ‑ not by our minds, but by our subconscious. Crop circle tales are certainly contemporary and are considered to be legends by many. More than the average 'Mexican Pet' or 'Runaway Grandmother' story, for a specific group of narrators they are part of an elaborate belief system ‑ a modern faith even. In matters of religion, of course, ethnologists should not distinguish between true or false, between faith or superstition. What really matters here are the human interpretations of forms and phenomena, the mental constructions and their roots in traditional folklore.



“Legend Cycles in Contemporary Catholic Malta”

Mifsud-Chircop, George


    Catholicism in pre‑1960 Malta is heavily colored by folk beliefs and superstitions. The Maltese population is made up of a majority of practicing Catholics. Legend cycles are still very popular. They are regarded by some as a social force in the Maltese Islands. 

Legends have many points in common. The various repertoires under examination are not necessarily representative of the entire spectrum of contemporary narrative in Malta; we still encounter a myriad of anecdotes, ghost stories, urban and rumor legends, memorata and, though painstakingly encountered, Märchen. My repertoires have been selected to prove that legends focus on the combined study of the narrative and its context in the social and cultural life of the natives, in the Malta case highlighting the significance of Catholic cultural identity. 

    Maltese legends encapsulate traditional themes, although the geographical setting is relatively extant.  Narrators, expressing and asserting their links with the past, communicate the attitude of their forebears. Simultaneously they make indirect statements of their sense of cultural identity, mainly featuring a defense of the Catholic faith as one’s own set of primary values. This ranges from divine punishment against the community to divine help, support and intervention. Stories assert the rectitude of the Catholic faith.  Contemporary Maltese society is aware of the significance of its legendary lore as cultural artifacts.     

    These legends are largely historical, at times related to some true story. They are time honored narratives originating from among the common people, only to be defined as a projection of a strong sense of cultural identity, giving voice to a strain of popular thought. In general they are believed by the people who relate them, though there are varying degrees of belief. They have a strong basic story‑appeal.  These are generally reported with a sense of communal guilt or glory depending upon the narrator’s beliefs that there is a higher power that can be invoked to punish or to support, feeling that punishment/support is, in fact, deserving, founded on actual belief and have a meaningful moral. Largely narrated in the colonial era, they do not evince a critical outlook on attitudes. However, when narrated in the post‑colonial era they bear a critical outlook on whoever (dis)avows Catholic practice or religion. A good number of them are characterized by supernatural components that cannot be explained by objective observation, the reason why some of these legends undergo cycles of resurgence to educate the people, inform them about important facts, and arm them against danger within their own cultural environment.



“Folk Practice and Literary Inscription:  Theorizing Contemporary Legend, Rumor/Gossip, and Fear”

Preston, Cathy Lynn


    "Here we don't die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think," Murry Jay Siskind explains to Jack Gladney early in Don DeLillo's novel White Noise, a delightful tour de force of consumerism, fear, and folk belief in postmodern America. Jack Gladney is chair of the Department of Hitler Studies at a small mid‑western college. Murry Siskind, an ex‑sportswriter, and now visiting lecturer on living icons, at the same college, wants to do for Elvis studies what Jack has done for Hitler studies.

    For this paper, I will pull into the same frame of reference DeLillo's novel White Noise and Peter Stromberg's essay "Elivs Alive?: The Ideology of American Consumerism" (Contemporary Legend: A Reader, eds. Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith, 1996) in order to discuss what Brian Massumi has called the "consequences of saturation of social space by fear" (The Politics of Everyday Fear, 1993). My focus will be on folk belief, rumor/gossip, and contemporary legend in relation to fear as theorized within folkloristics and popular culture studies and as inscribed in literature.



“The Miller’s Tomb:  How to Get Yourself Talked About for 200 Years”

Simpson, Jacqueline


    In the late 18th century John Oliver (Or Olliver), who worked a mill on Highdown Hill (near Worthing, Sussex), persuaded the owner of the land to let him build himself a tomb on the crest of the hill, which has wide views both towards the coast and inland.  He would visit it regularly, and wrote pious poems about it.  He died in 1793 and had a theatrically unorthodox funeral, described mockingly in the contemporary press.

    The tomb, with associated summer-house, etc., became a popular beauty spot in the early 19th century and was publicized as a place for the gentry to go for picnics and to admire the view.  Publicity material at this stage stresses Oliver’s piety rather than his eccentricity.

Gradually an alternative interpretation emerges, which becomes dominant in 20th century oral tradition:  that the miller’s piety was a sham, and he was really a rogue assisting smugglers by letting them use the empty tomb to hide contraband, and by signaling to them from his mill.  Oral tradition also stresses his eccentricity, and claims that he arranged to be buried head downwards, in expectation of the world being turned upside down at Doomsday.  This is certainly not true, but links up with a true account of another person’s funeral in Surrey in the 1880s.  Standard-type stories of haunting, buried treasure, etc. are also now told about the tomb.

    Arguments over the Miller’s true personality and purposes still occasionally get aired in the local press.  Descendants still live in the area, some of whom try to defend his memory.  The public in general, and the journalists, prefer the “clever rogue” and /or “crazy” interpretations.



“Teaching Folklore 3612:  Urban Legend”

Smith, Paul


    During the course of conversations with relatives, friends, and colleagues, we are often told stories about events which allegedly happened to a “friend of a friend” of theirs.  Many of these stories are, of course, true.  However, a proportion appears to be what are now recognized as urban legends.

    Urban legends (alternatively described as contemporary, modern or belief, legends or myths) are short and highly mutable traditional narratives, or digests of narratives, which have no definitive texts, formulaic openings or closings, or artistically developed form, and so their traditional nature is not always immediately apparent.  When communicated orally, they exist primarily as an informal conversational form, although they are also to be found embedded in other types of discourse (e.g. joke, memorate, rumor, personal experience narrative, etc.), and in diverse settings–ranging from news reports to after-dinner speeches.  They are also frequently disseminated through the mass media, novels and short stories, by E-mail, FAX and photocopier, and so have a wide international circulation.

    Urban legends are primarily non-supernatural, secular narratives which are set in the real world.  Told as if they happened recently, they focus on ordinary individuals in familiar places, and portray situations which are perceived as important by the narrators and listeners alike, and which they may have experienced, are currently experiencing, or could possibly experience.  As such, they describe plausible, mundane, ordinary experiences and events, although often with an unusual twist.  This mundaneness gives urban legends a unique quality which sets them apart from other forms of legend.  Furthermore, urban legends emerge out of social contexts and interactions, and comment on culturally proscribed behavior.  Such tales have been reported world-wide and their proliferation stands as a testament to their relevance in our society today (Ellis 1997; Smith 1997).

    Over the past decade a growing interest has developed in incorporating the study of urban legends into the teaching curriculum at a variety of level (de Vos 1996; McCann 1982).  Not surprisingly then, in 1999 the Department of Folklore at MUN launched a new special topics course, Folklore 3612: Urban Legend, which approached the topic in the following five ways:

·        Introduction to the Study of the Urban Legend

·      Researching Urban Legends

·      Urban Legends in Performance

·      Mass Media and the Urban Legend

·      A History of Urban Legend Scholarship

    Urban Legend has now been taught three times.  It has an average class size of 110, usually has a waiting list of over 60 students and, as such, could be considered to be successful.  Having said that, the numbers of students involved, the wide range of approaches to which this topic has been subjected, and the diversity of the research materials involved, together creates a number of problems when attempting to teach a course on this subject.

    This paper reviews the course content, teaching strategies, course reading and assignments used in Folklore 3612: Urban Legend, in an attempt to give guidance to others wishing to embark on developing a similar course.



Tales of Whose Village?: Legend as Embodied and Cultural Memory

Tye, Diane


    “Tales of our Village,” written by Mary Jane Katzman Lawson in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1852, was a series of articles published in The Provincial, a monthly magazine edited by Lawson.  Based on early life in the Nova Scotian community where Lawson’s mother grew up, “Tales of our Village” retells local legends Lawson learned from her mother and her mother’s family. The legends chronicle events in the lives of early settlers, linking them inextricably to community places and landmarks for as Lawson argues in her first installment, the story of a place is as much about its residents as it is about the influences of those she calls “great men.” That said, her narratives attest to the extraordinary nature of ordinary lives.  In these legends of “unusual interest,” Lawson not only documents hard work and remarkable accomplishments but tragedies and losses.

What emerges is an exceptional cultural remembering of a female emotional world from the early nineteenth century.  Told from a female standpoint, life in the first years of the village was about negotiating the many challenges of everyday: illness and death, inappropriate marital matches and the frequent threat of male violence. Unlike the displaced or coded expression of difficult issues found in folktale or ballad (Holbek 1989, Tatar 1999, Lafferty 2001, Stewart 1993), these narratives openly discuss disturbing realities of women’s lives. In telling of women’s painful experiences, “Tales of our Village” powerfully prefigures much later work within feminist folkloristics; undeniably and eloquently the legends speak what Elaine Lawless (2001) has described as the “unspeakable.”

    In this paper I reflect on legend as an expressive vehicle that allowed Lawson to tell of her community’s past. Reading “Tales of our Village” in the context of other women’s narratives recorded in Nova Scotia during the mid nineteenth century, I ask how legend in general, and these legends in particular, helped Lawson to remember and restory women’s lives.  Given that aspects of women’s experiences, like domestic violence, have more often been silenced (Keeping 2001), what voice did legend offer Mary Jane Lawson? How did it help her restory her community’s past?



“Types of Contemporary Russian Legends”

Veselova, I.S.


    In this paper I analyze contemporary Russian folklore narratives, regarded as true. I use the following criteria to define the folklore narratives:  variation, stereotype form and content. Sources of material for analysis were: my archive of texts, recorded during informal conversation; linguistic recordings of modern Russian conversations; recordings of TV and radio interviews; publications of  collections of stories by folklorists, anthropologists, historians; memories literature of recent past; UFO literature; orthodox literature; tabloids.

    The analysis is done on syntactic, semantic and pragmatic levels.  Non‑fiction (believable) text is a verbal result of life experience interpretation (1). The story‑ formation (cp. H. White (2)) has the following stages:

1. from life experience

2. to selection and naming events ‑ story‑line,

3. connection and interpretation of events ‑ plot,

4. verbalization in the genre form.

The minimal element of narrative analysis is event ‑ the breach of normal order (3). As the term of event depends on the concept of norm, it is different for different traditions, cultures and genres. My material demonstrates two types of plotting ‑ with an active hero and with a passive one.

    The first one is hero‑centered narratives with events, where hero crosses the semantic boundary (anecdotes about famous people).  The second type is causal narratives with events connected on causal‑effect basis.  In texts of this type events are presented not in a "strict chronological sequence", but in an inverse perspective from an event‑effect to an event‑cause (mythological story, legends, miracles, stories about dreams).

    The concept of "event", consequence of events and interpretations (Evaluation in Labov's structure) are determined by tradition's presupposition. Genre form of narrative depends on semantic ligament character. The ligament of events (the type of hero, belief) as a focus of stereotype may be: ethical; ideological; mythological; religious.

    Thus, the type of contemporary Russian folklore narrative may be defined through:  the character of plotting (causal or ‘heroic’); the character of semantic ligament (ethical, ideological, mythological, and religious); the form of space‑time relations (individual or social chronotopos); the degree of belief.



“From Small Beginnings:  The Gestation of Contemporary Legend Research”

Widdowson, John


    Apocryphal anecdotes, urban legends, urban myths, contemporary legends - so, what’s in a name? The debate began in the 1970s, if not earlier, and continues to this day, as a hitherto apparently unrecognized genre of traditional narrative thrust its way into an unsuspecting world previously dominated by evolutionists, comparativists and others working on the types and motifs of international folktales. True, there were a select few who recognized the importance of legends - tales believed to be true or told as if true - but their research somehow failed to acquire the prestige accorded to the study of folktales proper. The arrival of an upstart in the form of a new and seemingly peripheral kind of legend was therefore unlikely to command instant acceptance, let alone respect, from an often hidebound and skeptical establishment in the world of academic folklore study. And, the sceptic asks, what precisely is this “new” animal anyway? Isn’t it the kind of story typically told at parties and other social gatherings by educated suburbanites? Doesn’t it seem more at home in popular culture than in so-called “traditional culture”, i.e. among “the folk”? Isn’t it frequently mediated through print, photocopying, and more recently (horrors!) the internet? How can such a strange phenomenon be of interest to folklorists? Looking back over the extraordinary history of contemporary legend research it is easy to overlook the fact that questions such as these not only stood in the way of the birth of the subject but also closely reflected the deeply ingrained attitudes and mindset of many folklorists of the time. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the subject had such a difficult birth. But maybe this was a blessing in disguise: it galvanized into action a handful of determined individuals who single-mindedly established the study of the genre and steered it purposefully forward over more than two decades, culminating in the creation of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.

It all began when a small group of enthusiastic likeminded individuals met to participate in the first international conference, Perspectives on Contemporary Legend, in Sheffield in the summer of 1982. As the convener and prime mover, Paul Smith put it: “They discussed and argued … and constantly reassessed their own theories and research. The common bond was that … they had come with open minds to learn from one another. … we are now perhaps beginning to understand what the questions are.” Are we?



Forum:  “Is the Urban Legend ‘Vanishing’?” - presented by John Ashton, Paul Smith,  Mike Preston, and Carl Lindahl


    At the 2001 ISCLR meeting in San Antonio, Jan Brunvand proposed that the Urban Legend “has much less vitality as an oral narrative genre” than it did in the 1980's.  He attributed this development to the migration of contemporary legends from folklore to popular culture where, he claimed “they have become stereotyped, standardized, exploited, commodified and repackaged in a number of ways.”  The internet and not oral tradition now serves as primary mode of transmission for contemporary legends and we can no longer “collect” them, in the conventional sense of the term.

    Not surprisingly, Brunvand’s comments prompted some spirited discussion among the few ISCLR members who remained at what had anyway been a fairly thinly attended meeting.  Some of the issues raised, however, including those surrounding definition, canonicity, intertextuality, tradition, and the relationship of folk to popular culture, merit more detailed discussion in a larger forum.

    This panel will therefore use Brunvand’s intriguing notion of the “Vanishing Urban Legend” as a point of departure for a general discussion of the current viability and status of contemporary legend.   Jan has graciously agreed to circulate the notes from his presentation among the participants who will each present a ten-minute position statement in response. The discussion will then be thrown open to the audience.



Film:  “Contact” (45 minutes) - presented by Theo Meder


    The documentary (2001) deals with the supposed connection between crop circles and balls of light, and is made by Dutch cerealogists Bert Janssen and Janet Ossebaard.  Although it’s a Dutch documentary, it’s in perfect English.  The documentary is shot in England and Holland.  As far as I know, the documentary has not been broadcasted on tv yet.  The short title is:  “Contact.”  The longer title is:  “Contact with the Unknown Intelligence Behind the Crop Circles.”  On the cover of the video it says:  “Undeniable evidence of the existence and presence of non-human, highly intelligent entities with a plan for mankind.”  The video contains a warning as well:  “This documentary contains material that will change your view of this world forever...”



Film:  “Ringu (Ring)” (91 minutes; Japan, 1998, D. Hideo Nakata) - presented by Laura Tonks


    A contemporary legend about a mysterious video tape circulating amongst Japanese teenagers, which after watching it, they receive a phone call telling them they’ll be dead in one week.  This starts an investigation into the validity of the story.



Recently Heard

Drug Fiends

Bill Shaw

Louisiana College

Professor of Criminal Justice


Now for a grisly tale: has anyone heard this cop legend (I’m a former officer of the law).  During my academy experience, the officer survival phase, we were told stories about “drug fiends” on (choose one) a) cocaine, b) pcp, c) meth, d) LSD, who attacked police officers and were shot repeatedly with little or no effect.  The number of rounds varied from 30 to over 100 with the telling as did the location and approximate date of the event.  One of the stories even included a direct contact headshot, knocking the suspect to the floor, after which the suspect crawls away ala Michael Myers [from the Halloween franchise of horror movies].  All during my career, I heard these stories repeated by cops.  Since invading the world of academia, I have attempted to document any case anywhere that is similar and have failed to do so.  I asked my good friends at Snopes and was told that they had never heard the tale.  Have you?  Do you know of a similar-sounding documented case?

I look forward to hearing from you.



Not-Quite Dead Cat

Philip Hiscock  


    This was posted to one of the mushroom discussion groups:

    “While doing research today at The Oregonian, I found the following article in their old file microfiche files. Thought others might get a chuckle from it.

    From The Oregonian, July 19, 1981.

    Mushrooms, cat surprise family

    OLYMPIA (AP) - A plate of mushrooms and a convulsive cat were cause for panic for an Olympia family. A husband, wife and their five children returned from a jaunt in the woods several days ago with a load of mushrooms, said Ed Manary, a state fisheries aide.

    After eating the cooked mushrooms, they gave the leftovers to their cat. The cat went into convulsions and a veterinarian was telephoned. "Forget the cat and get yourselves to the hospial right away," the vet said, according to Manary. All seven rushed to an Olympia hospital where their stomachs were pumped.

    Back home they found the cat - healthy, purring and mothering kittens she had just delivered.



Recently Published

Véronique Campion-Vincent

MSH Maison des Sciences de l'Homme

54 boulevard Raspail, 75006 Paris, France


[editor’s note: all articles are by Véronique Campion-Vincent. FTN is more than happy to publish notices about our own publications. There’s nothing wrong with tooting our own horn, so please send in relevant articles. MJK]


In English:

With Christina Shojaei-Kawan. “Marie-Antoinette and Her Famous Saying: Three Levels of Communication, Three Modes of Accusation and Two Troubled Centuries” Fabula, 41, 2000: 13-41.


“Organ Theft Narratives Since the Late Eighties” Journal of Indian Folkloristics II,1, 2000:  19-28.


“The Diffusion of Organ Theft Narratives” in Joel Best (ed.) How Claims Spread: Cross-National Diffusion of Social Problems. Hawthorne, NY, Aldine de Gruyter, 2001: 185-214.


“On Organ Theft Narratives” Current Anthropology 42, 4, August-October 2001: 555-558.


“Organ Theft Narratives as Medical and Social Critique” Journal of Folklore Research, 39, 1, 2002: 33-50.


in French:


«Les craintes autour de l'an 2000 et leur diffusion par les médias» CLO Cahiers de Littérature Orale, n°47 [numéro spécial p@roles2000.clo], 2000: 149-176.


«Les récits et la légende des vols d'organes, expression des réticences face à la greffe» in R. Carvais & M. Sasportes (dirs) La greffe humaine Paris, PUF [Science, histoire, société], 2000: 357-372.


«Les rumeurs zoomorphes», Sciences et Avenir, hors série «Les animaux extraordinaires», juillet-août 2000: 88-91


Avec Jean-Bruno Renard. De source sûre. Nouvelles rumeurs d'aujourd'hui. Paris, Payot, 2000.



               Perspectives on Contemporary Legend

                                    (Call for Papers)


          International Society for Contemporary Legend Research

                         Twenty-first International Conference


                        Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada

                                       June 25-28, 2003


The International Society for Contemporary Legend Research is pleased to announce that the 2003 Perspectives on Contemporary Legend International Conference is to be held at the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook on the beautiful West coast of the Island of Newfoundland


Proposals for papers on all aspects of “contemporary,” “urban,” or “modern’ legend research are sought, as are those on any legend or legend-like traditions that circulate actively at present or have circulated at an earlier historical period.  Previous discussions have ranged in focus from the ancient to the modern (including Internet-lore) and have covered diverse cultures worldwide (including our own academic world).


The 2003 meeting will be organized as a series of seminars at which the majority of those who attend will present papers and/or contribute to discussion sessions.  Concurrent sessions will be avoided where possible so that all participants can hear all or most of the papers.  Proposals for special panels of papers, discussion sessions and other related events are encouraged.  Because of anticipated interest in this year’s conference participants are advised that we may be unable to guarantee the customary 45 minutes for each presentation and shorter papers will be welcomed. 


To participate in the conference please forward a title and abstract, along with the appropriate conference fee to the organizer by 1st February 2003.  For further information or travel advice see the conference website (, the attached registration form or contact:


Dr. John Ashton

Division of Social Science

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada, A2H 6P9


Phone: (Office) 709-637-6200 ext. 6189   (Home) 709-576-6773

Fax: 709-639-8125                     E-mail




The conference hotel is the Glynmill Inn, Cobb Lane, PO Box 550, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, A2H 6E6.  Reservations at $79 Canadian per night (single) and $85 Canadian per night (twin) may be made by calling toll free in North America at 1-800-563-4400.  European and other residents may contact the Inn at 709-634-5181 or by fax at 709-634-5106.  Confirmation deadline is May 24, 2003.


Student Accommodations


Students may reserve accommodations in the chalet apartments at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College at a cost of $25 Canadian per person, per night.  Reservations may be made by contacting Ms. Tara J. Pye, Conference Marketing Office, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook, Newfoundland A2H 6P9 (Phone; 709-637-6200 ext. 6255., e-mail





FTN needs your contributions!

Please send me news, queries, research notes, clippings, calls for papers, book and movie reviews, or notes about local rumor and legend cycles for inclusion in FTN.




Deadline for next issue:

March 2003


Next Issue Out:

April 2003



FoafTale News (FTN) is the newsletter of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.  We study "modern" and "urban" legends, and also any legend circulating actively.  To join, send a cheque made out to "ISCLR" for US$30.00 or UK£20 to Mikel J. Koven, Department of Theatre, Film and TV, Parry-Williams Building, Penglais Campus, UWA, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2AJ, UK. Institutional rates available upon request.  Members also receive Contemporary Legend, a refereed academic journal.  Some back issues of FTN are available on-line at, while others can be requested from the Editor.   FoafTale News is indexed in the MLA Bibliography.


This newsletter is called FoafTale News for the jocular term current among legend scholars for over twenty years.  The term "foaf" was introduced by Rodney Dale (in his 1978 book, The Tumour in the Whale) for an oft-attributed but anonymous source of contemporary legends: a "friend of a friend."  Dale pointed out that contemporary legends always seemed to be about someone just two or three steps from the teller  — a boyfriend’s cousin, a co‑worker’s aunt, or a neighbor of the teller’s mechanic.  "Foaf" became a popular term at the Sheffield legend conferences in the 1980s.   It was only a short step to the pun "foaftale," a step taken by a yet-anonymous wag.  


FoafTale News welcomes contributions, including those documenting legends” travels on electronic media and in the press.  All research notes and articles are copyright by the individual authors who reserve all rights.  For permission to reprint, contact them at the addresses given in the headnote of the article. Send queries, notices, and research reports to a maximum of 3000 words to the Editor; clippings, offprints, and citations are also encouraged.


The opinions expressed in FoafTale News are those of the authors and do not in any necessary way represent those of the editor, the contributing compilers, the International Society for the Study of Contemporary Legends, its Council, or its members.


Editor:  Mikel J. Koven, Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Parry-Williams, Building, Penglais Campus, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom, SY23 2AJ 



FTN Web page :

ISCLR Web page:


ISSN 1026-1001