No. 54-55                                                                                                          June 2003

ISSN 1026-1001



2003 Conference Abstracts

Recently Published

The Ritual Abuse Controversy: an Annotated Bibliography

Croeso i Aberystwyth

Call for papers for the 2004 conference



Perspectives on Contemporary Legend 2003 – Conference Abstracts

Corner Brook, NF



How Jokes Kill and Other Lies of the Canadian Right: Reevaluating the Anti-American Tale After September 11

John M. Bodner

Dept of Folklore, MUN


In the aftermath of September 11, Canadian newspapers and their conservative columnists produced a curious body of material that sought to redefine the corpus of jokes, contemporary legends, tall tales and personal experience narratives featuring Americans as ignorant, abusive, stupid or aggressive antagonists as dangerous anti-American discourses that directly contributed to a world view amenable to violent actions against the USA.

My overarching thesis is that due to either ignorance and/or overt political manipulation newspaper columnists misrepresented the traditional anti-American tale.  Underlying their assertions is a curious Taylorian impulse to view traditional cultural forms as dangerous contagions of our more advanced cultural stage.  Like 19th century reformers in England, contemporary Canadian columnists were engaged in a pogrom to identify and destroy these cultural elements; however, like their predecessors they failed.  Anti-American tales continue to flourish.

My presentation will be concerned with exploring three interrelated areas.  First, I will locate the columnist’s writing within the post September 11 political and social context.  Following upon the observations of Ericson, media texts are understood as complex narratives that attempt to construct a normative moral order; as such, it is necessary to deconstruct the columnist’s arguments to highlight the socio-cultural assumptions and political intent of their arguments.  The second part of my paper will briefly outline the main generic features of anti-American tales, noting the overlapping nature of contemporary legend, P.E.N. and jokes. In my final section I will argue that, contrary to the position that anti-American tales constitute a residual and atavistic presence, the tales very continuity suggests they serve a vital role for some groups and individuals.  This role has generally been confined to a dismissive and trite analysis of differential identity construction through aggressive joking.  To my knowledge this assertion has never been empirically tested.  Therefore, my final section is based on a small sampling of interviews with individuals from an area of the Niagara Peninsula where summertime American cottagers outnumber resident Canadians.  My findings suggest that, anti-American tales are fomented within material contexts of intimate interactions between actors of uneven power.  Anti-American tales become a way of mediating these encounters, providing a mode of folk-commentary and symbolically inverting relations of power.  But as Amy Shuman has noted, these intimate interactions contain elements of the “larger than local” and Canada’s position in relation to the US is an important element (1993).  But just as important, as the national newspaper’s attack upon traditional tales suggests, the local can be used (and abused) for larger political purposes that have material and deadly consequences.      


Works Cited

Ericson, R.V, P. M. Baranek and J. B. L. Chan. Representing Order: Crime, Law and Justice in the News Media. Buckingham: Open UP, 1991.             

Shuman, Amy. “Dismantling Local Cultures.” Western Folklore 52.2-4 (1993): 345-65




Archimedes’ Bathtub: A Very Old Contemporary Legend

Ian Brodie

Memorial University of Newfoundland


This paper examines the genus of the “insight” legend, a narrative that not only purports to be the history of a particular discovery or revelation but also serves to illustrate that same discovery. Given that certain allomotifs of the legend of Archimedes’ bathtub have been taken therefrom and used as illustrative elements for other insight legends (specifically the “Eureka” exclamation and running naked through the streets), I begin with a diachronic analysis of the legend, from its first telling in Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture to contemporary internet sources.  Employing an approach similar to Gillian Bennett’s in her “The Phantom Hitchhiker: Neither Modern, Urban, Nor Legend?”, William Labov’s paradigm was used to discern five elements essential to the legends: (1) question; (2) tension of inquiry; (3) phantasm; (4) insight into phantasm; and (5) answer.

A structure having been discovered, it is then applied to other legends or narratives concerning discoveries and insights: Newton’s Apple, Kekulé’s dream, the invention of the Post-It Note, and others.  What was found was that, as the precipitating events of a discovery are told and retold, the narrative tends to conform more and more to the pattern of a precipitating event leading to an immediate realization, even when (a) the actual movement from event to realization is slower, more arduous, and not as direct and (b) the precipitating event, in its retelling, no longer serves to illustrate the insight that sprung forth.  The legend of Newton’s Apple serves to illustrate this phenomenon.  Thus a narrative predilection for conformity to a pattern comes at the expense of logical (or historical, or scientific) accuracy.  Although the legends deal with specific historical personages and their insights attributable to them through sources extrinsic from the legends themselves, the historical situation – what would correspond to Labov’s second stage of orientation – is more or less arbitrary given the tendency for both the legend and, ultimately, the assumed operations of human insight itself to conform to a similar pattern.

While the Archimedes legend extends back over two millennia, there are strong arguments for considering it and all insight legends as “contemporary.”  The insight legend themes of curiosity (as a positive force), novelty, and discovery are conspicuously absent from, amongst others, Thompson’s motif index, as they are reflective more of a contemporary viewpoint of development and change rather than a classicist viewpoint of the universe as a fixed achievement.  Furthermore, the questions underlying the insight legend are of the psychological rather than the supernatural. 



“Urban Legend” as a Household Phrase

Jan Harold Brunvand


In his Preface to Contemporary Legend: a Reader (1996), Carl Lindahl wrote “… Brunvand became a television personality and a nationally syndicated columnist as his term ‘urban legend’ achieved the status of a household word.” Brunvand has not been on TV for many years and he no longer writes a column, but his books remain in print, and certainly “his term” (i.e., his adopted and preferred term, but not his own coinage) “urban legend” remains a household phrase, if not precisely a “word”. This presentation is an informal review of how the media adopted the term and somewhat modified its meanings.

The professional publications of fields from fashion marketing and journalism to history and veterinary medicine now commonly uses the term “urban legend,” as do mass media ranging from The New Yorker to Weekly World News. Tip O’Neil used the term in his 1987 memoirs, and in 1997 the term was part of a question on the TV game show Jeopardy.

The survey made for this presentation uses mainly examples culled from the New York Times and two local daily newspapers. The items the term refers to range from an accurate concept of what folklorists mean by it to items of misinformation, rumor, folk medicine, artistic creation, and even Elvis sightings. The mass media sometimes confuse legends with other genres, especially myth, but still the general concept of “urban legend” seems rather well understood in these sources.

Besides applying the term “urban legend” to hearsay, rumors, narratives, and other related items, popular writers have also found the term useful in designating certain celebrities as “urban legends” or in using such forms as “rural legend,” “urban folklore hoax” and “urbane legend”. Two Hollywood films of 1998 and 2000 – B-quality, at best – with “urban legend” in their titles exploited the genre, and when a serious film, Urbania, ventured into the same material in 2000, the cover blurb on the DVD release could have applied as well to all three films: “Their lives are about to become an urban legend”.

When a new football coach named Urban Meyer arrived in Salt Lake City, the press wasted no time in designating him an “Urban legend,” something he had doubtless heard many times before.



“You should hear the one about the Easy-Off Oven Cleaner”: Margaret Atwood’s Fiction and Contemporary Legend

Wanda Campbell

Associate Professor of English, Acadia University


From her earliest collections of poetry to her most recent novels, Margaret Atwood has explored mythologies, and her interest extends to contemporary as well as ancient legends. In “Recycling Culture: Kitsch, Camp and Trash in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction,” Lorna Irvine writes:  “No matter at what point one looks into Atwood’s work, one is presented with an array of recycled culture, stories, spaces, and characters” (212). Atwood is fascinated by the tales we tell and how and why we tell them. One finds her prose full of tales that are “too good to be true” and yet many of these bizarre tales do have some basis in fact.  As she states in the “historical notes” that accompany The Handmaid’s Tale: “There was little that was truly original with or indigenous to Gilead: its genius was synthesis.”  Similarly, it is synthesis of plausible details and extraordinary embellishments that allow urban legends to endure and evolve. In short stories such as “Rape Fantasies,” Atwood reminds us why we need to examine the stories we tell.  The “rape fantasies” told by the female office workers  turn out to be  versions of urban legends they have seen on television, which according to Jan Brunvand is a major propagator:

I think the media play big role. You find ULs in the newspaper columns, repeated on talk shows, worked into television programs and films, comic strips, and popular songs. Even if the context of a newspaper article is to debunk the story, some people tend to remember the story rather than the discussion of it. 

Estelle, the narrator and debunker of Atwood’s story, reveals that the women’s stories are about desire not rape because there is no anxiety, unwillingness, or violence.  In Did you Hear About the Girl Who…? Contemporary Legends, Folklore, and Human Sexuality, Marianne H. Whatley and Elissa R. Henken, explore sexual legends that describe the “fear and anxieties of a group and serve as warning about potentially dangerous situations, behaviors and assumptions.” They advise readers to critically examine whether such stories are possible, to identify the values they reveal, and to question why they endure.  Estelle herself attempts this with the stories told by her co-workers, but then offers several of her own scenarios about a woman who is able to defend herself from rapists in various ways including squirting a plastic lemon in his eye, kung fu, sympathy for his acne, convoluted religious claims, or a shared fatal illness.  Her tales are tinged with both humor and horror, and remind us of our shared vulnerability, as do many contemporary legends. The telling of tales indeed keeps us talking, but Atwood maintains a distinction between talking about and talking to.  Conversation is her hope for healing of the many rifts that divide the human community.



Legend/Anti-Legend: Humor as an Integral Part of the Contemporary Legend Process

Bill Ellis

Associate Professor, English and American Studies
Penn State Hazleton



In the early 1970s, Linda Degh and Andrew Vazsonyi proposed that legends existed in a narrative ecosystem along with "anti-legends," which they described as narratives that "attack and destroy the legend as a whole."  The examples they used were stories used to debunk common beliefs and legend types, such as instances in which an apparent ghost turned out to have a mundane explanations.  Their student, John M.  Vlach, also argued that many narratives told and enjoyed as humorous stories, especially by children ought to be studied as legends, since they were built around realistic "legend cores" that produce fear and tension in the listeners. 

For example, he discusses a common shaggy-dog joke, classified by Brunvand as "The Encounter with the Horrible Monster" (D 100)  in which a furry monster or green gorilla pursues the protagonist implacably, only to corner the victim and utter the nonsensical punch line, "Tag, you're it!"  He says that "if a more realistic character were substituted as the bad guy (e.g., an escaped lunatic or prisoner) and if the punch line were discarded, then the story would be similar to one which appears not infrequently in newspaper headlines" (Vlach 1971:121).  In fact, this core narrative, in which a demented or even inhuman being stalks an innocent victim, is in fact a common legend type, especially among adolescents.  However, it is simplistic to argue, as does Vlach, that the linguistic features, such as a punch line, that make a given story humorous are superficial.

This paper will argue that anti-legends are intended to be jokes, humorous texts that parody key elements in active legends.  The presence of punch lines, which often bring the narrative to a close, is a characteristic of a finished narrative, one that makes its impact more through being a well-crafted story, not a potentially credible truth claim.  Hence the appearance of anti-legends often marks the last stage of the rumor process, in which a threat that initially was poorly defined now has  been “named” through communal discussion and in a sense “tamed” by being made the subject of narratives.  The anti-legend calls attention to these narrative structures and by creatively twisting or distorting the original content, it serves as a way of further distancing listeners from the threat it describes.

The paper will illustrate this process with a number of satirical legend-inspired texts and graphics that have appeared in response to Internet-circulated legends in North America and Great Britain.  One of the earliest legend/anti-legend complexes appeared in the early 1990s, in response to the first series of warnings concerning alleged viruses circulated through e-mail.  The “Good Times” virus initially was taken seriously and provoked intense discussion; later it became the subject for a series of parody warnings that poked fun at the credibility of many users.  Another series of anti-legends appeared in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  Interestingly, two distinct complexes emerged, one in Great Britain, involving an Arab who thanked a Good Samaritan by warning him not to eat at a given restaurant, and another in the United States, warning citizens not to sit on toilets on a given day.  The paper will look at how these simultaneously circulating anti-legends parodied the most common urban legends inspired by terrorism in those parts of the world.



"Little Victims of Divine Love": Encounters with Saint Therese of Lisieux

Holly Everett

Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland


Saint Therese of Lisieux was born Marie Francoise Therese Martin on January 2, 1873 in Alençon, France. Today she is venerated as “The Little Flower,” whose promise to send a “shower of roses” has led Catholic faithful around the world to look for signs of her intercession in matters of business, health, faith and finances. This paper will present memorates and legends involving the saint, in relation to her reliquary's brief stay in St. John's in December, 2001.

Therese's path to sainthood was unusual in two ways. First, she openly declared her desire to achieve the sublime state. Second, the runaway popularity of her posthumously published autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” followed almost immediately by widespread reports of her favors, led to the waiving of the customary fifty year waiting period for commencement of the beatification process. Pius XI proclaimed the response to Therese, in death, a “hurricane of glory.” Therese died in 1897, was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1925, a rapid progression in what is often a lengthy, contentious process.

In 1927, Therese was made patroness of foreign missions, together with Saint Frances Xavier. The “world pilgrimage” of her relics began in 1994. Since then, the large reliquary has toured twenty-three countries. Transported through much of the country in the “Therese-mobile,” the reliquary crossed Canada in the fall of 2001. Not included in the original itinerary, Newfoundland was only added to the tour schedule in November.

Participant-observation at the Basilica in St. John's during Therese's December visit allowed me to witness a variety of saint veneration practices. The experience also led me to re-consider saints' legends as a vital contemporary form in the cultural mediation of encounters with the numinous. As in the work of Bowman (1985), Dauria (1994), and Fish (1984), the formation and circulation (oral, print and electronic) of supernatural experience narratives continues to demonstrate the negotiation of vernacular and official religious practice in everyday life.

Works Cited

Bowman, Marion. “Devotion to St. Gerard Majella in Newfoundland: The Saint System in Operation and Transition.” MA Thesis. Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1985.

Dauria, Susan R. “Kateri Tekakwitha: Gender and Ethnic Symbolism in the Process of Making an American Saint.” New York Folklore 20.3-4 (1994): 55-73.

Fish, Lydia. “Father Baker: Legends of a Saint in Buffalo.” New York Folklore 10.3-4 (1984): 23-33.

“Therese de Lisieux.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. 2003.

Thurston, Herber S.J. and Donald Attwater, eds. Butler's Lives of the Saints. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1956.

“Saint Therese of Lisieux.” Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ed. Marc Plamondon. Dec. 2001. <>.




The Photographic Urban Legend

Russell Frank

Pennsylvania State University


“For just the briefest split-second of gut reaction,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, “we thought we were seeing one of the most astonishing photos in recorded history.” The photo Roeper referred to showed a man in a knit cap and a backpack posing for the camera on the observation deck of one of the Twin towers, unaware that he is about to be pulverized by a hijacked jet. On closer inspection, of course, Roeper saw that there were enough holes in the snapshot to fly several airplanes through. The image, circulated widely on the Internet n September 2001, turned out to be a digitally altered photograph, or “photoshop.” Roeper called it a photographic urban legend, which raises the question to be addressed by this presentation: can we speak meaningfully of a visual or photographic urban legend? Certainly, the resemblances between photoshops and conventional legends are striking: like the verbal legend, its visual counterpart “tells” an extraordinary but believable tale that expresses anxiety about threats to our health, safety and psychic equilibrium. This presentation will examine two kinds of photoshops: the subtle fakes, which are designed to fool the viewer, and the obvious ones, which are to be taken as jokes. In the case of the Ground Zero Geek, once the subtle fake was revealed to be a hoax a series of parody versions followed. Inevitably, the existence of real-seeming fakes problematizes the authenticity of all photographic images. Once we realize that the camera does lie after all, we may become to quick to brand a “true” image as a fake, much as one who has been initiated into the world of urban legendry may be too quick to dismiss a narrative of a real occurrence as a fabrication. And then, paradoxically, the supposedly true account of the origins of the fake photo becomes an extraordinary but believable tale that turns out to be false. In short, the story about the photo circulated and functions like an urban legend.



Contemporary Legend as Cultural Critique and the Case of "Antimedicalism"                        

Diane E. Goldstein

Dept of Folklore, MUN


In their introduction to the book Feminist Messages, Radner and Lanser note, "in the creations and performances of dominated cultures, one can often find covert expression of ideas, beliefs, experiences, feelings and attitudes that the dominant culture.... would find disturbing or threatening if expressed in more overt forms."(1993:4) While contemporary legend has generally been seen by folklorists as a genre which expresses significant societal concerns and fears, it has rarely been explored as a means of providing a critique of dominant cultural constructions.   We know nevertheless, that legends and legend telling can be counter-hegemonic, resistant, critical of power relationships and social structures, and even, at times highly subversive.   This paper will explore the various ways that legend, in text, topic and performance, can act as cultural critique.

Like all folklore, legend is capable of expressing counter opinions which convey significant resistance messages to large numbers of people (Scott 1990:443), but buries those messages in the roles of actors in a storyline, words distanced by character dialogue, juxtaposition of detail and action, and numerous other narrative devices.   Clearly, legends often contain embedded social commentary expressed in quoted speech; for example, conspiracy legends often articulate direct statements about government distrust (Turner 1993).   The nature of critical and resistant narratives however, are sometimes more subtle, favoring covert expression over obvious statements of conflict.  Contemporary legends, like most expressive forms, can provide the means for resisting the imposition of dominating definitions, norms defining how we should behave, and official accounts of what has occurred in the world (Klienman 1992: 174).  We resist, as Klienman notes, "in the micropolitical structure of local worlds"(174)

           This paper explores strategies of cultural resistance as they are articulated in health and medical legends.   Based on my research on contemporary medical legends from a series of projects spanning the last decade, I have observed a dominant theme of resistance to medical authority, codified on a variety of narrative levels.  Using parallel theoretical observations from scholars of European "anticlericalism", this paper will introduce the notion of "antimedicalism".   Anticlericalism is a vernacular form of resistance to clerical authority expressed through collective representations (often in folk drama or narrative) on the nature of religious power (Taylor 1990, Badone 1990). Much of anticlericalism takes the form of coded narratives which express fear and ridicule of priests and nuns through representations of drunken, violent, sexual and other inappropriate clerical behavior. While the stories are often told as true, they cast antagonists and protagonists in a light which provides commentary on priestly power and fallibility.  Medical legends are similar.  Organ theft legends, medical student cadaver stories, and numerous others portray health professionals and medical institutions as greedy, incompetent and evil.   Other narratives inflate and exaggerate the encroachment of medicine on the lives and personal choices of narrative characters, presenting subtle commentary on expanding medical authority.  Final consideration will be given in this paper to the role of medical legends as a means of expressing health worldview and contrasting vernacular health belief with more official notions of health, pathology and risk.


Works Cited

Badone, Ellen. "Introduction" in Ellen Badone (ed) Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society Princeton, Princeton University Press 1990, 3-23.

Kleinman, Arthur "Pain and Resistance: The Delegitimation and Religitimation of Local Worlds" in Mary Jo Devecchio Good, Paul Brodwin, Byron Good and Arthur Kleinman (eds) Pain as Human Experience: An Anthropological Perspective Berkeley, University of California Press 1992,169-198.

Radner, Joan N. and Susan S. Lanser. "Strategies of Coding in Women's Culture" in Joan Newlon Radner(ed) Feminist Messages: Coding in Women's Folk Culture Urbana, University of Illinois Press 1993, 1-30.

Scott, James C. "Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance" in Frank Manning and Jean-Marc Philibert (eds) Customs in Conflict: The Anthropology of a Changing World Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press 1990 b, 214-147.

Taylor, Lawrence J. "Stories of Power, Powerful Stories: The Drunken Priest in Donegal" in Ellen Badone (ed) Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society Princeton, Princeton University Press 1990, 164-84.

Turner, Patricia A. I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Rumor in African American Culture Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.


The Vanishing Leper and Other Medieval Legends

Richard Firth Green

Ohio State University


Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith have recently pointed to the paradigmatic position of the Tale of the Vanishing Hitchhiker among modern contemporary legends (Contemporary Legend, p. xxix). In this paper I will discuss an analogous medieval exemplum concerning an exhausted leper who miraculously vanishes from the bed of a compassionate lady where he is on the points of being discovered by her rather less charitably disposed husband. Although this exemplum shares motifs with the modern story, I will be rather more concerned with form than content here. In British Library, MS Royal 7 D. I (a mid-thirteenth century collection of improving tales for the use of preachers) the Tale of the Vanishing Leper is presented as what some folklorists would call a FOAF narrative: “sicut narrauit mihi uir religious fidedignus de quadam matrona, qui et ipsam matronam occulis suis post mortem mariti sui uidit” [as a certain religious and trustworthy man told me about a certain married woman (and he himself saw this woman with his own eyes before the death of her husband) …]. However, whatever the narrator (an English Dominican friar) may have believed – and there has been much discussion among folklorists as to the degree of credence implied by FOAF narratives – his informant is very unlikely to have known the woman concerned: the story turns up (in slightly different forms) in the earlier collections of Jacques de Vitry and Etienne de Bourbon, and is told (as having happened to woman in Belgium) by his contemporary Thomas of Cantimpré. In other words, the Tale of the Vanishing Leper displays all the classic signs of a modern urban legend: it is represented as having happened to a friend of a friend despite the fact that it can be shown to have been widely disseminated in easily distinguished variants. Moreover, it appears to have circulated in both written and oral forms. If time permits, I will discuss further stories in this manuscript from the same perspective as well as noing the same phenomenon in other early collections (like the Liber Exemplorum and the Manuel des Pechiees).



E-Traditions Following The Fatal Collapse Of The Texas A&M University Aggie Bonfire: An Update

Sylvia Grider

Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University


At the July, 2000, meeting of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, I presented a preliminary overview of the aftermath of the 1999 fatal Aggie Bonfire collapse which focused on the spontaneous shrine that developed at the site.  The distinctive Aggie Bonfire was built annually to be lit before the annual football game with traditional football rival, the University of Texas.  The 1999 bonfire would have been the 90th Aggie Bonfire.   Through its massive size, the Aggie Bonfire exemplified the Texas penchant for hyperbole.  It was the defining tradition of Aggieland. Bonfires, of course, are the focus of various celebrations throughout the world.  The Aggie Bonfire tradition was forever changed after twelve students were killed when the massive, fifty-foot-high stack of logs collapsed suddenly and without warning in the pre-dawn hours of November 18, 1999.

The folk or popular response to the accident fell into two major folklore categories: material culture and narrative.  The material culture was the spontaneous shrines which people created at the site and the narratives are the contents of the over 30,000 e-mails which are archived in Texas A&M University’s online Project BEAM (Bonfire Electronic Archive of Memorabilia).  The Project BEAM website [] was launched in   January, 2000, in order to archive as many examples as possible of the webpages and distinctive, formulaic e-mails which Aggies forwarded and re-forwarded to one another in the days and months following the Bonfire accident. These grief messages were of two major types: virtual “cybershrines” on the World Wide Web and personal e-mails.  Both types of messages are archived in Project BEAM.

The thorough analysis of this electronic database may take years.  The database is not yet available for general browsing and can be accessed by password only.  At the present time, the e-mails are filed chronologically and thousands of the messages are duplicated (i.e. forwarded) many, many times.  All header information for each message is included in the archive, so we will be able to analyze the frequency and extent of circulation for selected messages.  Our preliminary classification of these e-messages includes miracle legends, memorates, chain letters or prayer chains, and a wide variety of anecdotes, including one popular narrative which developed a joke-like structure and also circulated in oral tradition.  Although the degree of variation in these e-narratives is less fluid than in oral tradition, the e-narratives are traditional because of their context and widespread transmission.  The e-mails, or “e-traditions” which circulated following the Bonfire accident constitute a dataset which confirms that the internet is a viable communication conduit for traditional narrative materials.



E-mail Virus Hoaxes and Contagious Magic

Kristin M. Harris

Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland


The e-mail virus hoax is a symptom of our technologically-infused society.  With increased and widespread use of the World Wide Web, concerns about use and misuse of this technology prevail.  Buzzwords and symbols are part of a codified language that has invaded our everyday sensibilities. Along with all the advantages that this advanced technology brings, new fears about dominance and dependence arise. Thus it is not at all surprising that an onslaught of e-mail messages about so-called viruses, permeate users’ in-boxes. These messages are akin to contemporary legends in their structure, transmission, and elements of authentication.

In its examination of e-mail virus hoaxes as contemporary legends, the goals of this paper are several-fold. It will discuss the use of the word "virus" as a metaphor for the fear of medical viruses that has taken hold of contemporary society, and analyze the ramifications of these contemporary legends on the culture of the Internet. Additionally, these hoax messages will be analyzed in light of theories related to contagious magic, and parallels will be drawn to other relevant narrative forms that employ this notion.



Gender Shifts in Contemporary Legend

Elissa R. Henken

English, University of Georgia


While certain contemporary legends appear to be gender neutral (both men and women have eaten Kentucky-fried rat) and many are well established with one gender as the constant protagonist/victim (women are the vulnerable main characters in their cars and dorm rooms; men figure as scuba divers dropped into forest fires and surf the air currents to safety from the World Trade Center), still other legends demonstrate various forms of gender shift. The gender shift may present itself in one basic legend taking different forms depending on the gender fo the protagonist, as in the case of the vacationer who is welcomed to the wonderful world of AIDS: the woman enjoys a romantic interlude and receives her message in a gift-wrapped coffin; the man has a one-night-stand and receives his message scrawled on the mirror. The two forms provide the same warnings about the dangers of infection but they reflect different expectation is of appropriate contexts for sexual activity. Another type of gender shift, however, occurs with legends which start out being told about one gender and then, either on rare occasions or thoroughly over time, switch to the other gender. The kidney-theft legend, for example, was told in the first years with a male victim, but, at least among University of Georgia students, has been undergoing a gradual shift so that now at least half the renditions involve women victims. The legend, which originally warned men against the dangers of night life with a metaphoric rape, has been brought back to women, the more usual recipients of such warnings, and is now developing more specific ties t the date-rape drug roofies, a focus of legendary warnings against actual rape. The woman of the peanut butter surprise legend who found pleasure with peanut butter and her dog has developed a male counterpart who uses tuna fish “juice” and his cat. On rarer occasions, gerbils, mostly famously stuck up rectums, can also be placed in vaginas, and the student who is embarrassed in biology lab when a mouth swab reveals sperm, though most often a girl, can be a boy. This paper will consider a variety of gender switches in contemporary legend, examining causes and results – different meanings, different gendered expectations, and different comments on sexual preferences and activities.



Legend and blason populaire in local treasure songs

Philip Hiscock

Dept of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland


In contrast to earlier writers on legend (eg., Bascom 1965), contemporary legend scholars in the 1980s and '90s pointed out that the legend in tradition often takes forms so un-narrative-like as to call into question the earlier presumed narrative nature of the genre (Ellis 1989; Smith 1989). The free form of legend is so free that texts can be reduced to mere kernels without loss of any local, emic power (Small 1975; Kalčik 1975). As Stewart (1988) points out, the best-told legend, by local standards, is generally the one whose style most approximates conversational speech and which seems least story-like.

Despite this lack of textual fixity, legends can exist within a community in frozen (or more than normally fixed) forms. Local ballads in Newfoundland report many historical-legendary events (Halley 1989; Mercer 1978). Beyond actual historical events, local ballads also contain localizations of migratory and contemporary legends. Like jokes and whole joke cycles, such frozen forms commonly represent blason populaire, local stereotypes and slurs (Scott 1975; Taylor 1931: 97-109).

Treasure legends of Atlantic Canada have been examined as narrative text by Coldwell (1977). This paper looks further at local songs embodying treasure legends in Newfoundland, highlighting three of them dealing with excavation of the treasure. The songs are "The Otter Gulch Song" written before 1933 by Frank Kelly of Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay; "The Plant Song," written about 1945 by Chris Cobb of Barr'd Islands, Notre Dame Bay; and "The Church Cove Song," written before 1966 by Vince Ledwell of Calvert, on the Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula. Despite their individualities, the three songs show similar frames and motifs, which will be examined in the contexts of contemporary legend, blason populaire and the interplay of local oral history and migratory legends.


Works cited

Bascom, William. 1965. "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives." JAF 78: 3-20.

Coldwell, Joyce I. Harrington. 1977. "Treasure Stories and Beliefs in Atlantic Canada." PhD thesis. St. John's: Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Ellis, Bill. 1989. "When is a Legend? An Essay on Legend Morphology." The Questing Beast: Perspectives on Contemporary Legend, Volume IV. Ed. Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic P, 1989, pp. 31-53.

Halley, Morgiana P. 1989. "Marine Disasters in Newfoundland Folk Balladry, Including a Classificatory System for Sea Disaster Narrative." MA thesis. St. John's: Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Kalčik, Susan. 1975. "' Ann's gynecologist or the time I was almost raped': Personal Narratives in Women's Rap Groups." JAF 88: 3-11.

Mercer, H. Paul. 1978. "A bio-bibliography of Newfoundland songs in printed sources." MA thesis. St. John's: Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Scott, John R. 1975. "A Description and Preliminary Discussion of the Rhyme Blason Populaire Tradition in England." Lore and Language 2.2 (July 1975): 9-22.

Small, L. G. 1975. "Traditional Expressions in a Newfoundland Community: Genre Change and functional variability." Lore and Language 2.3 (July 1975): 15-18.

Smith, Paul. "Contemporary Legend: A Legendary Genre?" The Questing Beast: Perspectives on Contemporary Legend, volume IV. Ed. Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic P, 1989, pp. 91-101.

Stewart, Polly. 1988. "Style in the Anglo-American Legend." Motif: International Newsletter of Research in Folklore and Literature. 6 (October 1988): 1, 4-6.

Taylor, Archer. 1931. The Proverb. Cambridge: Harvard U P.



Murder by Legend: Use of Contemporary Legends in Giallo Films

Mikel J. Koven

University of Wales, Aberystwyth


The term “giallo” – which simply means “yellow” – refers to the line of murder mystery paperbacks published by the Italian publisher Mondadori, with their distinctive bright yellow covers, since the mid-1920s. Although there have been Italian writers of these gialli, by far the most popular of this line have been translations of classic English language murder mysteries by such authors as Agatha Christie, Ed McBain, Conan Doyle and Ruth Rendall. But the giallo film is a different animal all together: these Italian horror-mysteries, which began to be produced in the mid-1960s, and came to prominence in the early 1970s (some are still produced today), feature sleazy sex and graphic gore which would make Miss Marple swoon.

These films have developed a devout cult following, even canonizing certain directors as great cinematic artists like Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. More significantly, these films created the templates to which later “slasher” films followed in North America. Despite being less known in the English speaking world, the giallo’s influence on modern horror cinema has been extensive. But the giallo is not really about horror: these films are still murder mysteries, only dissimilar to their literary namesakes by the degree of violence and sexuality they depict.

In order to make their murder plots credible, giallo filmmakers often availed themselves to rumours, legends, and miscellaneous belief traditions which happened to be circulating at the time.  Sometimes the murders are explained by “superstitions” or by satanic cult activity, other times legend materials are disseminated as “pseudo-science”, like the YY-chromosome legend or that the last thing one sees before death is imprinted on the cornea of the eye (this latter one is particularly useful in identifying one’s killer).

But beyond merely a cataloguing of legend types and references in these films, the giallo film demonstrates ambivalence towards modernity: these legend types and beliefs are often the battle ground over which “the modern” battles with “the traditional”. This paper explores those traditional beliefs which are presented in the giallo film, and just as contemporary legends present debates about the probable, so do the giallo present this ambivalence towards modernity.


Contemporary Legends among Slovenian Students in Ljubljana

Monika Kropej

Institute of Slovenian Ethnology



In Slovenia – a young country in Central Europe - contemporary legend research has more or less been pushed aside until recently. My study on contemporary narrative topics, performances and circumstances in which the young Slovenian generation is telling modern legends is one of the first researches in this field, and no comparison on social or historical level in Slovenia could be made.

Because the young people come to study to Ljubljana from all parts of Slovenia, this analysis includes the whole spectrum of contemporary narrating among the students in Slovenia. In my research I propose to concentrate on this time and place, and so I discuss the following questions: What are the topics of narrations of the student-generation today and in this moment? How does the reflection of present events in the world and at home mirror itself in contemporary legends? Can we recognize the legacy of old motives through the legends, anecdotes, jokes and jests? What can we actually discover through the narratives of the young in cafes, in restaurants or on the faculty, among friends, and in the evening in local pubs?

The research has focused on the national identity reflected in contemporary legends, and the recognition of the regional or local characteristics and differences in the repertoire and the style of narration (performances) of the young. It is also interesting to compare the peculiarities of the elements of narrations which partly reflect the myths of our time but partly also the problems of our society.



Narratives about the Washington Sniper Shootings

Anne Lafferty

Dept of Folklore, MUN


In this paper, I will compare material I collected from residents of the Washington, DC area about the recent sniper shootings in that area with material reported by Amma Davis in “Narrative Reactions to Brutal Murder: A Case Study”. Davis categorizes her material into a number of different story types, some of which are also relevant to the material I collected. In my material, however, the comparable stories are developed in a different way, which could, perhaps, be described as more temperate and cautious than the stories Davis collected. For instance, in Davis’ “Accusation Stories,” specific suspects were named in rumors. The parallel material from my collection does not name anyone specific, but instead focuses on a certain neighborhood in which the sniper was thought likely to live. Davis’ “Tales of Vicarious Involvement” includes a set of stories she assigns to Dorson’s category of the “Lucky Narrow Escape or Exceedingly close Call.” The Washington material does include some stories that seem similar to these, but the narrowness o the escape is often either not emphasized or negated outright; other aspects of these stories are more important to my informants.

I will conclude my paper by exploring possible reasons for the relative caution of the stories o fmy informants. One possibility is the particular character traits of this set of informants. Another possibility is the amount and type of media coverage. Tamotsu Shibutani in Improved News: A Sociological Study of Rumor suggests that rumors are apt to develop when the news conveyed by the news media is not a good match with the particular sorts of information people need. My informants credited much of their information to the media, the extensive coverage may have short-circuted the need for some types of rumors and legends.

A third possibility is the extent of community and police reaction, which impacted just about everyone in the area. The Washington narratives included information on roadblocks, changes in the routines of individuals and institutions, and awareness of the continued presence of hovering helicopters. The involvement of everyone in the area in some more or less direct way may have shifted the focus of those narratives roughly equivalent to Davis’ category of “Tales of Vicarious Involvement” so that stories of actual involvement in related events became more important and stories about narrow escapes less so.



"The propagation of knowledge for the common good": Legends, belief, and assorted showstopper motifs in a mid-19th Century Danish penny magazine.

Henrik Lassen

University of Southern Denmark.


This paper will focus on selected items from popular Danish magazines from the mid-1800s, especially anecdotes and legends involving motifs well known in present-day contemporary legends. Not least due to the efforts of Evald Tang Christensen, whose extensive collection of Danish ballads, legends and tales between 1867 and 1929 still serves as a fountainhead for folklorists from around the globe, the oral tradition of the Danish 'folk' in the late 1800s appears to be well documented compared to that of most other eras and geographical/cultural areas. However, Tang Christensen’s rural and poor “almue” class informants may very well have had access to the popular magazines of the day, and a closer examination of contemporary narratives from such popular sources in comparison with versions from Tang Christensen’s collection appears to be a promising way to gain new insight into the context and diffusion of Danish contemporary legends in the mid- to late 19th Century.  Among a segment of society where secular reading was most often understood as synonymous with reading aloud for a room full of people after a long day of hard work, news and popular entertainment in print made a deep impression.

Especially the leading Danish language ‘Penny Magazine’, Nordisk Penning-Magazin, contains a wealth of material of a kind that makes a present-day, contemporary legend scholar sit up and take notice. Serialized short stories involving characters kidnapped by ellefolk side by side with amusing anecdotes concerning the rich and famous and spine-chilling rumors of con men and ruthless criminals in wicked Paris where – apparently – street vendors were said to substitute cat meat for rabbit. While the declared intentions of the magazine  – “for edification and education; for the propagation of knowledge for the common good; for the heartening amusement of thinking readers from all classes”* – indicate that moral and educational improvement is a central concern, there is much to suggest that it was the element of entertainment in particular which kept subscriptions up.

The reader looking for ‘heartening amusement’ would find fascinating news and exotica from around the world: In 1846, for instance, a Native American legend ("from the Wabash tribe of the Mississippi") cut from a suspiciously romantic cloth, background information on the publication history of Baron von Münchausen's adventures, selected anecdotes about the wag Poncino dalla Torre from the Italian, not to mention a series of "newly translated Sanskrit fables" culled from Max Müller's latest tome, fresh off the press!


*”Til belærende Underholdning; til almeennyttige Kundskabers Udbredelse, til opmuntrende Adspredelse for tænkende Læsere blandt all Classer.”



Cycles of Violence: Legend Components of Bettering Narratives

Elaine Lawless

English, University of Missouri


In the world of domestic violence – from private homes, safe shelters, courts, social work agendas, political intervention, social justice work, and prisons – stories of battering abound. My ethnographic work in safe shelters where women escape from violence has yielded hundreds of stories about women’s lives, from their abusive childhoods into violent relationships and marriages, escapes, and failures of the legal system. At every stage of their lives with violence their stories work to gain them access, relief, friendship, assistance, and some safety. The more I work with these narratives, the more I recognize how the stories are constructed to reflect no only the personal and very private stories of the actual women narrating the stories, but how they also display an equal number of what I would call legend components that become attached to the personal narratives in particular ways that legitimize, validate, authenticate and duplicate the individual stories in ways that are more likely to gain them access to safe houses, orders of protection, and even prosecution against their abusers. I have examined the narratives in terms of legend scholarship and how such a reading of the narratives could enhance our understanding of how the stories circulate, are perpetuated, and serve the community of women – as well as those in the movement to assist them out of lives of violence.



Québec, Beer and Folklore: How to sell legends through labels
Julie LeBlanc
Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Unibroue, a Microbrewery in Chambly (Québec) has been brewing craft beers since 1990.  Originally named Massawippi Brewery Inc., André Dion and Serge Racine understood the immense potential in safeguarding a financially strained microbrewery and turning it into an internationally reputable master brewery.  Since, there have been many creative new beers which have been flowing from their vats.  The intriguing part of this brewery is the cultural marketing they have mastered as well as the beers.  The labels chosen to represent their beers have been selected to remind the various legends surrounding Québec, from place-names to supernatural encounters.
This paper will focus on the marketing of tradition through beer labels. The legends examined will be that of: “le cheval noir de Trois-Pistoles” (The Black Horse of Trois-Pistoles), “Chasse-galerie” (The Witch Canoe), and the legendary hero “Jos Montferrand”, represented through the Unibroue beers as: “Trois-Pistoles”, “Maudite”, and “Raftman.”  These three legends have numerous versions collected from all regions in Québec, especially in the lower Saint Lawrence river, the Outaouais region and Val D’or.  The use of the legends on the beer labels transmit cultural meaning to the Québécois population, by either stimulating cultural interest or by reminiscing stories “du bon vieux temps” (“of the good old days”).  I will discuss the beer label as part performer/narrator, part cultural catalyst inciting interactions amongst groups in Québec.  I will also discuss how the microbrewery plays an important role in educating and reinforcing legends of Québec through their products.  By illustrating the Devil motif in Québécois legends and its use in the Unibroue trademark logo and labels, I will examine the religious influences on legends in Québec, as well as the Devil’s role in Québécois folklore.  By drinking one of Unibroue’s beers, the public is catapulted in a world of artistic beers, discovering a part of Québec’s heritage, through narrative, taste and visual representation.



Thrills and Miracles: Legends of Lloyd Chandler and His “Conversation with Death”

Carl Lindahl


Among the residents of rural Madison County, North Carolina, Lloyd Chandler is recognized as the man who created the song, “Conversation with Death,” based on a divine vision that visited him as a young man in the depths of a nearly fatal two-week drunk in 1916. The song unfolds as a dialogue, begun by a terrified soul, “Oh, what is this I cannot see / With icy hands gets a hold of me,” and continued by Death, “Oh, I am Death, none can excel / I open the doors of Heaven and Hell.” Death ends the song with absolute and grim pronouncements (“Too late, too late, to all farewell … / Your soul, your soul shall scream in hell”) condemning the dying man both to physical death and to eternal spiritual damnation. Nevertheless, in local legendry, the song’s words are pronounced “beautiful” and its message considered healing.

“Conversation with Death” became the fulcrum of Lloyd Chandler’s life: once converted, he transformed himself from the most frightening man that his neighbors had ever known into a holy terrorist, who used his song to chase his listeners clear of the path to damnation.  Among the hundreds who recall both the man and the song, both have become the subjects of numerous legends of extraordinary vividness, undiminished by the fact that Chandler, born in 1896, has been dead for 25 years. Many of the accounts focus on particular occasions upon which Lloyd Chandler sang “Conversation with Death” in church settings to draw congregants to the altar; other legends recount instances in which he seems to have used the song for playfully sadistic reasons, almost as a campfire ghost story, simply to terrify children. In these narratives both the man and his song emerge as double agents of terror and salvation.

An exploration of the tellers’ views, the legends, and the rich and varied social contexts in which the legends continue to unfold, reveals that the tellers share a concept of terror as a sort of spiritual medicine, as funny as it is scary, and as dangerous (in fact, exactly as dangerous) as it is ultimately redemptive.



“Campus Legends: Importance, Content and Context”

Jodi McDavid

Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland


During fieldwork conducted at “St. Peter’s,” a Canadian university, in 2001-2002 I collected a number of legends from some university residents.  Despite the fact that there have been several hundred similar collections of “academic,” “university” or “campus” legends by North American undergraduate students in folklore courses, these legends as a whole have not been thoroughly integrated into the field of contemporary legend scholarship.   Academic legends are not simply horror legends, as campus characters and problematic professors also figure prominently.  Many campus legends are more etiological in nature, serving to explain the campuses’ landscape and buildings.  Most campus customs have originating legends and much of the day’s celebration involves the retelling of the legend.  Many legend telling sessions result in a re-enactment of the legend or some form of ostension based on the narrative.  Within the campus, specific folk groups also use legends to develop group identity.  In dormitories, legends are an all-encompassing facet of life and form part of the core narratives which incoming students are taught by elder students. 

Contemporary legends told on campus may have similarities to mainstream legends, as Brunvand illustrates with a campus example of “Surpriser Surprised” (Brunvand, 201).  In a broad sense, many campus legends are not separate legends, but rather located in the university community, and modified for student use.  This can become problematic as many campus legends, because they are simple variations and transpositions, no longer make sense in their new locale.  Contemporary legends are told at St. Peter’s having been adapted and clarified for their new setting: in one, the dormitory is identified as the home of a “Vanishing Hitchhiker” and is told from the perspective of a resident rather than that of the driver, and in a version of “Hold the Mayo” one roommate is the victim of the other (McDavid 2002).  On the other hand, many legends are specific to the context of the university and are found on multiple campuses, such as those which focus on problems with the construction of libraries, which are often “built facing the wrong way,” or sinking because the architect failed to account for the weight of the books in his plans (Bronner, 146-148).   

University legends and legend telling become a way to modify the behaviour of incoming students and to demonstrate unacceptable behaviour within a highly oral culture where people must cohabit in small quarters within a new environment with a high turnover and a rigid hierarchical structure.      


Works Cited

Bronner, Simon J. Piled Higher and Deeper: The Folklore of Student Life. Little Rock, Arkansas: August House, Inc., 1995.

Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Mexican Pet: More “New” Urban Legends and Some Old Ones. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986.

McDavid, Jodi. “‘We’re Dirty Sons of Bitches’: Residence Rites of Passage at a Small Maritime University.” MA Thesis. Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2002.

Tolkien, J. Barre. “The Folklore of Academe.” Appendix B. Jan Harold Brunvand.

   The Study American Folklore. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1968. 317-337.



‘Will the Real Charles Shaw Please Stand Up?’: The Legend cycle of Two-Buck Chuck

Lynne McNeill

Dept of Folklore, MUN


In December of 2002, residents of California began noticing an extremely cheap wine – only $1.99 a bottle – for sale at one of their local specialty food markets, Trader Joe’s. Charles Shaw, as the wine was called, wasn’t a familiar name in the California wine market, but testimonials as to this wine’s high quality began to spread by word of mouth. When The Los Angeles Times printed an article hinting that the wine was actually surplus from one of the major Napa Valley wineries, a veritable craze began. As quickly as the cases of wine flew off Trader Joe’s shelves (and some customers were indeed buying many cases at a time), rumors and legends began to fly about the origins of “Two Buck Chuck”: some said Mr. and Mrs. Shaw had experienced a nasty divorce and the wine was sold under value as a form of revenge. Others were convinced that September 11th concerns had caused corkscrews to be banned from airplanes, forcing American Airlines to dump its wine collection. Some were sure that it was United Airlines’ recent bankruptcy that had required that airline to sell its wine collection. Along with such origin legends came legends that spoke to the quality of the wine. One “friend of a friend” story told how a vacationing family found Charles Shaw selling for fifteen dollars per glass in Parisian restaurants.

In this paper, I plan to explore these legends, setting them in the context of other similar legends (the “$50 Porsche,” for instance) and investigating the way Californians have appropriated traditional legend material and “ecotypified” well-known legends for their own needs, promoting and sustaining their own self image. I also plan to briefly consider this situation from a marketing perspective, looking at how legends have been used in the past to market alcohol and how these current Charles Shaw legends unexpectedly worked as a timely marketing tool for an industry experiencing a slump. Through these areas of consideration, I hope to compile a meaningful study of how one set of legends functions within the community that created and shares them.



Ghosts and Grave Offerings: A legend among contemporary schoolchildren in Central Pennsylvania

Yvonne J. Milspaw

English, Harrisburg Area Community College


In a cemetery just by an elementary school in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, there is the ornately decorated grave of a small girl, a toddler who drowned in her grandparents’ swimming pool. In a quiet and modest graveyard, this grave stands out with its lavish attention to decoration. It is surrounded by a low fence, covered by toys, ceramic images of angels and coins, the latter left by schoolchildren. Many of the town children use the cemetery as a convenient shortcut on their ways to and from the elementary school and the high school, so it is almost inevitable that stories should have grown up about this unusual gravesite.

A series of belief tales about her was found in the cohort of children of the same age as this child. An elementary school student related this belief tale: “If you take something from the grave, she, her spirit comes after you until you put it back. If you put something on her grave, like another toy or something, she brings you good luck, she helps you out. I put some quarters in her frog bank that was on the grave. I think it helped me.” Another student related the thieving of toys or the leaving of offerings with the quality of dreams: “… if you steal anything, and take it away from the grave, you will have nightmares. However, if you place coins on the grave you will have good dreams. I’ve put coins on the grave and it worked. I had good dreams. I never took anything though” (cf. Motif E433 “Ghost placated by sacrifices” and E236 “Return from the dead to demand stolen property”).

In 1999, a popular high school athlete was killed in a late-night accident and was buried nearby in the same cemetery in an equally lavish grave, marked by elaborate grave offerings and apparent pilgrimages. This is extremely unusual for central Pennsylvania.

My paper will explore the relationship of the material culture of these sites to narratives and beliefs about the sites, to ghost stories and beliefs of the region, the belief in the power of the dead, and the relationship of the narratives to the hagiography of children/angels.



The Soldier’s Deck of Cards: Changing Mood of a Legend

Katie Sandford


This papers hall attempt to identify and discuss some of the issues of folklore and narrative study raised within a particular narrative – The soldier’s Deck of Cards (AT1613).  Although this narrative is classified as an International tale rather than a legend, its contemporary forms on the Internet and in Country and Western music comply with the criteria for various definitions of the “legend” genre and even the “urban legend” genre – many versions anchor the events described to a real place such as small towns in Vietnam and even specific people, such as T. Texas Tyler, and although it may be argued that such musical narratives are not presented as factual, belief in their literal occurrence has been recorded by D. K. Wilgus and B. A. Rosenberg. On the other hand, its earlier forms do not fit so well into many definitions of “legend”. This raises certain questions as to whether or not it is possible for one version of a narrative to be classified as a legend and another as an international tale, and if so how common such occurrences are.

The Soldier’s Deck of Cards also raises questions about the “moral” behind a legend – several orientations of the narrative present significantly differing lessons for the listener, outlined as follows:

1) The Humorous Anecdote 1: the clever servant tricks his master

2) (a) Signs of the Divine: even a deck of cards can teach a sacred lesson

(b) Signs of the profane: the deck of cards is used to teach an unholy legend

3) Competing with God; the deck of cards is an illustration of man’s arrogance

4) The Divine Warning: the deck of cards warns man of the punishment to come for all, including gamblers.

5) The Humorous Anecdote 2: type 2 (a) is parodied.

These types and their relationships to each other will be discussed within the paper itself, along with the methods by which the moral of the legend may be altered by changing either the narrative frame or the body of the tale itself – the theological significance of each card – and comparisons with other contemporary narratives that may have changed their morals over time, and some that appear to have remained constant, such as The Stuck Couple.

The different forms – printed, oral (as tale and sermons), musical and Internet – will also be discussed, together with a comparison of the success with which the tale has adapted to each.



Constructing the Female: Women and Agency in Contemporary Legend

Diane Tye

Dept of Folklore, Memorial University


A quick survey of the 413 matches for “woman” turned up by the popular search engine shows that as characters in contemporary legend, women exert widely varying degrees of agency. Just as Eleanor Wachs found in her study of crime-victim stories (Wachs 1988), tricksters abound within contemporary legend. In this role, women my figure as creative avengers of philandering male partners or dangerous older women who are not as helpless as they first appear. That said, the majority of female protagonists in legends on the Snopes website are victims. Women are more often acted upon by tricksters, at the mercy of a strange man hiding in their car or a prostitution gang operating out of the local mall. Female vulnerability in the narratives clusters around a number of themes common to contemporary legend, such as technology and fast food. However, women also cope with gendered dangers: male violence, female sexuality and the female body itself.

Relying on the site as a database, this paper explores constructions of the female within contemporary legends. Specifically, through an examination of women’s relationships with the trickster character, either as agent or victim, I assess the kinds of agency shown possible for women in today’s society. In doing so I reflect on how female vulnerability is constructed and identify what personal and cultural risks contemporary legends most emphasize for women.



From Black Dog To Big Cat: An Enduring English Rural Myth
J. D. A. Widdowson
National Centre for English Cultural Tradition. The University of Sheffield


Legends of phantom dogs were widespread in England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The folklorist Theo Brown identifies three species of these apparitions: a. the impersonal creatures known locally by such names as Barguest, Shuck, Black Shag, Trash, Skriker, Padfoot, and Hooter; b. the Black Dog, which haunts a specific place on a road; c. the Black Dog which appears in a certain locality in conjunction with the calendar cycle. Each of these three types has its own characteristics and the various ghostly manifestations tend to cluster in particular areas, notably the southwest, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, Derbyshire, and the northwest, with others scattered more thinly across England, Wales, and Scotland. Those in group a. are of particular interest in that they share a number of characteristics with other supernatural frightening figures, some of which were used in traditional threats in the verbal social control of children. The legends and supposed sightings of these mythical doglike creatures suggests that there was a significant degree of belief in their existence among adults in rural areas. However, just as threatening figures such as the bogeyman receded dramatically over the past hundred years, beliefs and legends about black dogs also seem to have declined, in the face of the enlightenment and skepticism of an educated population. Ancient fears of the powers of darkness, both literal and metaphorical, have given way to other concerns about human safety and survival, notwithstanding the remarkable persistence of belief in ghosts and other supernatural phenomena.

As the twentieth century progressed, the long-established beliefs and legends about ghostly dogs and their various supernatural relatives increasingly lost their hold on the imagination, along with a host of other frightening and/or threatening figures, real and unreal. However, as so often happens when a tradition declines, another set of beliefs and legends began to take their place. Often believed to be real, various kinds of big cat have silently taken over at least some of the habitats formerly haunted by black dogs and their like. Their supposed reality has prompted official and unofficial searches for these creatures, and plausible explanations have been put forward about their actual origins. These updated beliefs and apparent sightings have generated a new set of contemporary legends, both rural and urban.


Recently Published

The Ritual Abuse Controversy: An Annotated Bibliography

By Mary de Young

Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company

ISBN: 0786412593


The ritual abuse of children is the most controversial issue in the child maltreatment field, but much of what has been written about ritual abuse over the past twenty years is in the form of unpublished and endlessly reproduced "stuff"—a curious mixture of conjecture, folkloric and pop-culture representations of Satanism, devil worship, occultism and witchcraft, and Christian Fundamentalist images of premillennarian evil. What remains after this "stuff" is excluded is an intriguing body of international literature that seriously examines the controversy.

This annotated bibliography dissects the literature, objectively and thoroughly annotates published articles, books and reports, legal opinions, and occasionally, thought-provoking newspaper and magazine articles.

Chapters deal with the definition of ritual abuse, ritual abuse cases in the United States, cases in American families and neighborhoods, cases in Canada, Europe and Australasia, clinical features of ritual abuse in children and adults, the controversy's impact on professionals and systems, the controversy and American law, ritual abuse reports and narratives, and  anthropological, folkloric and sociological perspectives.

About the Author Mary de Young, a professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology at Grand Valley State University, lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She is also the author of the forthcoming, The Day Care Ritual Abuse Moral Panic, also published by McFarland and Co.


Croeso i Aberystwyth


For the first time in over twenty years of the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research, the annual ISCLR conference is going to be held in Wales. The 22nd Contemporary Legend conference is going to be held in sunny seaside resort town of Aberystwyth 21-24 July 2004, hosted by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.


Founded in 1872, Aberystwyth was the first university institution to be established in Wales. Today, it has over 7,000 registered students, including over 1,100 postgraduates across eighteen academic departments.


Several special events are being planned during this conference including a day trip to Hay-on-Wye – the bibliophile’s Disneyworld, a gorgeous village which is home to an unbelievable number of used bookstores; a visit to Machynlleth, where Owain Glyndwr built Wales’ first parliament and currently houses the Celtica multi-media exhibit; and a tour of the National Library of Wales, with specific attention to its rare manuscript collection. And, as a university town in the UK, there is a never ending supply of public houses. 


The conference fee is set at £50 (student rate available upon request) which includes the Conference Dinner. Accommodation has been arranged in Rosser and Penbryn Halls at a rate of £34.75 (en-suite, including breakfast and lunch) or £25.30 (standard, including breakfast and lunch). Other rates may be available upon request.  Other accommodation can be arranged independently:


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 2004 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 by 1st February 2004.  For further information or travel advice please contact:


Dr. Mikel J. Koven

Department of Theatre, Film and TV

Parry-Williams Building, Penglais Campus

UWA, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2AJ




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:

September 2003


Next Issue Out:

October 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