Legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring
human actions perceived both by teller and listeners to take place
within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human
values, and which possesses certain qualities that give the tale
verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants,
includes no happenings that are outside the realm of "possibility,"
but may include miracles. Legends may be transformed over time, in
order to keep them fresh and vital, and realistic. Many legends
operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed
by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted.
Brothers Grimm defined legend as folktale historically
grounded. A modern folklorist's professional definition of legend
was proposed by Timothy R. Tangherlini in 1990:
Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly
ecotypified historicized narrative performed in a conversational
mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of
folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation
of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.
1 Etymology and origin
2 Christian legenda
3 Related concepts
4 Urban legend
5 See also
Etymology and origin
Holger Danske, a legendary character
Legend is a loanword from
Old French that entered English usage circa
Old French noun legende derives from the Medieval Latin
legenda. In its early English-language usage, the word indicated a
narrative of an event. The word legendary was originally a noun
(introduced in the 1510s) meaning a collection or corpus of
legends. This word changed to legendry, and legendary became the
By 1613, English-speaking Protestants began to use the word when they
wished to imply that an event (especially the story of any saint not
acknowledged in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments) was fictitious. Thus,
legend gained its modern connotations of "undocumented" and
"spurious", which distinguish it from the meaning of chronicle.
Jacob Grimm described the fairy tale as "poetic, legend
historic." Early scholars such as Karl Wehrhan (de)
Friedrich Ranke and Will Erich Peuckert followed Grimm's
example in focussing solely on the literary narrative, an approach
that was enriched particularly after the 1960s, by addressing
questions of performance and the anthropological and psychological
insights provided in considering legends' social context. Questions of
categorising legends, in hopes of compiling a content-based series of
categories on the line of the
Aarne–Thompson folktale index,
provoked a search for a broader new synthesis.
In an early attempt at defining some basic questions operative in
examining folk tales, Friedrich Ranke (de) in 1925
characterised the folk legend as "a popular narrative with an
objectively untrue imaginary content" a dismissive position that was
subsequently largely abandoned.
Compared to the highly structured folktale, legend is comparatively
Helmut de Boor noted in 1928. The narrative content of
legend is in realistic mode, rather than the wry irony of
folktale; Wilhelm Heiske remarked on the similarity of motifs
in legend and folktale and concluded that, in spite of its realistic
mode, legend is not more historical than folktale.
In Einleitung in der Geschichtswissenschaft (1928), Ernst Bernheim
asserted that a legend is simply a longstanding rumour. Gordon
Allport credited the staying-power of some rumours to the persistent
cultural state-of-mind that they embody and capsulise; thus "Urban
legends" are a feature of rumour. When Willian Jansen suggested
that legends that disappear quickly were "short-term legends" and the
persistent ones be termed "long-term legends", the distinction between
legend and rumour was effectively obliterated, Tangherlini
Main article: Legendary material in Christian hagiography
In the narrow Christian sense, legenda ("things to be read [on a
certain day, in church]") were hagiographical accounts, often
collected in a legendary. Because saints' lives are often included in
many miracle stories, legend, in a wider sense, came to refer to any
story that is set in a historical context but that contains
supernatural, divine or fantastic elements.
Giants Mata and Grifone, celebrated in the streets of
second week of August, according to a legend are founders of the
The mediaeval legend of
Genevieve of Brabant
Genevieve of Brabant connected her to Treves.
Hippolyte Delehaye distinguished legend from myth: "The legend, on the
other hand, has, of necessity, some historical or topographical
connection. It refers imaginary events to some real personage, or it
localizes romantic stories in some definite spot."
From the moment a legend is retold as fiction, its authentic legendary
qualities begin to fade and recede: in The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
Washington Irving transformed a local Hudson River Valley legend into
a literary anecdote with "Gothic" overtones, which actually tended to
diminish its character as genuine legend.
Stories that exceed the boundaries of "realism" are called "fables".
For example, the talking animal formula of
Aesop identifies his brief
stories as fables, not legends. The parable of the
Prodigal Son would
be a legend if it were told as having actually happened to a specific
son of a historical father. If it included a donkey that gave sage
advice to the
Prodigal Son it would be a fable.
Legend may be transmitted orally, passed on person-to-person, or, in
the original sense, through written text. Jacob de Voragine's Legenda
Aurea or "The Golden Legend" comprises a series of vitae or
instructive biographical narratives, tied to the liturgical calendar
of the Roman Catholic Church. They are presented as lives of the
saints, but the profusion of miraculous happenings and above all their
uncritical context are characteristics of hagiography. The Legenda was
intended to inspire extemporized homilies and sermons appropriate to
the saint of the day.
The tale of the White Lady who haunts Union Cemetery is a variant of
Vanishing hitchhiker legend.
Main article: Urban legend
The vanishing hitchhiker is the best-known urban legend in America,
traceable as far back as 1870, but it is found around the world
including in Korea and Russia. In the legend, a young girl in a white
dress picked up alongside of the road by a passerby. The unknown girl
in white remains silent for the duration of her ride, thanks the
driver, and quietly gets out at her destination. When the driver turns
to look back, the girl has vanished. In 1942,
Beardsley and Hankey collected 79 written accounts of the
Lists of legendary creatures
^ Georges, Robert; Owens, Michael (1995). Folkloristics. United States
of America: Indiana University Press. p. 7.
ISBN 0-253-32934-5. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list
^ Norbert Krapf, Beneath the Cherry Sapling: Legends from Franconia
(New York: Fordham University Press) 1988, devotes his opening section
to distinguishing the genre of legend from other narrative forms, such
as fairy tale; he "reiterates the Grimms' definition of legend as a
folktale historically grounded", according to Hans Sebald's review in
German Studies Review 13.2 (May 1990), p 312.
^ Tangherlini, "'It Happened Not Too Far from Here...': A Survey of
Legend Theory and Characterization" Western
Folklore 49.4 (October
1990:371–390) p. 385.
^ That is to say, specifically located in place and time.
^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "legend"
^ a b Harper, Douglas. "legendary". Online Etymology Dictionary.
Retrieved 10 June 2013.
^ Patrick Collinson. Elizabethans, "Truth and Legend: The Veracity of
John Foxe's Book of Martyrs" 2003:151–77, balances the authentic
records and rhetorical presentation of Foxe's Acts and Monuments,
itself a mighty force of
Protestant legend-making. Sherry L. Reames,
The Legenda Aurea: a reexamination of its paradoxical history, 1985,
examines the "Renaissance verdict" on the Legenda, and its wider
influence in skeptical approaches to Catholic hagiography in general.
^ Das Märchen ist poetischer, die Sage, historischer, quoted at the
commencement of Tangherlini's survey of legend scholarship
^ Wehrhan Die Sage (Leipzig) 1908.
^ Ranke, "Grundfragen der Volkssagen Forshung", in Leander Petzoldt
(ed.), Vergleichende Sagenforschung 1971:1–20, noted by Tangherlini
^ Peuckert , Sagen (Munich: E Schmidt) 1965.
^ This was stimulated in part, Tangherlini suggests, by the 1962
congress of the International Society for Folk
^ Ranke, "Grundfragen der Volkssagenforschung", Niederdeutsche
Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 3 (1925, reprinted 1969)
^ Charles L. Perdue Jt., reviewing
Linda Dégh and Andrew Vászony's
essay "The crack on the red goblet or truth and the modern legend" in
Richard M. Dorson, ed.
Folklore in the Modern World, (The Hague:
Mouton)1978, in The Journal of American
Folklore 93 No. 369
(July–September 1980:367), remarked on Ranke's definition,
criticised in the essay, as a "dead issue". A more recent examination
of the balance between oral performance and literal truth at work in
legends forms Gillian Bennett's chaprer "Legend: Performance and
Truth" in Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith, eds. Contemporary Legend
^ de Boor, "Märchenforschung", Zeitschrift für Deutschkunde 42
^ Lutz Röhrich, Märchen und Wirklichkeit: Eine volkskundliche
Untersuchung (Wiesbaden: Steiner Verlag) 1956:9–26.
^ Heiske, "Das Märchen ist poetischer, die Sage, historischer:
Versuch einer Kritik", Deutschunterricht14 1962:69–75..
^ Bernheim, Einleitung in der Geschichtswissenschaft(Berlin: de
^ Allport, The Psychology of Rumor (New York: Holt, Rinehart)
^ Bengt af Klintberg, "Folksägner i dag" Fataburen 1976:269–96.
^ Jansen, "Legend: oral tradition in the modern experience", Folklore
Today, A Festschrift for William Dorson (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press) 1972:265–72, noted in Tangherlini 1990:375.
^ Literary or Profane Legends. Catholic Encyclopedia
^ Hippolyte Delehaye, The Legends of the Saints: An Introduction to
Hagiography (1907), Chapter I: Preliminary Definitions
^ Timothy R. Tangherlini, "'It Happened Not Too Far from Here...': A
Legend Theory and Characterization" Western
(October 1990:371–390). A condensed survey with extensive
^ Bennett, Gillian. (1998). The Vanishing Hitchhiker at Fifty-Five.
Western Folklore. Vol. 57, No. 1. pp. 1-17.
^ Langlois, Janet L. (July–September 1983). "The Vanishing
Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold
Brunvand". The Journal of American Folklore. 96 (381): 356–357.
doi:10.2307/540959. JSTOR 540959.
^ Georges, Jones, Robert, Michael (1995). Folkloristics. Indiana
^ Fine, Gary Alan (April 1982). "The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American
Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand". Western
Folklore. Western States
Folklore Society. 41 (2): 156–157.
doi:10.2307/1499791. JSTOR 1499791.
^ Beardsley, Richard K; Hankey, Rosalie. (1942). The Vanishing
Folklore Quarterly 1: 303-335.
^ Beardsley, Richard K; Hankey, Rosalie. (1943). A History of the
Vanishing Hitchhiker. California
Folklore Quarterly 2: 13-25.
Folklore genres, types, and subtypes
Rhyme (Nursery rhyme)
Religion and folk belief
Old wives' tale
Aarne–Thompson classification systems
Deus ex machina
In medias res
Figure of speech
Suspension of disbelief
Types of fiction with multiple endings
List of writing genres
Stream of consciousness
Stream of unconsciousness