I’m pleased to welcome Ross Tipograph to Dark Faerie Tales today to talk about a bit about urban legends. I have a really special event coming up this October with Abigail over at All Things Urban Fantasy about this very topic. We will both make an official announcement in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. You don’t want to miss this spooktacular event. Send me an email or leave a comment telling me about your favorite urban legend.
by Ross Tipograph
Why do we love urban legends so much? Perhaps, these stories of the past give us some sense of connection to ancient cultures. Or perhaps, it’s a thrill to sense that you may be closer to this story than you think (since, as you know, it happened to a friend of a friend of yours). Or maybe, it’s just like the movie: we love bizarre, outrageous, and sometimes frightening entertainment. In any sense, urban legends give us a rush.
It’s interesting – culture has changed drastically ever since these word-of-mouth tales started making the rounds, and yet even as society changes, the stories keep their basic ideas. An ancient tale of a demon creature haunting the nearby woods could later, in the late 1600s, be converted to a story of a witch who prays on children’s souls, and later, in modern day, become a story about a cell-phone-wielding maniac. There’s no telling how the stories will change, but change is to be expected.
Some tales are timeless, like those of a person meeting a mysterious hitch-hiker, bringing them to a graveyard, and later discovering the stranger died years ago. In another, a man or woman is instructed not to turn around for one reason or another. When they break the rule and do look behind them, someone they love is punished. This moral tale extends all the way back to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: upon leaving the underworld, Orpheus was told by Hades that he and his wife will be safe, as long as he does not turn around and look at her as they leave, but he does, in his paranoia, and she vanishes forever. Today, it is known as the classic “Don’t Look Back!” tale, in which an unwitting girl’s boyfriend is murdered on top of their car; the next morning, as the police remove her from the crime scene, she turns around in confusion – ignoring their warning to look forward – and sees the horrific sight.
One of my personal favorite urban legends is a familial macabre tale. A family receives a package from a group of distant relatives. In the package, they find a jar full of an unknown dark powder. The family comprehends this jar a friendly gift. At first, they think it might be soil. They play with it in their hands, dig around in it for seeds, sprinkle the dirt in various potted plants, water it, etc., but no luck. They deduce that it must be some sort of condiment. They put it on as many food dishes that they can think of – lasagna, chicken, spinach, you name it. They eat it, but find it adds no particular extra taste to the dish. It is at this point, weeks after receiving the mystery jar, that the family finds the note tucked into the package with the jar: “To our distant cousins – these are our grandmother’s ashes. She requested to buried in your area. Please do us a favor and see that she is peacefully put to rest. Thank you, dearly.”
In the tale just told, unfortunately, the modern day update proves impossible. In today’s super-cautious, uber-security, post-Anthrax world of terrorist attack fears and car bombings, such a mysterious package of powder could never be successfully delivered. We all know that today it would be ripped to shreds, shown to the police, and returned to sender. But, it’s a fun thought, ain’t it?
To keep this tradition alive, the word-of-mouth process is very, very necessary. Keep telling stories, allow the times to change, and adapt. Society needs storytellers to keep the collective imagination alive.
Ross is a film buff and Emerson College screenwriting major who writes about Halloween costumes over at Star Costumes. He can be reached at: ross (dot) tipograph (at) gmail (dot) com.
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