Legends are semi true and larger-than-life stories or accounts of human actions, which get passed down through generations and may often be symbolically important to the culture they originate in. Legends usually have heroic characters associated with them or even fantasy places. They may even encompass the spiritual beliefs of a particular culture. Though possessing mythical qualities, legends have a truth element in them, setting them apart from folktales and fables. Various popular legends, like those of Big Foot, Robin Hood, Beowulf, King Arthur, Queen Boadicea, fountain of youth, Saint George, El Dorado, Holy Grail and Gordian knot have captivated the world since years. Mythological legends like the legends of Greek Heroes as well as urban legends like bloody Mary, sewer gators, humans can lick too, killer in the backseat, Walt Disney and the dissolving tooth are still being told. However, all of the above, and many others, seem to possess similar qualities which make them a ‘legend’, that too a popular one. These qualities are:
10. They have no clear creators:
Legends have no clear creators or authors. Most of them come from unknown sources. Though they are set up in a fancy place with a heroic character, no one knows who started the very process of describing that story, which got passed on and on to finally become a legend. Since most of them are handed down orally, it is only natural that they undergo slight modifications at each stage. I mean no one knows who the woman having that famous backseat killer in her car was, or who broadcasted her story among others.
9. They are all based on once real characters:
Although largely involving some extraordinary and supernatural events, the narrative spine of legends is still quite closely related to the real historic world. Unlike myths, the events, plots and characters are less fictionalized in legends. Most legendary heroes are believed to be real people who once existed, though were not quite like what they are made out to be. Or perhaps, they were so lifelike and admirable that common people wished them to be real.
8. Legends have a moral/message to convey:
If the truth bit sets legends apart from folktales, the morals conveyed by legends bring the two categories together. Just like folktales or bed time stories told to children, most legends too have a moral message to share. Legends glorify the concept of heroism, sacrifice, spiritual power, divinity and strength. For example, the Robin Hood legend suggests helping the poor or how one can go from rags to riches or vice versa. Urban legends which are a result of wide circulation have ambiguous and questionable morals. While some just indicate that the world is a dangerous place, some even go on to be racist and homophobic.
7. Most of them are episodic in structure:
Most legends have episodic structures and are expressed as a series of events that occurred over a phase of few years. Most of them are like the journeys of legendary individuals or the history of legendary places. For example, King Arthur legend is a series of linked episodes, telling the entire life story of the hero, with each episode being a story in its own. The legends could also be structured as stages of a great battle or an era, like the sagas of German-speaking countries. Chronological episodes, community histories and sequential stories are popular.
6. Similar language features:
All the legends are embellished with impressive vocabulary and rich narrative styles to create larger impacts upon the listeners. Legends use memorable language, often having formulaic openings as well as endings. Apart from evocative vocabulary, rhythm and repetition techniques are brought to use. An optimum use of imagery and symbolism is made to enhance the effect. Poetic and narrative device like alliteration, similes and metaphors are common as well.
5. Legends reveal information about lifestyles of people of a particular era:
Since legends originate from real events, they provide information about how particular people belonging to a particular time have lived and the beliefs they have had. They reflect the objects that were of value to those people and also the objects they were scared of. This information of previous generations is what makes the legends so important and worth being repeated through future generations. The contemporary legends continue being built and they too are a reflection of the way our present generations perceive things around them.
4. They deal with issues relevant even today:
Legends are based on varying themes like good and evil, magic, supernatural powers, friend and foe, wise and foolish, rich and poor, quests, journeys, trials and forfeits. These themes were not just important in time periods of the past, but they are important today as well. Just like the issue of difference between rich and poor, as per the legend of Robin Hood is still relevant in present world. Legends perform this crucial function of helping us to reflect on our own lives since the ideas they deal with issues that are cross religious and cross cultural.
3. Easy to retell:
Legends become legends when they are passed from person to person, which requires them to have a narrative quality in them. Only longevity and widespread circulation make them lore. Distinct qualities push the teller to pass the hearsay. When a story has struck you, either with motivation or horror, only then you will be interested to retell it to your friends or kids. Use of strong language and powerful imagery could be the possible reasons for it. Also, since all the events seem to occur within the realm of possibility, the narrative spine of the legend gets further erect.
2. They all contain exaggerated events/characters:
This quality is possessed by each and every story that is termed as a legend. Over decades, the popular legends have been richly embellished and exaggerated. A story once considered true turns fictional in the long run. Often different adaptations of the same legends are passed on to generations. Most legends emerge from things and events that happened with a friend of friend. The story may have the name of the town, the time period or the name of the person involved, but when researched, all of it turns out to be a mere embellishment of the truth. Since the tales are passed on through generations, modifications and personal interpretations are introduced at every level often making the legend overlap with the concept of myth. Calling bloody Mary in dark while standing in front of the mirror causes nothing! Seriously! . Modern and contemporary adaptations even involve modern fears and technical advances.
1. The coolness of legends amazes all generations:
You know the best quality of all the legends – I enjoy listening to and knowing about them as much as my mom did. The craze for legends does not seem to die. Even if everybody knows it’s all exaggerated, nothing stops the legends from amazing people belonging to all generations. Such deep interest is evoked by such legends, that it becomes difficult to try and not wonder about them. I have wondered of the Unicorn and Dragon since I was young and many more generations will continue to do that. This very quality imparts longevity to legends and helps to sustain them.