Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre

By Linda Dégh (NHC Fellow, 1990–91)

Folklore; Folktales; Legends; Belief

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001

From the publisher’s description:

Legend and Belief is a descriptive and analytical study of the legend, the most prolific and characteristic form of folklore in contemporary Western civilization. Not that the legend does not have ancient roots; like the tale, the joke, the ballad, the proverb, and mummery, it was also a part of an archaic preindustrial tradition. But the legend—as old as conversation and debate, and similarly questioning the human condition—was able to survive technological innovations. It has remained contemporaneous, whereas many other genres succumbed to their own anachronism. The legend's concerns are universal and eternal, touching on the most sensitive areas of our existence. That is why stories about supernatural encounters, possessions, divine and infernal miracles, evil spirits, monsters, and prophetic dreams, as well as horror stories about insane and criminal agencies, inundate the urban/industrial world. Industrial advancement does not change the basic fragility of human life, while commercialization and the consumer orientation of the mass media have helped legends travel faster and farther. Legends are not only communicated orally, face-to-face, but also appear in the press, on radio and TV, on countless internet websites, and by e-mail to keep alive new waves of the "culture of fear."

Literature / History / Literary Criticism / Folklore / Folktales / Legends / Belief /

Dégh, Linda (NHC Fellow, 1990–91). Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.