Let me start this by saying that I adore legends, myths and folklore. It is an interest of mine. In my mind, the older the better! I have spent many, many hours on the internet, particularly on Wikipedia, reading about this topic. I even took the Holy Grail FSEM last year here at UMW. I wish that I could say that I am an expert in folklore, but I am not! I am merely an avid amateur. It does connect to Historic Preservation, which is my major, as I know there is at least one class here at UMW that is about this theme.
So, legend, myth and folklore. This theme is in a way both broad, but also somewhat defined. It is somewhat defined in scope since folklore, at least according to Wikipedia, is the overarching category in which the other genres, including urban legends, fairy tales, and myth reside. To many people, particularly those of us who don’t study these things in college and just go off as general culture, these genres can all seem very similar. However, there are nuances, some of which can be interpreted in their names and others which can be read in academic definitions. Yet, this theme is extraordinarily broad, as all cultures have folklore. Sometimes folklore is shared or is very similar between cultures, such as both Germanic peoples and the Norse both having dwarfs in their folklore and mythology. Perhaps this comes from shared ancestry or intermingling and interaction. It may not even be intentional. This is called “Comparative Mythology”. Another example can be seen with religion. For example, some mythologies and religions feature death and resurrection, such as the Ancient Egyptian religion and the god Osiris, and Christianity and Jesus Christ.
Now, at least in my mind, mythology solidly fits into this theme. However, I know that at least for me, this theme doesn’t bring religion to mind. I think it has a lot to do with current beliefs. As in, what it currently believed in today, particularity in the Western World. I think it also has to do with connotation. Here in the US, we call certain old religions mythology, such as Ancient Greek mythology and Norse mythology. Yet, usually we just call Christian mythology Christianity, and Islamic mythology Islam, although perhaps when talking about obscure or unverified aspects or parts of the religion, such stories and people. Perhaps that it because most people in the US don’t believe in the former religions, and even in the land where it once was practiced most people don’t either. The latter religions are commonly practiced and believed across the world today. I think it also has a lot to do with connotations. In my mind at least, myth and mythology bring to mind stories that perhaps say a truth, but are not historically accurate. Since I am Catholic, I would generally not use mythology. I believe in Christianity, and don’t lump it into the unpracticed, in my belief not accurate belief systems such as Norse mythology. This difference in connotation and common wording perhaps shows the evolution of myths, and folklore in general.
I think evolution could be an interesting way to approach this. Older folklore, such as old legends, have undoubtedly changed over time, and this could reflect societal changes or perhaps just gradually changed as people brought in new aspects and left out old ones, intentionally or not, as they were telling the story to new generations. For example, in the King Arthur tales, there is the courtly love of Guinevere and Lancelot, which reflects the new idea of courtly love, which originated in southern France in the 12th century and has now been a staple in the originally-Welsh tales. In addition, Lancelot himself was a later edition by Chretien de Troye, who added both the courtly love and the Holy Grail, which is also a key component of the Arthur myths. Growing up and hearing about the King Arthur myths, I had no idea that those aspects weren’t part of the original stories. Kids growing up now might, depending on if they’ve chosen to look online about King Arthur on Wikipedia or other sites.
The internet is also causing the evolution of legend, myth, and folklore. It is a way to read about various legends, myths, etc. that may be in other places in the world and that you’d never heard of before. More and more people have access to this new information. In addition, it is a way to talk with believers and non-believers a like, and there are numerous websites dedicated to cataloging sightings such as “BFRO Geographical Database of Bigfoot Sightings & Reports” (http://www.bfro.net/gdb/). This helps the spread of beliefs and information too. The internet can also help to create folklore, especially in terms of Urban Legends. For example, Slender man. He (it?) comes from an online Creepypasta, but is now widely known. There are people who genuinely believe in him, and even stabbed for him, although the girls were convicted and sent to mental institutions. Slender man is even in a few movies that even came out in theaters. In this case, all information and “proof” is good, whether text, image, audio, or video. Audio and video are especially good when it comes to the internet and newer folklore, as older folklore exists in text formats such as books and will most likely not have audio or video connected. However, for all folklore, new or old, posting it to the internet brings attention to it, and videos are another way to get people to hear about it, especially those who consider reading boring or too much like schoolwork. There is no specific examples of media that I can think of to inspire the our class.
One way we as a class, or as individuals, can go with this theme and combine folklore evolution is for each of us to choose a piece of folklore, whether a legendary character, a story, etc. that we grew up with and use the internet to share what our particular version of it is and see how other people’s versions are similar and different, whether they are people who grew up with you or on the other side of the world. The piece of folklore would ideally be something local to where you grew up, to make it more personal and so you have more of a connection to it. After all, folklore, pre-internet, started in one place and spread out, by travelers telling stories or when people brought their culture when they conquered or immigrated. This would be a modern-day version of this spread. Personally, the Urban Legend that comes to mind for me is the Bunny Man. I grew up in Vienna, VA, and I don’t know of any myths or legends surrounding Vienna, and I just moved to Arlington, so I am not sure what exists there. The Bunny Man legend started in Fairfax County, which is where I grew up, at a bridge about 24 minutes from Vienna. It is the only thing I know to be a local legend in my area. It could be cool to see how something more regional has been transformed through the worldwide internet.
“Bunny Man.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunny_Man.
“Comparative Mythology.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_mythology.
“Folklore.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folklore.
“Myth.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth.