A legend is a genre of folklore that features stories about human events and actions.
These stories haven’t been proved and aren’t part of recorded history. When legends are told, they’re described as if they’re real, but that’s not necessarily the case. They are usually stories that include impossible events, encounters, accomplishments, and quests. But, since they’re told with the mindset that they could be possible, it’s easy enough for the storyteller and the listener to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the story and consider it as possible.
The word “legend” comes from the Latin “legendus,” meaning “something which out to be read.” Traditionally, legends focus on one person or place and what happens to them or in that area.
Definition and Explanation of Legend
Legends, like myths and other types of folklore, contain details that shift over time. They often change with the times, ensuring that whoever is listening is going to be interested in the events of the story. The stories usually sit somewhere between reality and fantasy with some realistic and some incredible elements. By combining the two, the stories become easy to remember, fun to tell, and engaging. Within literature, there is a slightly blurred line between what is fiction, non-fiction in regard to legends. It’s possible to find elements of history within these stories but the question is how should one reconcile those bits of truth with stories of monsters and incredible tasks?
Legend vs. Myth
While myths and legends have similarities, they are different genres. Legends are made up stories while myths are stories that answer questions about a natural phenomenon. The former can be set at any time, from the long past to the present while myths are always set in the distant past, sometimes all the way back to pre-historic times. In legends, readers and listeners will hear about amazing feats and accomplishments that usually helped to save a person or group of people. On the other hand, a legend might have a more negative tint, with the main character doing something terrifying or disconcerting.
Examples of Legends
The Flying Dutchman is the perfect example of a legend that has a historical origin and some facts that help believers back up their case for its authenticity. The story goes that the Flying Dutchman is a ship that’s cursed to never dock at port, instead sailing the oceans forever. If a ship tries to make contact, it’s likely going to be taken down or taken over by the crew of the Dutchman. The legend dates back to the 17th century and was perhaps inspired by the loss of a ship captained by a Dutch captain.
The legends associated with King Arthur are some of the best-known in the Western world. He was, legends and history suggest, a Medieval king who led the British army against invaders in the 5th and 6th centuries. The historical information for his actual existence is spotty, but the legendary history is quite extensive. Some of the best-known stories include that of Arthur, his wife, and his knights. The latter includes stories of Gawain, Lancelot, and more. Merlin and Morgan Le Fay also feature in these legends.
Faust is a character from a classic German legend. He’s described as a scholar who, out of dissatisfaction, made a deal with the devil for his soul. He is promised a great deal but meets his death after the devil takes his soul. This legend seeks to entertain as well as teach listeners a moral lesson about pride and integrity.
Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, and Abominable Snowman
These three “monster” legends are some of the best-known legends today. While there are stories associated with each, it is more the idea of these creatures that have lasted through the ages. They date back centuries and describe creatures that people still search for today. Television shows and films have spawned from these legends, either taking their inspiration for a monster film or following investigators as they try to determine the authenticity of these legends and others. For example, the television show River Monsters.
Importance of Legends
Legends are an important part of human history. They can be found integrated into every culture all over the world. They’re well-loved and told over and over again. They’re intriguing because storytellers and listeners want the stories to be true and sharing the stories is helping them live on with the new generation. Often legends, as they change over time, are exaggerated and expended. The facts are embellished and whatever truth was originally in the story is lost.
Why Do Writers Write Legends?
Despite the fact that most legends date back centuries, writers still work to create new legends today. Some evolve naturally while others are purposely created and spread. One of the best-known modern examples is Slender Man, the legend of a supernatural character that looks like a man except for the fact that he’s eight feet tall. This fictional story inspired a 2018 film, and real-life investigations, mostly by teenagers. (Tragically, the legend leads to the near-death of a young girl in the United States.)
These legends can be entertaining and interesting diversions for those seeking out a new topic to investigate and a story to consider.
Related Literary Terms
- Folklore: refers to stories that people tell. These include folk stores, fairy tales, urban legends, and more.
- Anti-Hero: a character who is characterized by contrasting traits. This person has some of the traits of a hero and of a villain.
- Antagonist: a character who is considered to be the rival of the protagonist.
- Protagonist: the main character of a story, generally considered to be the hero or the force for good.
- Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
- Fantasy: a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.