Monday, September 23, 2013

Urban Legends

Ichabod Crane fleeing the Headless Horseman
An urban legend is a tale told through the years by many different people; normally the author is unknown and no one is really quite sure whether to believe it or not. The Old English epic poem ‘Beowulf’ is a good example; during the time parts of England were under the control of Denmark, the story became familiar. Even today some people in northern Yorkshire still believe in ‘Grindylows’ or water spirits living in their streams and swamps.

 The story of the Headless Horseman is one American urban legend I’ve always liked. The story went that a dead Hessian soldier left over from the American Revolution rode around with his head under his arm; Washington Irving turned it into a practical joke when he wrote ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. Even ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle was based on the ‘Yeth Hound’, an urban legend that still runs wild in Devon, England today.

Like the ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Decameron’ is a set of short, moral stories that were half-way to becoming urban legends even in their day. Boccaccio began creating ‘The Decameron’ in 1350, but probably even before he was through people half believed his tales had really happened. They would have been passed from person to person like an old version of a ‘chain email’. The Decameron contains everything from tragedies to practical jokes. The themes that occur in The Decameron are old ones and have been used since by as diverse writers as Edgar Allen Poe and Longfellow in his ‘Tales of a Wayside Inn’.

Urban legends come in all shapes and sizes, from the Loch Ness Monster to the Mermaids Columbus swore he saw; even if we don’t quite believe they’re real, they make our world just a little more interesting. Anyone seen the Half Moon sailing up the Hudson, or The Flying Dutchman racing over the seven seas? No? Maybe you still will.


PS: I wrote this for a humanities assignment, so if it seems unorganized and strange, that's why. Enjoy!

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