I love reading and hearing mythology and folklore. Storytelling and comprehending the larger world around us, and our part in it, is what makes humans human. That is, until we translate dog barks and cat meows to human speech, because I’m fairly certain all of them will have tales to tell about the Great Satan, the vacuum cleaner and its demonic minion, the Hair Dryer.
Urban legends are but modern-day myths and folklore. The Internet has allowed stories that would previously be told by a clan elder (or a group of elders) to be told by everyone and mutated with each retelling like a game of “Telephone” on steroids. But it’s fascinating and exciting as well. I came across an article from 1997 about a collection of myths and legends told by homeless children in Miami as they are shuffled between different shelters. The article indicates that it is the informal responsibility of the oldest child in the shelter to ensure the tales are told properly, like a clan elder of old. I definitely recommend reading the article in its entirety. It’s both heartbreaking and intriguing.
My current favorite urban legend (or “meme” as it is popularly called) is Slenderman. The myth and the character was initially created on the Something Awful forum by the poster Victor Surge and has grown by leaps and bounds as people started adding aspects to the story to make it much more genuine. The story is primarily told via vlogs called Alternate Reality Games or Alternate Reality Experiences on YouTube. Slenderman has become so real that some people actually think this is an actual creature from ancient myth. Though some Slenderman fans balk at its description of a legend or mythology/folklore, I think it absolutely fits. In general, the Slenderman is a creature that haunts old forests, stalks people causing paranoia, and kidnaps children, but rarely openly interacts with its prey. There are many extant mythological creatures that do the same thing and if nothing else, this creature can certainly represent the insecurity and fears of the time in an unstable economy, increasing inequality, and the very real uncertainty that the world will be better for future generations.
Fairytales and mythologies, in their more original scary form as opposed to the more glossy Disney/Pixar versions, are increasing in popularity on television: NBC’s Grimm, ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Alice in Wonderland, the CW’s Supernatural, a personal favorite, proving correct what Tolkien (and others, like Neil Gaiman) believed, that fairytales are never just for children. The Canadian television show, Showcase’s Lost Girl, features creatures of myth and legend, collectively called Fae and the lead character is a succubus. One episode even equated Slenderman with the Pied Piper.
How we explain the world, the good and the bad and the strange, is endlessly interesting. Even moreso is how often different cultures, even those separated by long distances in times before rapid transportation, have myths that overlap. Myths and folklore and fairytales can show that we are much more alike than we are different.