Everyone has heard an urban legend at some point. Usually it starts with school girls daring each other to say Bloody Mary into a mirror, or hearing about the bug that laid eggs in someone’s ear. These tales, like original fairy tales, are often meant to caution people about bad behaviour, while others are just to frighten.
Examples of cautionary tales include the teenagers who are making out in a car, only to be interrupted by a man with a hook—the moral cautions about premarital sex. Or there’s the woman who spent a lot of time in a tanning bed, trying to get a tan for her wedding, and cooked her internal organs—moral, don’t use tanning beds in excess.
Many people enjoy telling friends a frightening tale. Urban legends play into our delight of scaring people in a safe way, as well as our fascination with the strange and gruesome. What’s better than creeping out a friend with a tale about the person who was out partying and woke up in a bathtub of ice missing an organ? Or that there’s a woman in white who haunts a section of highway because she was killed on her wedding night?
Urban legends are frightening because they are set in familiar settings—our homes, schools, towns—and are often told as third or fourth hand, “this happened to a friend of a friend,” or “my friend told me about this person he knew that knew someone.” They are meant to hit close to home. They play off our fears, being home alone or out in the woods, driving alone, things we eat, the dark.
With the rise of the internet, especially Facebook, a new way to spread urban legends has appeared. One of the most recent ones, I’ve seen, is that bananas were injected with HIV. There’s also the one warning about the gang initiation where members drive in a car with the headlights off and kill anyone who flashes their headlights at them.
Everywhere in the world has their own urban legends. Some have been made into movies, including Urban Legend, When a Stranger Calls, Carved, and The Grudge. Over the coming weeks, we have some guest posts that will take a closer look at some urban legends to celebrate our upcoming anthology Legendary.
Do you have a favourite urban legend?