Last night I was watching Candyman – which I heartily recommend, as it is actually a lot wittier than it’s apparent slasher-flick beginnings would indicate, or at least give a read to the story “The Forbidden” in Books of Blood, from whence it springs – and brooding about urban legends. Some of Candyman’s dialogue stuck in my brain, and got me thinking. He says something along the lines of “You’ve made people doubt me, and now I must shed innocent blood. Believe in me. Be my victim.” That’s not exact – I was dog-tired and trying not to sneeze myself to death at the time – but the gist of it is. Without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t already been exposed, the film ends with the birth of a new urban legend.
Urban legends – and their predecessors, folk tales – almost feel alive. They spread virally, with no particular rhyme or reason, and nearly everyone knows at least a handful. No one can ever reliably state where they come from; they just are, appearing to spring nearly full-formed from our collective unconsciousness. Some fade out; others gain an audience, and are told again and again. They grow in the telling; an extra detail here, a new locale or victim there.
This line of thinking led me, naturally enough – to my fractured mind, at least – to the idea of “What if they are literally living things?” Half lifted from Candyman with a dollop of It and watching Slenderman’s rise to popularity added in, I wondered where I was going with this. Did I mean that, for example, there really are alligators in the sewers, because people believe there are? Or did I mean the tale itself was somehow alive, propagating itself and somehow gaining strength each time the tale was told to another, regardless of the listener’s potential skepticism? Perhaps both?
I don’t know where I’m going with this. But it’s spawned me pecking away at the keyboard from the perspective of the Librarian, who serves as both source and depository for such tales, tending them the way a gardener might watch over his bonsai trees. It may be trash and deleted as soon as I’ve hit a wall with it. It may be treasure that I’ll actually do something with. But in either case, it was a way to pass the day.
So far as urban legends themselves go, I was always partial to the Bloody Mary derivatives. Perhaps because I was traumatized early on by a bathroom incident, perhaps because mirrors have always freaked me out, maybe “just because,” the same way some people are disturbed and yet fascinated by bugs, car crashes or autopsies. What about you out there? What’s your favorite urban legend? Got one you haven’t heard enough, that wants to live a little longer? One that just drives you batty? Let us know in the box below. Until next time!