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local legends

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The most common folk narratives in England (apart from jokes) are stories about remarkable events in the history of a particular locality, the supposed origins of its landmarks and place-names, curious features of its buildings, etc. Their contents range across the whole spectrum of traditional themes, from the realistic, through the amazing-but-not-impossible (e.g. the Hangman's Stone), to supernatural beliefs now outmoded (the Devil, fairies), or still current (ghosts, curses). Some are so plausible that only experience can show whether they are, as the tellers assert, memories of a real event, or whether they follow a standard folktale pattern. In general, tellers take for granted that the story is unique to their own district, and factually reliable, unless its content is blatantly fantastic, in which case it is told ‘for fun’. However, even where marvels are involved, some will claim there is ‘a grain of truth in it’—for instance, that killing a dragon is ‘really’ about sinking a Viking ship or killing a wicked nobleman (JS).

Many such stories have featured repeatedly in folklore collections and popular books; however, there are plenty more that are known only in a restricted area. Moreover, local legends do not have just one ‘correct’ form; there are always slight differences of detail from one teller to the next. Current oral versions are well worth seeking out.

Printed sources include not only all books explicitly dealing with regional folklore, but also references in guidebooks, local papers, local histories, etc. A generous selection is in Briggs, 1970–1: B; a smaller sample, with very informative commentary, in Westwood, 1985. For discussion of the genre, see Simpson, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1991.

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