Monday, September 10, 2012

Part l: Interview with Jan Harold Brunvand, Author of Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Updated and Expanded Edition

Why did this 2001 Encyclopedia need to be updated and expanded?

Obviously there was a lot of new material, since the book went from about 500 pages in one volume to 782 pages in two volumes. Already in 2001—too late to be included in the first book—collections of urban legends were published in Denmark and Iceland, followed by new books from Italy (2003, 2004), Japan (2003), Germany (2004), South Africa (2006 and 2010), Belgium, and Holland (both 2008) and a couple of dozen other new titles in English.

In addition to book-length collections and studies, there have been many further articles about urban legends in both academic and popular periodicals as well as numerous papers presented at scholarly meetings, and new research materials are provided online. Besides folklorists, other specialists including sociologists, psychologists, and literary scholars have been studying urban legends, requiring either expansion of some entries or creation of new ones, such as “Medieval Urban Legends” “Storytelling and Urban Legends,” and “Truth Claims in Urban Legends.”

One important advance in urban legend studies was the adoption of the tentative “Brunvand type index” that appeared in my 1993 book. Folklorists from Belgium and Holland had started using these categories in their archives and publications, adding numbers to the story titles I had suggested. So it was time to standardize this index, extend the numbering system throughout the corpus of material, and include the index in this updating.

Another development I wanted to document in the new edition was the growing acceptance of the term “urban legends” and several variations in the popular media, which I did with a set of examples from publications of 2004-2011.

Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Updated and Expanded Edition

Besides all the new collections and studies, were there new legends to report?

Definitely. The first edition had entries for all the stories we might call “classic urban legends” as documented in my collections and many others from the 1980s on, with references back to scattered collections (mostly in academic journals) from the 1940s and sometimes even earlier. Most of these collections were either American, European, or from a few places where interest in urban legends had developed, such as Australia and South Africa. To expand the range of legends I included many more examples, often rather localized versions, from other traditions. I also added many more actual examples of story texts to the entries, both in English and some foreign languages. Among the prominent topics of recent urban legends worldwide are terrorism, immigration, natural disasters, diseases, government, and globalization of culture and business. New legend titles in this edition include “AIDS Origin Legends,” “The Celebrating Arabs,” “The Curse of 911,” “The Eaten Ticket,” “Mag Wheels,” “National Gang Week,”  “Pharm Parties,” “Photographic Urban Legends,” and . . . well, it goes on and on.

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview to be posted next week!

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