Urban legends: Who I am and how I came to be

Folklore is a passion of mine.  Horror fiction is another.  In particular, I’m fascinated by urban legends, those friend’s-cousin’s-brother-saw-it yarns about slashers, tainted food, inadvertent cannibalism, and other horrors.  Fascinated by these stories, and the deeper meanings they have.  Old Hook-Hand, of course, is there to warn young teenagers about the dangers of parking.  The unfortunate baby-sitter who learned too late that humans can lick too, she’s a warning to young girls, designed to underscore the seriousness of their responsibilities.  The woman who literally microwaved her insides after too much time in the tanning bed is a grim morality play about vanity.  Our myths and legends, the stories we tell, the things we’re afraid of, these things reveal our secret selves.  And so my hobby (well, one of my hobbies [well, actually, all my hobbies in one way or another, now that I think about it]) is a sort of mystery archeology, digging through the secret history of the 20th century as revealed in popular culture, and trying to make sense of what I find.  Why did slasher movies come into vogue when they did, and why did they experience a resurgence?  What forces led Batman to go from the target of a police manhunt when first introduced in 1939, to becoming a licensed police deputy and sometime professor of criminology during the fifties?  How much of a role did Superman really have in weakening the Ku Klux Klan’s influence?  Where does the Bloody Mary story come from?  These are the kind of questions I want answers to.

The other night, I realized why.

It must have been about twenty years ago, I think.  It was Summer, and I and several of the neighborhood kids were playing in one of those big wading pools in the front yard.  I can’t remember names, or faces, or any sort of details at all, really, but I clearly, vividly remember how I felt.

Terrified.

Because the other children were telling scary stories.

Middle of the afternoon, bright sunshine all around, and little five-year-old Brad is losing his shit because for the first time in his very abbreviated life he’s hearing about babies crying in the night in a house where there is no baby, and the next day’s investigation revealing a tiny tiny coffin hidden inside the walls.

I very clearly remember my mother telling me that these were just stories, and definitely not true, and that kids had been telling them since she was a little girl.  As an example, she told me about the woman whose Doberman started choking, and the visit to the Veterinerian that revealed that he had the fingers of an intruder caught in his throat.  Oh yes sir, I well remember that story.  Thanks Mom.  And I remember Bloody Mary, the story that had me ducking down under the counter in the bathroom for months so that the mirror couldn’t see me.  Now that I’m a grown man who stands fully six feet high and has a bushy beard and a gun and a big ol’ sword and a checking account and what have you, I still find my hair very literally standing on end when I think about Bloody Mary.

So here’s the thing.  I wasn’t just caught in the grip of fear that day.  It was revelation.  That was when I learned that there was a dark shadow world under the real one, and began to get an inkling of what it might mean.  Like the bat flying in through Bruce Wayne’s window, it is, in hindsight, the watershed moment that set me on my path.

So now I know that one of the big reasons I read so much about folklore, and watch so many horror movies, is because that’s how I deal with how badly those things frightened me when I was six.  Fascinating.

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One Response to “Urban legends: Who I am and how I came to be”

  1. Ooooh, fascinating! Now I’m envisioning a massive shadow-world below our own, the Collective Subconscious of the human race, where monsters and heroes live and fight, echoes of our own reality. But one day, one of the dwellers become manifest, and humanity must face its worst collective nightmare …
    Okay sorry, I had to turn that into some kind of trailer. It would make a great book or movie. Or better! Comic book!

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