USC Digital Folklore Archives / December, 2010
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Legends
Narrative

Legend

The Legend of Alcobaca is about King Alfanso of Portugal, and his son Dom Pedro. Dom Pedro for political reasons was to marry a girl that had a nurse maid. Dom Pedro was to have nothing to do with the nurse maid, but one thing lead to another and much to his father’s chagrin, Dom Pedro fell in love with Ines, rather than waiting for the baby to come of age for the political marriage to take place. So, Dom Pedro’s father was very upset by this, but being his father didn’t want to be to harsh with him, but his advisors suggested long and hard that he get rid of the women Ines. So, Ines was put to death by the followers of king Alfanso, much to the chagrin of Dom Pedro. For years and years Dom Pedro and his father did battle, with Dom Pedro trying to wrestle the throne away from Alfanso. Ultimately his father passed away and Dom Pedro became king and at that point he gave orders that the body of Ines be exhumed, and brought forth in a coronation ceremony, in which the new magistrates and leaders of the kingdom would have to kiss the decomposing hand of the dead queen. Not only that but those that were responsible for Ines’s death were brought before Dom Pedro, and they were murdered in a gruesome fashion: their hearts were torn out and shown to them.

This tale was told to Michael at a concert. He was there to watch a performance of wind ensemble music, and the director told a story of a tale that the piece of music was suppose to be written about. Michael believes that the story is representative of how true love will conquer all. He believes this is evident in the fact that those who performed a wrong eventually met their end in a gruesome way.

As I think about this piece I find that it is wrought with many factors of the true power of love, but it is also very important to know why this legend may have survived. I believe part of the reason that the legend survived is the fact that the kingdom of King Alfonso seems to embrace his son’s take over of the kingdom. They seem to be ok with the fact that Alfonso and his staff were eventually all killed. I think that part of the reason people like this legend is because the little guy who follows his heart ultimately defeats the tyrannical reign of King Alfonso.

Another thought that Michael had was that this story might be more popular with teens, for they are more likely to be in a relationship which their parents do not agree with. I believe this is true, and that this legend gives teens hope that everything will work out as long as they are truly in love with someone else.

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Legends
Narrative

Legend – Manhattan Beach, California

The city of Manhattan Beach was not always called Manhattan Beach. At one time the town was called Pacific Shores. There were two people who basically owned all the property in present day Manhattan Beach. One of the men wanted to call the town Pacific Shores, and the other man wanted to call it Manhattan Beach in honor of Manhattan New York. The myth goes that the two men argued for a long time and finally had to decide what to call the city, so they flipped a coin one side representing Pacific Shores, and one side representing Manhattan Beach. The coin landed with the side representing Manhattan Beach face up, which is why the city south of LAX is know today as Manhattan Beach, but could have just as easily been named Pacific Shores.

Michael believes that the reason for this story is mainly because there is just no real interesting reason for the name of our city. He believes that it may even be more just so that we could say that our city was named for a reason.

I find that this is a great possibility, but there is also the fact that only people in Manhattan Beach are going to know this tale. I do not think there are going to be many people other than residents who are going to want to even know about this tale. I am concerned that maybe even new residents of the city are not even interested in this tale. It is so bland that most people in the city probably don’t even know about it.

Those people that do know about this tale are most likely people who have lived in Manhattan Beach for a long time, and also people that have families. It is the task of most young elementary school students to write a report or give a presentation on their town. This being the case it is going to be people who have lived in Manhattan Beach for a longer time that are going to know about a tale like this.

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Legends
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Contemporary Legend

“Ok so there is this husband and wife, they decided to take a vacation and they uhh brought the wife’s mother along and they uhhh went on a camping trip on a small Volkswagon. Anyway they found the camping site and overnight, unfortunately during the night the mother in law died. So, when they woke up in the morning she was already stiff with rigamortis, so they couldn’t fit her in the Volkswagon, so they put her on top of the car and as they drove home they stopped of to get something to eat and they came back out and the car was stolen … that’s the end of the story.”

When I asked Marty what he thought the meaning, or reason for the urban legend was he said that there was no meaning. He simply thought that the story was for entertainment and that it was simply meant to be retold in a joking manner for conversations in setting like parties.

I believe that there is a reason why this urban legend is popular though. I would think that it is going to be more popular with families that are active in the outdoors. This would explain why Marty would know this urban legend. He is very active in the outdoors, and in fact has traveled to places like Ethiopia, Nepal, Tibet, and the Congo. Marty is also very active in local outdoor settings, and enjoys hiking and camping. He heard this story from a friend that he has gone camping with.

I also thought that this urban legend might be popular among newly weds. I would think that these people would be more likely to have urban legends that deal with their pestering mother’s in law. The fact is that it may even be like the dead baby jokes. There is a group that married people will belong to that have to deal with a mother in law. Most of the time people are aware of how awful a mother in law is. In popular culture a mother in law is generally thought of as being pestering and annoying. Someone that everyone kind of wants to get rid of. I believe that this urban legend is a release for some people that are stuck in this situation, and that this urban legend offers a humorous way to deal with the mother in law problem.

Also, in popular culture the western world tends to find humor in the death of people. In this case the humor is found in the fact that the newly married couple is stuck with a small Volkswagon that is packed with three people and their camping gear, and that when the mother in law passes away, that the only option to get her back to town is to strap her to the top of the car. The other humorous part of this urban legend would be the fact that when the couple goes to get something to eat, that someone steals their tiny Volkswagon, even with the mother in law strapped to the roof of the car.

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Legends
Narrative

Legend

Leonard Bernstein was one of the great composers and conductors of American music. This being the case there are great and bad legends that surround him. The following is an account of the legend that my father heard from a friend about Mr. Bernstein.

“My friend had just finished performing in a musical that had the music written for it by Leonard Bernstein. It was having its West Coast premiere and the musical was so anticipated that the musicians that were hired were getting paid very generously. He was making so much money he went out and bought a brand new sports car. I think it was a Datsun or something like it. He also got a few new mouthpieces. Anyways he had found out that Bernstein was going to be at the premiere and his friend was going to throw a little get together after the first performance and had invited Bernstein. So, my friend decided that it was going to be well worth the time to go and thought it would at the least be very interesting to meet him. Anyways he went to the get together and told himself that no matter what he was going to treat him like anyone else that showed up at the party. So time went by and things were going really well and no Leonard. It got to about 9pm and things were just going on as you would expect at an apartment during a party. There was a group of people at a small table drinking, smoking and enjoying a cheese ball. So he went over and began to talk with those people. At about 10pm the door to the apartment flew open and standing in it was Leonard in a cape, with his son who was at most six, and a lady friend, who was not the boy’s mother. Apparently everyone had stopped what they were doing and was staring. So much for treating him like just another person at the party. So, finally Leonard walks in and takes his cape off, and sits down around the table with the drinks, bong, and cheese ball. Once this happened things got back to how they were, so first the bottle of whisky made its way around the table, with each person taking a sip then passing it on, until it got to Leonard, who set the bottle down right in front of him. Following this the bong made its way around and again stopped at Leonard. This got on Eric’s nerves, but he never said anything. So now there really wasn’t much left at the table, but the cheese ball. And all of a sudden Leonard reaches out and grabs the cheese ball and takes a huge bite out of its, and placed it back on the tray where it had come from. To this day people wish they had said something.

Michael believes that this legend is important because it really shows how strange Leonard was, and how awe struck most people were around him, no matter what he did. He has also heard this story a few other times and in fact has told it to others who have in turn re-told it to me now that I am entering the music world.

I have noticed though that everyone has a slightly different take on what happened and the order of the events. A conductor that I once had told me that the bong was in fact a cigarette, and the very next year he changed it to be a cigar. I think the variation may be contributed to the fact that he is telling the story to very young audiences and is worried about getting complaints from parents. For the same reason I have heard the bottle go from a bottle of vodka, to a flask of wiskey, to a can of coke. I am also very curious to find out how this legend is changing as members of his bands are retelling the stories.

I know that I have found at least four other people who have heard this story from other people that my father, or my director. I also know that there are at least two hundred or more people from the bands that must remember parts of or the entire legend. The interesting part is that it is a legend that for the most part only musicians are going to hear of. It generally is told to us because we have a very high expectation of how Bernstein conducted himself, but this legend kind of pokes fun of how he really acted.

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Legends
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Legend

The legend of the croissant. The Turks were trying to invade Vienna and the Austro-Hugarian empire and they failed. The Turks had the crescent moon as their symbol of Islam, they failed and the Austrians to taunt them, and to commemorate this great victory made their bread in the shape of a croissant or a cross and eat it as if eating the Turks.

Marty believes that this legend that is used to explain the origins of an everyday item. He ran across it on one of his visits to Austria and was told this by a tour guide who had apparently been told about this legend as a child growing up in Austria.

One could assume that it is something like a legend of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree. The truth may not be there, but the legend is there to explain why something exists or why someone is the way they are.

This type of folklore seems to be more local and at the least very nationalistic. It does not seem likely that there are going to be a lot of people in Australia or New Zealand that are going to know about this legend, on the other hand it seems like people of Islamic faith, or of Austrian heritage are going to be more likely to know about this legend.

This legend also seems to be used to preserve the memory of a great moment in Austrian history. A moment where Austria was able to defend itself from invasion and maybe the reason why Marty was told this legend in Austria.

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Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale

The tale of the Turtle and the Rabbit. The turtle agrees to race the rabbit and in the mean time the rabbit decides he is too fast and takes a nap, and here comes the turtle, slow as a turtle, and came and beat him.

The meaning that Midori attributes to this piece of folklore is that patience is always going to get you what you want. She thought that the turtle won because he was simply more patient when it came to getting somewhere. She believes that this is the same in life for everyone and that we should all be slow and take the time that we need to accomplish a task.

I think that she heard this tale originally as a Tortoise and the Hare, but I am not sure. She could not remember exactly when or where she heard it. She did remember though that it was during her childhood that she heard the tale. If the case is that she has changed the characters I believe this is just a very good example of variation then. I know of the cartoon versions of the Tortoise and the Hare, but I have had her tell me the Turtle and the Rabbit before.

This just shows how different pieces of folklore can still have the same meaning. It also shows how sparse the tale really could be and still be able to get the message across to the listener.

I believe that the meaning of this tale is that of being humble. I think that because the Rabbit, or Hare was so cocky that he made a mistake and that had he been more humble that he would have won easily. Taking either meaning for the tale, it is most likely going to be popular among younger people, or older people. Older people relate to the story for they have generally become more patient over time, whereas younger people can be told this tale and gain a lesson from it, either to be more patient, or to be more humble.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale

Little Miss Muffet sat in the corner eating her curds away. Out came a spider and sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.

This would be my grandmother’s interpretation of the Little Miss Muffet tale. I think this again shows how variation can occur. I heard the tale like this:

Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider that sat down beside her, frightened Miss Muffet, spilling her curd and whey.

This would be an example of two different versions of the same tale. Both have the two characters: Miss Muffet, and the spider. Both have curds. And both have the spider frightening Miss Muffet. The difference seems mainly to be in how Miss Muffet reacted to the spider. In the first version (told by Midori) Miss Muffet is frightened away. In the second (told my me) Miss Muffet seems to be startled by the spider causing her to spill her curds and whey.

There may be deeper meaning in this tale, the spider my represent something that little girls might need to be scared of. This being the case it makes sense that for Midori, that Miss Muffet runs away, where as in my version Miss Muffet simply stays there, but is frightened. This may have to do with the fact that I am a male, and may actually be taking the meaning of the tale more literally to be a spider, and that I wouldn’t be that scared of a spider, so why would Miss Muffet run away.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the kings horses and all the kings men could put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

This is a tale that was used by peasants to make fun of a king. Marty couldn’t remember which king, but thought it might be Louis the XIV. He remembers learning the tale as a child. He remembers it more because it was one of the first ones that he was ever taught.

I think that today most people would be able to re tell this tale, but again the variations are still around. I remember the men coming before the horses, but thinking about it I am not quite sure if that is true, or if it is because I just forgot the correct order.

No matter what the reason I would have told the tale a little differently which would have generated a new variation on the tale. The meaning that I attribute to the tale is that you always need to be careful because the one time that you make a big mistake it could cost you quite dearly. In this case, Humpty Dumpty was not put back together again, but was that because he was too badly damaged, or because the people around him didn’t want to help him? If this tale was written so that the kind could be mocked maybe the reason why Humpty Dumpty wasn’t put back together again was because of the peoples desires to let the king suffer.

general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale

“Little Red Riding Hood was going to her grandma’s and here in the wood comes the Big Bad Wolf, and he says what do you have Little Red Riding Hood? And she says something about taking things to the grandma, but in the mean time the Bad Wolf went to the grandma’s first and ate up the grandma and the Wolf was in bed in grandma’s clothes, Little Red Riding Hood didn’t know. But I don’t know what happened to her.”

This is a variation through omission. Midori tried very hard to tell this tale, but this was as close as she got in her interview to completing the story. She seemed very fixated on the fact that the grandma was eaten my the wolf. This might be in part because she is a grandmother herself.

I thought that maybe the fixation on the wolf could be like her concerns with growing old and dieing. She has in the past stated that she does not want to pass away because there is so much that she wants to she me and my sister accomplish before her time is up. I wonder if really she is subconsciously interpreting the wolf eating the grandmother kind of like death coming to get her. This would be a logical explanation for her fixation on the wolf eating the grandmother, and why she really didn’t know what happens to Little Red Riding Hood.

I also found it interesting that her variations were all incomplete in my experiences with these tales. This might be because she has not had a need to retell these tales to anyone, so the details are a little hazy now. This might be a reason for variations in any type of folklore. As people grow and mature so does their folklore and like anything else that it learned, if it isn’t used frequently parts are lost or forgotten. This might also have to do with the fact that we do not necessarily have as much folklore that is told by word of mouth instead we have written tales, so the room for error is much less.

Annotation:

Taylor, Archer. California Folklore Quarterly, vol. 3, No. 4. Western State Folklore Society. October 1944. p. 318.

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Legends
Narrative

Contemporary Legend – Mexican

“Back in the 60’s or 70’s Chevy had a car that was called the Nova. The car sold well in the United States, but when they took the car to be sold in Mexico, the car didn’t sell well. After spend a lot of time and money on research, the GM corporation found out that they sales were not doing well because the translation of No Va in Spanish is No Go in English. I heard this from a friend who had friends who worked for GM.”

In this urban legend the GM corporation can not figure out why a car that sold well in the United States was not selling well in another foreign country, in this case Mexico. The legend goes that GM spent lots of time and money trying to figure out this problem, but was only to find out that their car wasn’t selling well because of the name it had.

My father believes this legend is popular because it shows a major corporation from America wasting time and money on all these studies on their car, when all they need to do was ask about the name they had given the car. He believes that this is popular because there is a growing anti-American view in the world today. He heard this legend from a friend, and actually asked some of his Mexican friends if they had heard about it. He found out that the Nova translation was a major part of why the car didn’t sell.

I find that this legend is most likely popular because it shows how you can be on the top of you game and still miss the mark because you forget about the little things that you take for granted like the name of a car. If the GM corporation had simply asked people in Mexico why the car wasn’t selling they probably would have had their answer fairly quickly.

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