Tag Archives: Narrative

Myth: Anansi Story from a Coworker


Informant S is a 25 year old graduate student in the film production department of USC SCA and is the collector’s coworker. S is from New Jersey, and their family is from the Virgin Islands. S has “heard various Anansi stories within [their] family. This one [they] remember partially reading it for a project [they] were doing in a class but it also was within the realm of the ones [they] heard growing up [they] just couldn’t fully remember it so [they] just found one.” The informant has studied folklore for their own personal interest in it and employed it in their own filmmaking.


Informant: “Anansi is essentially like an African diaspora. It’s a spider, like a trickster-spider, and it’s everywhere in the Caribbean, it’s in the whole diaspora. And there’s one Anansi story I sort of remember where he’s hungry and he wants dinner. So he keeps getting himself invited to, like, dinner parties and pretending there’s a bunch of people and then he steals the host’s dinner and just, like, leaves. I think he killed one of them at one point. But it’s all these different like creatures of the forest I think, there’s a fox, a wolf, and a crow I believe? And then eventually he keeps coming home, eating all the food he stole, and not bringing any back for his wife and kids. So, I think his wife rats him out and then there’s like a fake dinner party made to get him and he eats so much food he can’t move anymore. And then all the people he stole the food from capture him and basically tie him up and leave him tied against a tree. And then he eats the rope and escapes. That’s not… that’s the gist of it, I can remember.”

Collector: “Like that’s how it ends?”

Informant: “Something like that. They usually have kind of dark endings but the… essentially Anansi is supposed to teach you […] lessons about why not to trick people and be greedy and selfish and a bunch of stuff. […] Anansi itself is like a… almost universal… one of the few universal diasporic concepts. There’s a whole bunch of them, that’s just one I remember.”


I was lucky enough to find an informant for this collection entry that was familiar with concepts of folklore itself. S mentioned that their interest in the African diaspora is rooted in their own personal background, connecting them to heritage or family as we’ve discussed in class. It seems like this kind of interest in cultural folklore is common among the children and grandchildren of immigrants in America. S’ story reminds me of the concept of “universal archetype” – though that theory has been disproved, I can see why some folklorists have considered it. The concept of a trickster god, while not archetypal, appears in a number of folklores – notably in Indigenous American folklore, according to Lévi-Strauss’ work in structuralism. Anansi, like Lévi-Strauss’ examples, acts on instincts that are pretty reminiscent of human flaws, and is connected with a specific type of animal – a spider. Though S believes the story is to teach people not to mess with trickster gods, I believe it has to do with human flaw such as greed and gluttony as well. What’s more, I think it’s interesting that the informant specifically mentioned what they believe the story is supposed to teach, and has a pretty clear understanding of this story as a myth.

The Princess and the Pea


BR: A young price is becoming of marrying age and his mother is eagerly trying to find a suitable princess for him to wed. She doesn’t think that anyone in the kingdom is a “true” princess, and tells him that he must wait for the right person to come along. One night, there is a terrible storm and a traveling girl seeks shelter in the castle. The prince immediately takes interest in her, but his mother judges her wet, ragged clothes and tells him that she is certainly not worthy. To prove it, the mother makes a bed of 10 mattresses and puts a single pea under the bottom mattress. She claims that only a real princess would be able to feel the pea through all of the mattresses. Much to her surprise, the princess tells her that the bed was too uncomfortable and she could hardly sleep. The girl was a true princess after all, and she and the prince lived happily ever after. The moral of the story is to never judge a book by its cover.


BR: I first heard this story from my parents as a bedtime story. My sisters and I all listened together and learned that it is important to not judge people on their appearance. I think this message is important for people to know and this story is a good way to teach it to children.


When asked about myths and tales they know, shockingly few people think of bedtime stories they were told as children. This story in particular is a fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson written in the 1800s. Anderson was a Danish storyteller, yet BR has no Danish roots, indicating the story has become more commonplace. Similarly to Aesop’s Fables, Anderson’s works often feature a concise moral. They differ however, in that all of the characters are human and behave as humans would.

Hanuman and the Mountain


NS: In the Ramayana, Lakshmana is poisoned in battle so his brother Rama tasks Hanuman with finding an herb that will save his brother’s life because Hanuman is the fastest of all the soldiers. The herb can only be found on a specific mountain that’s very far away, and Hanuman is scared he won’t be able to find the herb and bring it back in time because he isn’t sure what it looks like. As a solution, he carries back the entire mountain to Rama on the tip of his pinky finger. 


NS: Growing up, my parents told me tales from Hindu mythology; the tale of Hanuman and the mountain in particular was supposed to emphasize how devoted Hanuman was to Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu. This was in part to inspire that same devotion to Hinduism in me and my brother, but was also their way of telling us to stop being lazy (“if Hanuman could carry the whole mountain on the tip of his finger, you can do xyz!”).


I admittedly am not terribly familiar with Hindu mythology, but from this conversation it seems to be full of stories similar to this. Religious myths are often used as a way to understand the world and inspire faith in people. The Bible and in particular the Old Testament is famously a collection of such stories, designed to teach morals and the value in following the teachings of God. As a polytheistic religion, Hinduism splits those teachings into the acts and stories of service to varying gods in the pantheon, but they serve the same purpose.

Peddocks Island Ghost Story

Main Piece

Informant CH told many ghost stories from the Boston Harbor, on islands near her hometown. She recalls that of the islands, Peddocks Island was the “scariest place she’s ever been” and that she was taken there on a camping trip in both 7th and 8th grade.

An island tour guide who frequents Peddocks told her and her classmates of ghost stories that took place there–there are abandoned wartime barracks on the island and an abandoned ship watchtower, and the grounds are said to be haunted. One such story involves “hearing someone playing a piano, but there’s nobody there.”

While on a walk with another 7th grade peer at night by the barracks, CH and her friend saw a wandering man in a “war helmet with a visor,” wearing black, green, and white. He was “limping and had a gun slung over his shoulder.” They both screamed and the figure didn’t react at all. He was “walking on a path that didn’t exist” and, upon later recollection, CH added that she didn’t remember his walking making any sound. When they returned to camp and told of the occurrence, other teachers and peers didn’t believe them and asked why they all didn’t see it if something was there.

The next day, CH and her peers were taken to a history museum, where she saw photos of soldiers with the “same color grade and hats with visors and everything.” She learned that soldiers used to be trained on this island, and there used to be homes and hospitals set up on the grounds where she was camping.

The next year, CH returned as an 8th grader and, while staying in tents by the old watchtower, she saw a “girl…sketching the exact same guy because she said that she also saw him.”


Informant Interpretation: CH believes this story to be one example of many haunted stories told about Boston Harbor, and traces this back to the fact that “this is the portion that still retains its history.” No one builds or tears things down on the island. “The life as it was is still how it is,” CH mentioned, which makes it a “magnet” for stories like this. CH noted that she honestly believes she and her friend saw a ghost that day, and that this occurrence made her think ghosts dwelled in a parallel world (as he didn’t acknowledge her or her friend) rather than haunting this one.

Personal Interpretation: I found this story to be emblematic of a regional perspective on haunting, as permitted by the history of Boston Harbor–as a city much older than many others in America, it feels more in touch with its history. This plays out in CH’s legend by virtue of haunting coming about in old, untouched places–ghosts become representative of the collective public memory, remaining relevant because so much physical history and buildings remain too. I think it’s also an apt example of human perception informing folk narrative–observation of physical land features, attitudes of locals, and sheer emotional intuition all lend themselves towards forming regional beliefs and legends.


My informant is a current student of Theatre at the University of Southern California, originally from Hull, Massachusetts (located on a peninsula on Boston Harbor). She grew up there, and notes that her family has strong ties to the area. Both of her parents believe in ghosts, though she believes there to be a general local apprehension about their existence around the Harbor.

CH is white and of European (primarily Irish) descent, and female-presenting.

“The Lady In Black” Ghost Story

Main Piece

Informant CH recalls hearing a story from her Mom about “The Lady in Black,” a ghost who dwells on George’s Island in the Boston Harbor.

As told by CH, the Lady in Black was wrongfully convicted for a murder she didn’t commit, and hung on prison grounds. She now haunts these grounds, wailing. Prisoners have heard a woman’s cries in the prison, but there wasn’t anyone there.

The Lady in Black was “not a real person” (in terms of corporealness), and “couldn’t physically interact with anything,” and seemed “bound” to the site of the prison. Hearing her cries startled prisoners, and CH recalls that the legend of the Lady in Black is well-recorded and published in regional folklore. While discussing it, CH was unsure of more specific details and mentioned that I should look up further details, as she’s uncertain if her memory of the story aligns with the published materials.


Informant’s Interpretation: CH sees the story of the Lady in Black as a reminder of the wartime history of Boston Harbor. She also believes that the abundance of stories about Boston Harbor–particularly pertaining to ghosts–has to do with a permeating regional desire to “figure out what happened” and have an accurate understanding of history that’s still so well represented and physically present.

Personal Interpretation: I drew similarities between CH’s story of the Lady in Black to the Irish banshee, a wailing woman who acts as a harbinger of death. Being that the Lady in Black was particularly noted to be heard by prisoners and a victim of a wrongful hanging, I felt her association with death was particularly strong. This seems representative of a place (particularly a prison with heavily militaristic history) that has a great deal of death associated with it. Thus, I felt the haunting and its nature to be deeply tied to the literal and physical history of the island.


Informant CH is a current student at USC pursuing a degree in Theatre. She grew up in Hull, Massachusetts, and noted that her Mom grew up in the same town and the “islands have been her life.” CH heard this story from her, and thinks it likely came up because she mentioned thinking she’d seen a ghost when she was young (elementary to early middle school), and her parents responded by telling her about the Lady in Black. CH notes that due to this story and other personal experiences, she believes in ghosts, as do her parents.

CH is white and of European descent (primarily Irish), and is female-presenting.