Informant: “The story happens in a small town, and there’s a small darkened road that teenagers would go down and park along to kiss and make out. So, the story follows these two teenagers who are parked alongside the road and start to get a little amorous…”
Collector: “Do we know anything about the identities of the two teenagers?”
Informant: “They were just two young kids from the local high school that haven’t been dating for long; they’re very innocent and new to the dating scene, so the whole situation is exciting for them. Anyhow, they’re out, things are starting to get hot and heavy, but they hear some noises out in the woods. The guy rolls down the window and asks, “Hey, is anybody out there? Do you need help?” There’s no response, so they just go back to making out. A few minutes go by, and they hear the same noises again, and the kid rolls down the window and again asks if anyone’s out there. The girl tells him, “Why don’t you go out and take a look?” and so he goes out and looks around the car and sees nothing. He gets back in and rolls up the window, but they hear yet another noise, and this time it sounds even closer, so they start to get concerned. They realize how late it is and decide to head home, and on the way home, they turn on the radio. On the radio they hear that a mass murderer had just escaped from a nearby mental institution and was on the loose. The broadcast described the man as having one defining feature: a hook for one of his hands. And so they’re like, “Oh, well, at least we’re out of that area.” So they drive home, and when they stop in front of the house, the guy gets out to open the door for her, and there on her door handle is a hook.”
Context: The informant is a 63 year-old man who was told this story by his grandmother as a teenager when she was cautioning him against staying out late at night. The informant said that the legend accurately referenced a mental hospital that was close to where he lived as a boy in upstate New York. He explained that the moral is that you can be much closer to danger than you think, and that you should trust your instincts whenever you feel like something isn’t right.
Analysis: Legends can function as a powerful social tool, and this story is a prime example of the kinds of effects that they can have. Legends typically intersect with both reality and some supernatural or extraordinary element(s), which can blend together to become powerful persuasive devices. In this case, this story was used to scare teenagers into behaving responsibly, and I will attempt to analyze how it does so, taking into account the distinctive western context that it is situated in. Teenagers often have a reputation for being fearless and reckless in their behavior, and many American teens, especially, are heavily influenced by the American education system, which arguably prioritizes rational thought and critical inquiry and de-emphasizes superstition and blind adherence to belief. As a result, it is reinforced in many American teens and adolescents with traditional schooling to be skeptical of fantastical monsters and stories. Thus, in an attempt to use storytelling as a method of persuasion for teens, it helps to incorporate some tangible aspect of reality for credence, which legends as a narrative form tend to have. Therefore, in teens, the legend would seem to be particularly effective over myths and tales, which are understood by most at their age as not factually true. The manipulation of reality in “The Hook” is particularly effective here, referencing a real location–a mental asylum–where criminals were really known to be held, in order to give the story a greater rhetorical weight and degree of plausibility. The supernatural element, a deranged man from the asylum, blends so seamlessly with the factual details of the story that I see how it would be highly useful in persuading a skeptical, rebellious teenager (as my informant once was) into avoiding staying out late at night.