If you think about it, each one of us functions as a storyteller in some capacity and in certain circumstances. We share a joke at a party, make up an excuse for why we failed to accomplish something, embellish a rumor, relate an anecdote, formulate a little white lie to keep the peace.
Come on, if you’re honest, you’ll admit you’ve created your own fictions from time to time. Whether you did it to serve some higher purpose, or only yourself, doesn’t figure into my point, which is that storytelling is part of being human and we all participate in it.
This happened to a friend of a friend
Urban legends are those marvelous tales that get passed along by word of mouth and are usually prefaced by some claim to veracity. “True story—this happened to a friend of mine…” Some of these legends are wildly entertaining and kind of fun.
I decided to take a tour through a selection of urban legends, and I’m inviting you along. Come with me and witness the storytelling genius of ordinary folk gathered around the water cooler or campfire and enjoy some of the more enduring and amusing tall tales of our modern culture.
The Choking Doberman
There are many versions of the Choking Doberman story, but here’s the gist: A woman goes out for the evening, and when she returns to her house late at night, she finds her dog choking, fighting for breath. She rushes the animal to the veterinary hospital where he must undergo surgery. Understandably upset, she returns home and starts getting ready for bed.
The phone rings and when she answers it, the vet exclaims, “Thank goodness! Get out of the house right now. No time to explain—just get out!” The woman runs out of the house and soon the police arrive. The vet contacted them and explained how he’d removed two human fingers from the Doberman’s throat. The house is searched and the intruder is found in a closet, passed out from blood loss due to the missing fingers.
Ooooh! Chills running down your back yet? Let’s hunt down another one.
The Vanishing Lady
Here’s the idea behind The Vanishing Lady: It takes place during an international exposition in Paris. A young girl is traveling with her mother, who becomes ill. The two have lodgings in a hotel room and the girl leaves her mother while she goes out to find a doctor. When she returns, the mother has vanished, the hotel room looks different, and no one claims ever to have seen the girl or her mother before.
It is finally revealed that the woman died of the Plague, and the powers-that-be at the hotel, in order to avoid damaging the reputation of their fine establishment, pretended the whole thing had never happened. They disposed of the body, redecorated the hotel room, and swore everyone to silence.
If this sounds like a familiar plot, you’ll realize that several movies and television shows have been influenced by this story.
Death in the Dormitory
In this story, a girl sneaks into her dorm room late at night to gather a few things before returning to her boyfriend’s room to spend the night there. She doesn’t want to disturb her roommate, so she leaves the light off and stumbles around in the dark, collecting her toothbrush, a change of clothes, and textbooks.
The next morning, she is dismayed to see the police have staked out her dorm room as a crime scene. Her roommate had been murdered in the night, and scrawled across the wall in her blood were these words: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?”
On a little bit lighter note
Not all urban legends are the stuff of horror movies. Some are just quirky or remarkably disgusting, like The Spider Bite which tells of a woman sunbather on a beach in Brazil who sustained a spider bit on her face which grew into an unsightly boil. Or so she thought…until it burst open and a zillion baby spiders rushed out. Or the couple who vacationed in Mexico where they found the “cutest little dog” and took it home for a pet, only to discover it wasn’t a dog at all, but a giant Mexican rat!
If you just can’t get enough of these modern culture nuggets, check out the work of Jan Harold Brunvand. He’s put together several collections and you might find some real gems to share around the water cooler.
How about you? Do you have a favorite urban legend or tall tale? Why not exercise your storytelling abilities and share it with us in the comments?