Legends and Myths

Legends are used as a source of folklore, providing historical information regarding the culture and views of a specific legend’s native civilization.

“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is the most popular and well known American legend. The traditional tale type involves a young girl in a white dress picked up alongside of the road by a passerby. The unknown girl in white remains silent for the duration of her ride, thanks the driver, and quietly gets out at her destination. When the driver turns to look back, the girl has vanished. Often a third character is included at the destination to add further suspicion to the girl’s existence by informing the driver that they haven’t seen anyone all night.

“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” and stories like it, display the fears and anxieties that a particular social group has. For example, the hitchhiking tale speaks to America’s fascination with the road and also the anxieties that are inherent to travel.

The word “legend” appeared in the English language in 1340, transmitted from mediaeval Latin language through French. Its blurred sense of a non-historical narrative or myth was first recorded in 1613, by emphasizing the unrealistic character of “legends” of the saints. Legend is distinguished from the genre of chronicle by the fact that legends apply structures that reveal a moral definition to events, providing meaning that lifts them above the repetitions and constraints of average human lives and giving them a universality that makes them worth repeating through many generations. 


Myth is often regarded as historical or obsolete. Many scholars in the field of cultural studies are now beginning to research the idea that myth has worked itself into modern discourses. Modern formats of communication allow for wide spread communication across the globe, thus enabling mythological discourse and exchange among greater audiences than ever before. Various elements of myth can now be found in television, cinema and video games.

Although myth was traditionally transmitted through the oral tradition on a small scale, the technology of the film industry has enabled filmmakers to transmit myths to large audiences via film dissemination. The basis of modern storytelling in both cinema and television lies deeply rooted in the mythological tradition.