Deep in the Mines of Folklore and Urban Legend

Deep in the Mines of Folklore and Urban Legend


Robert P. Ottone


“Legends die hard. They survive as truth rarely does.” It’s hard to top the First Lady of the American Theater, Helen Hayes, but there you have it. The magic of legends, whether urban or folkloric, lies in the blending of truth and obfuscation of reality. As someone who likes to mine a region’s folklore and urban legends for material, there’s a thrill in playing with tradition while putting one’s own spin on a classic tale.

My story, “After Trevor Vanished” is featured in Even in the Grave, an anthology of ghost stories set in various parts of New York. In the story, a young couple drives from the city to Long Island in order to have some fun at a family lake house. Only this lake has a history. To say more would do the story a disservice, but on Long Island, where the story is set, there is a persistent piece of folklore that’s referenced a lot, and is something one could trace back Arthurian legend: the lady in the lake.

The Lady in the Lake, or Lady of the Lake is a tale as old as story itself. In Arthurian legend, she provides the powerful sword Excalibur to King Arthur. From there, the story seems to take on a darker hue. Lake Ontario, Texas’ White Rock Lake, and Long Island’s Lake Ronkonkoma all spin a similar yarn about a vengeful spirit dwelling beneath the dark waves of the placid waters. It is this notion that I began to unravel and respool my own take on the urban legend, playing with tradition and instead infusing a more modern or personally-focused tale of a couple dealing with a murky haunting. By taking elements of the legend of Lake Ronkonkoma here on Long Island, which is basically that of a Native American princess claiming the life of one male swimmer every year in the lake as recompense to replace the English settler love of her life she was forbidden from marrying, I relied heavily on some of the shorthand we’ve seen and read a million times in horror. By letting the reader in on the storytelling shorthand that we all make connection to in the form of “Oh no, it’s a Native American curse,” I was then able to obfuscate the truth behind the haunting in the story. Like a street magician or a pickpocket, while your mind is doing the mental gymnastics regarding tried-and-true tropes of the horror genre, I’m setting the stage for something that doesn’t rely solely on that exact trope and instead interprets it in a new way. My story then took less aspects of regional folklore, instead taking the guise of a different kind of haunting.

Folklore and urban legend are available to us all. When I was a kid, I’d have to actually read a book about a region to uncover the longstanding whispered traditions of a region. Now, there’s countless Wikis and other sites dedicated to general spookiness. Whenever I’m stuck when it comes to a monster or spirit or whatever, Google has me covered. Just recently, I was working on a book on Bigfoot and perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s even a Nigerian take on the familiar cryptid. Slightly different, but largely the same as the North American version. This kind of information is just a few keystrokes away.

Truth is boring. The real world is boring. The hidden history and the folkloric tradition of a region are what excites me. At the end of the day, the tale of a region boils down to “people from the past settled here, farmed, fought and the town grew.” Wouldn’t it be more interesting if that story was interrupted by something creepy, rooted in folklore? “People from the past settled here, farmed, woke up an ancient horror buried deep in the earth, fought and the town vanished.” 

Personally, I’d rather read that second one.

About Even in the Grave, edited by James Chambers and Carol Gyzander

“In death – no! even in the grave all is not lost.” –Edgar Allan Poe

Wandering souls! Restless spirits! The vengeful dead! Those who die with unfinished business haunt the living and make their presence known from the world beyond:

A scientist’s invention opens a window onto a terrible afterlife.

A New York City apartment holds the secrets of the dead.

A grandmother sends text messages from the grave.

A samurai returns to his devastated home for a final showdown with his past.

A forgotten TV game show haunts a man with a dark secret.

A tapping from behind classroom walls leads to a horrible discovery.

The specter of a prehistoric beast returns to a modern-day ranch. And the one seeing eye knows all—including what you did. Haunted from the other side, these stories roam from modern cities to the shadowed moors to feudal Japan to the jungles of Central America, each providing a spine-chilling glimpse into the shadows not even death can restrain. Do you dare open these pages and peer into the darkness they reveal?

Stories by Marc L. Abbott, Meghan Arcuri, Oliver Baer, Alp Beck, Allan Burd, John P. Collins, Randee Dawn, Trevor Firetog, Caroline Flarity, Patrick Freivald, Teel James Glenn, Amy Grech, April Grey, Jonathan Lees, Gordon Linzner, Robert Masterson, Robert P. Ottone, Rick Poldark, Lou Rera, and Steven Van Patten.

Available at eSpecBooks

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