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As legend becomes fiction

Notes on genre history



In contemporary folkloristics legend is usually conceptualised as a believable narrative genre telling about extraordinary events and supernatural encounters. The veracity of legends is achieved through the rhetoric of factualization and verification and by blending the genre with social and physical details of everyday life. The article discusses some discursive changes occurring in legends as the genre is transferred from the sphere of oral communication to that of book-lore, media and academic folkloristics. Fr. R. Faehlmann and Fr. R. Kreutzwald were among the first authors in Estonia who started a literary project of turning legends into a genre of fiction. During the period of massive folklore collecting in the late 19th century many legends were recorded as utopian reflections of a pre-Christian religion, which contributed to the detachment of the genre from social reality and to turning it into Romantic fantasy. The philological and Marxist approaches pursued by later folklorists contributed towards the transformation of vernacular belief narratives into a literary genre. Legends were conceptualised as survivals of the past, as fragments of a larger mythology that had been lost. The article argues that the above mentioned changes manifest the potential of legend as a flexible genre for transformations and adaptations. Today, legend has taken on multiple new forms in literature, media, film, arts, esoteric discourse and other contexts. This all has turned legends into an attractive and topical field in international folkloristics with multiple approaches ranging from archival, philological studies to fieldwork-based interviews and analytical research of the Internet and other media.