We explain what legends are, how they originated and the structure they present. Also, what are its characteristics, types and example.

Legend - Atlantis
Legends offer sinister or puzzling narratives.

What is the legend?

a legend is a folk story, which generally contains magical or supernatural elements. They are presented as an explanation for the origin of certain natural elements or as part of real, historical or at least plausible events. Many times they include a moralizing ending.

The leyends They are as old as humanity itself., and have always accompanied her, as part of the stories in which the popular imagination is expressed. Her authorship is collective. They are halfway between myths and fables.

Usually the legends offer sinister or puzzling narratives, which suggest the existence of hidden supernatural elements in the everyday world. There is no “official version” of each one, but rather they circulate in a set of more or less similar versions, since the same legend can change from one country to another.

See also: Horror story

What is the origin of the legend?

Legends, like most popular tales, have their origin in oral tradition.

They pass from generation to generation, from parents to children.

Along the way its content changes gradually. Details are removed or added.

It may even happen that, at the same time, a legend is told in different ways in two regions of the same country or the same community.

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legend story

legend - king arthur
In Romanticism, the legend became part of the artistic imagination.

It is impossible to tell the story of all the legends, since are born and die as societies change. The history of Western legends that still reach our days is associated with medieval Christianity. The Church promoted knowledge of the lives of Catholic saints through these types of stories.

Nevertheless, the Protestant Reformation relocated them to a fictional level, considering them non-historical or informal accounts. This is because the Protestant church differentiated between the “official” or “authentic” saints detailed in the book of martyrs of John Foxe, of the legends told by the Catholic Church at its convenience.

During the time of Romanticism, the legend became part of the artistic imagination and it was highly valued by creators and philosophers. On the other hand, in the age of the Enlightenment, whose worship was mainly for rational knowledge, legends and superstitions were considered barbaric gestures.

legend types

Legends can be classified into two types, depending on their origin:

  • rural legends. They are generally born in feudal times, such as the European Middle Ages, or also within rural societies. They are always closely linked to folklore and to the traditional imagery, religious or not. That is why they are usually set in forests, farms or places where humans are exposed to nature.
  • Urban legends. They are gestated within the population of the cities and therefore belong to a more modern or industrialized imaginary. Therefore, they usually recount supernatural events that go unnoticed in the midst of modernity.

Legend Structure

At the beginning of the legend the context of the story and its characters are presented.

Legends operate as literary stories, so they are usually governed by the classic Aristotelian structure:

  • Start. It raises the world of the story and introduces the main character.
  • Complication. Difficulties arise, generally as a result of having transgressed a rule, having ignored advice or for similar reasons.
  • Outcome. Here the change is manifested (like the beginning of a custom, or the emergence of an animal or plant species). It rarely returns to normal start.
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What is the function of the legend?

Similar to myths, legends have the function of explaining certain aspects of the world or the culture itself. In other cases, they warn about certain risks, instill values ​​or advise against certain behaviors. In this sense, they express the values ​​of a culture, its idea of ​​good and evil, or of traditional roles.

Main features of the legend

legend oral transmission
They are transmitted orally, usually from parents to children.

Legends are generally characterized by:

  • Narrate events that occur in a specific and real place, in a precise place and time. In this it differs from the fable.
  • Focus on a character and his adventures, generally triggered by his defects, his way of being or his actions.
  • They contain a warning or moralizing end, although it is not made explicit as it is in the case of fables.
  • They are of anonymous authorship, since there are usually different versions of the same legend.
  • They are transmitted mostly orally.

Urban legends

legend - creepypasta
Urban legends have to do with conspiracy theories or Internet hoaxes.

The term “urban legend” is also used as a synonym for contemporary folklore. They are the unverifiable and fantastic beliefs that are nevertheless transmitted today. They are very close to conspiracy theories and Internet hoaxes (also called creepypasta).

Its protagonists are no longer the same rural creatures and deities of yesteryear. On the contrary, include secret government plansalien visits, secret war episodes or fantastic encounters with paradoxical beings, places or situations.

legend contamination

This is the name given to the case in which a legend presents elements taken from one or other previous legends or contemporary. This produces a kind of syncretism and leads to the transmission of certain elements of the story. It is very common in regions with a lot of cultural exchange between peoples.

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Difference Between Legend and Myth

Myth - Perseus - Medusa
The myth does not have a moral content like the legend.

The most important difference between myths and legends has to do with their content. Myths offer fantastic and unverifiable explanations about the origin of the world and certain events of philosophical or religious importance for a culture.

On the contrary, legends are inspired and cling to real events, historical and recognizable. Some of its protagonists may be real, although later they tend to be imaginary.

Also They differ by the level of truth assigned to them.. When myths are alive, that is to say that a community believes in them, that community considers them to be true stories. But the legends are narrated as imaginary stories. Even if some people believe in them, they are not considered true by the community.

Another important difference has to do with moral content, educational or at least the warning that the legend usually contains. The myth does not usually include that aspect, and only refers to the behavior of the human being in a symbolic, lateral way, or to explain the origin of a rite or a tradition of conduct.

Finally, legends often have multiple variants and versions, while myths tend to be more homogeneous . The latter, moreover, may be collected in sacred texts.

Example: Faust

The story of Dr. Fausto is a legend of german origin. Faust was a scientist, philosopher, or alchemist who felt that his path of encyclopedic knowledge and scholarship had left him dissatisfied with life. That is why he made a pact with a demon named Mephistopheles, who promised to return worldly pleasures and give him infinite knowledge, in exchange for his immortal soul.


  • “Legend” on Wikipedia.
  • “What is a myth, a legend, a fable?” (video) in Aula365-The creators.
  • “Myth and legend” in Professor Online.
  • What are Legends? in Animals, Myths and Legends.
  • “Legend” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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