I Heard it on the Grapevine

Jean Noel Kapferer. Rumours: Uses, Interpretations and Images. Transaction Publishers, 1990.

In a recent issue of the Observer Magazine, Dr John Collie reported that the strangest death he had heard about was of a man wearing bathing trunks whose body had been found partially charred in the remains of an extinguished forest fire. Apparently he had been scooped up while swimming by the water-bomb planes which were being used to dump thousands of gallons of water on the conflagration. Had Dr Collie read this book he would have realised this was another of the FOAF tales and rumours concerning both the strange fate of bodies, and strange things dumped from the sky - including vipers to repopulate the countryside.

The memory of the White Slave scare or Orléans has made the French rather more concerned than the British to make an academic study of rumour. This book is not just an academic disquisition on the origins and transmission or rumour, it is also a fascinating source and analysis. There are discussions of the 'satanic' Proctor and Gamble trademark, the phantom hitch-hiker and the LSD sticker scare (reported in this book written in France in 1987, some time before its appearance in this country last year). There are also the French ecological rumours; not just vipers but mystery cats which 'are seen as wild-cats introduced by the - to sections of the rural population - 'demonic' ecologists in their campaign to turn back habitat and restore wilderness, These are the legends which arise in the context of rural depopulation and railway line cutbacks. Soon, according to les paysans, the wolves will be back.

The author claims that whether in 1990 or the Middle Ages there are just nine types of rumour: the Return of Satan; the Hidden Poison; the Great Conspiracy; Artificial Scarcity; Fear of Strangers; Kidnappings; the Passions, Illnesses and Vanities of Princes - or their modern counterparts, politicians and media personalities. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 39, April 1991.

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