Be Afraid

Jan Harold Brunvand, Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends, W. W. Norton, 2004.
It would be nice to say that this book breaks new ground and presents fresh urban legends for the 21st century. Sadly it doesn’t; what we get are the same old favourites, - you know - the hook, the phantom hitchhiker, the spider in the hairdo, the Mexican rat, etc., etc. There are variant tellings and often the history of the story is traced, but after a while these same old stories begin to pall.

It’s not as if there are no new urban legends out there. 9/11 must have produced many, but only a handful of such stories are presented here. There are a variety of other tales which often fail to reach these anthologies; for example just the day before reading this, as I was eating lunch in the pub I overheard a guy at the next table going on to his mates about how he never eats at McDonalds because the profits go straight to the IRA, a tale which surfaced at the time of the Warrington bomb back in 1993.

Tales like that of McDonald's funding the IRA are stories which people actually believe in, and which are presented as really true. Does anyone really believe that the tale of the courting couple and the escaped maniac ever happened. Tales like this are surely falling from the world of urban legend into that of the sick joke or teenage scare story. On the other hand Brunvand is too quick to dismiss tales of people having serious crush injuries who will die if the crushing object is released, and are given mobile phones to ring home. Sadly people in serious accidents may well be kept alive only because the wreckage or whatever acts as a tourniquet. When released the victim faces double jeopardy of massive haemorrhage and/or their body becoming flooded by toxic chemicals from the crush injury. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 25, May 2005.

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