Work is underway for Legend of the Forest Beast, book 3 of the Sir Kaye, the Boy Knight series. In crafting this story, the topic of legend and its powerful influence on humans has totally captivated me.
Legend is defined as “a non-historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.” It comes from the Latin word legenda, meaning “things to be read.”
Long before the human family had mass communication, electronics, or conveniences like the telephone, we communicated through story. Stories were told verbally at first, then through the more widespread use of the written word. Narratives have played such an important role in the development of humanity that it defies the constraints of this venue to describe.
Suffice it to say that folklore, fables, mythology, and sagas, all of which fall under the umbrella of legend, offer windows of understanding into our own history as a species. They describe courage, steadfastness, weaknesses, tribulations, clanging failures and brilliant successes, all universal aspects of our humanity. The stories and legends handed down over hundreds and thousands of years reassure us that we are not somehow secretly different from other folks, causing us to fear detection as outliers. They teach us about motivation, offering insight into how the mind and the human psyche work. They postulate explanations about unknowns. Frequently they shape belief, and thereby, behavior.
Legends can be lengthy, like the tales of King Arthur, or pithy, as in the declaration “Here be dragons” inked onto the borders of old maps. In the case of the latter, how many generations of would-be travelers and explorers were given pause as they contemplated facing those dragons, or, worse, sailing off the edge of a flat earth? Many legends play on the fear of the unknown.
You see, it is this precise phenomenon that has me so captivated. At what point does the mind choose to believe something, however unsupportable, and to believe with such a vested interest in it that it causes one to change their life, goals, or actions?
Fears and phobias, courtly love, wanderlust, morality tales, coming-of-age narratives, tales of hidden treasure, or paths to unlimited power—all have been the stuff of legend. And legend has often become belief.
A modern example of this actuality is the ongoing search for Plato’s lost city of Atlantis. Tremendous investments of time and money have gone into the search for this legendary city. Even geneticists have jumped on the bandwagon, citing genetic evidence that humans with certain genetic markers originated in the Mediterranean area and spread westward over the Atlantic rather than eastward over the Bering Strait as an indication that there must be a lost island civilization somewhere in-between—aka Atlantis.
An exploration of legend becomes a fascinating lens through which to peer at ourselves. Curiosity about the influences that shape us can be both edifying and helpful, in that we can begin to recognize beliefs that may not be in our best interests. I’ll be exploring this topic in more detail in future blog posts as Legend of the Forest Beast continues to be developed.