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高3: Urban Legends

Here is the audio for the Halloween lesson on urban legends. This is the longer version from the Tokyo University test.

Listen, read along and practice picking up the main points of the lecture. The main points are highlighted in red.


Today, I would like to discuss one type of folk narrative, the urban legend. Urban legends deal with stories people have heard as true accounts of real life experiences that have happened to real people in everyday life.

As the name urban legend suggests, these are not stories that usually have their origin in the countryside – but stories told by educated people – young and old – living in cities. Moreover, they are legends; that is they are stories that are told and retold orally. They are told by word of mouth…not seen on television or read in a book.

An urban legend must have three important characteristics: First it must have a strong storyline which appeals to the listener; second, it appears to have an element of truth; and third, the urban legend carries a meaningful message or moral. Perhaps a good way to explain the urban legend is to give you an example quoted by Dr. Georgina Shrub, the foremost specialist on American Urban legends. In her book, From Rumor to American Legend, Dr. Shrub introduces a classic urban legend told her by a teenager back in 1973. The story goes like this.

This is a true story that happened to my cousin and her boyfriend. They were driving down a dark country highway one night on their way back from a movie in town. They saw a young girl standing in the shadow of a streetlamp, hitchhiking, and so they stopped to pick her up. She got into the back seat and told them that she lived with her mother in the large two-storey house about three miles down the road. That was the only thing that she said, and she just kept staring out of the car window. When they reached the house, my cousin turned around to tell her they had arrived, but the girl had disappeared! My cousin and her boyfriend got out of the car and looked around, but there was no sign of the girl. They went up to the house and told the woman there what had happened. The woman sighed and said that she once had a daughter like the girl they had described, but she had disappeared several years before. She was last seen hitchhiking on that very road. And strange to say, that day was her birthday.

Now, let’s apply the three characteristics of an urban legend to this rather scary story. I think you’ll all agree that the tale has a strong story line and that we are really interested in it. There is also an element of truth: The story begins with a witness. Finally there is a message in the story. The message seems to be a warning: don’t pick up strangers in your car or don’t be a hitchhiker and take rides with strangers. That’s how an urban legend works. It reflects the fears and anxieties that exist in a particular society.

Here’s a video all about Japanese urban legends! Is it accurate? Did the girl make any mistakes?

Happy Halloween 🙂

If you want to read some more famous American urban legends, follow this link…

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