Created By: LordGro on July 18, 2012 Last Edited By: LordGro on January 20, 2013
Nuked

Legend

Traditional stories with human protagonists that tell supposedly true events.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
For the 1985 fantasy film, see Legend. For the 1995 science fiction/Western TV series, see Legend.

"And although we don't know the truth of these stories, we know of occasions when wise old men have reckoned them to be true."

Legends are stories that are, at least in their beginnings, passed down as “true”, or at least possibly true. Tellers of a legend and their listeners may not necessarily believe in all its details, or even in its truth as a whole, but at least they believe that previous generations thought it was true. Legends often describe events that supposedly happened "long ago".

Their claim to factuality or realism distinguishes them from folktales, fairy tales and other types of stories that make no claim to be anything other than fiction. Accordingly, legends often have a historical setting, and before the emergence of critical history-writing, legend and history were mostly indistinguishable genres. Legends may feature historical figures, even though the details of the story spun around them are often clearly unreal.

Of course, “legend” has acquired secondary meanings – more often than not, to call something a “legend” can mean, depending on context, “it’s awesome” (like in “Living Legend”), or “it’s not true” (like in “historical legend”). This doesn’t actually mean that we don’t believe in legends any more – only that we don’t call them “legends” (at least so long as we believe in them). Such modern day legends may be referred to as Urban Legends.

Legends are related to, and sometimes overlap with myths; colloquially the two terms are often used as synonyms. If the categories are interpreted a little stricter, then legends, in contrast to myths, are mostly concerned with the human sphere, not gods or cosmology, and accordingly are not considered "sacred". They frequently are concerned with the origins of a particular people, settlement, custom, or technology; this type of legend is also called "founding legend".

Besides explaining the origins of human institutions, another frequent function of legends is teaching morals -- as a rule of thumb, legends say a lot about the values of the society or social group where they are passed down.

And finally, they may be told to preserve and pass on (supposedly) historical knowledge, and/or simply for entertainment.

Independently from their functions, legends can be grouped in different genres -- mostly the following three:

  • Heroic Legend: Stories about ancient heroes and their awesome deeds. These are mostly martial in nature and include, but are not limited to, monster-slaying and acts of war. Heroic legends praise warrior virtues like badassery, courage, and loyalty. As in most aristocratic societies the aristocracy identifies itself as a warrior elite, heroes of heroic legend are, with few exceptions, of noble blood. Heroic legends may (but don't have to) be tied to a specific mythology; if they do, the distinguishing line to myths (as mentioned above) can be blurry, as some of these heroes are demigods that are part human, part divine. Heroic legend may be told in various forms and media, but the "classical" genre of heroic legend is Heroic Literature.

  • Religious Legend: This was the original sense of the word “legend”. Legendae (which means, not very specific, “things you should read”) were stories about Christian Saints (mostly revolving around miracles), or non-biblical traditions about biblical characters. A book that contained these was a legendarium. But religious legend is not limited to Christianity; the concept of "holy men" and women, and stories surrounding them, exists in virtually all major religions [Compare, for example, the traditions attached to boddhisattvas and arhats in Buddhism, mahatmas in Hinduism, walis in Islam, and Tzadikim in Judaism.] Religious legends extol religious devotion, piety, and whatever behavior is endorsed as exemplary by the religion at hand. -- The genre of Christian Saints’ Legends, with its focus on miracles, was much ridiculed by Protestants after the Reformation, which is when the word “legend” acquired its present-day flavor of “bullshit story”.

  • Folk Legend. A diverse category for legends that exist in or, really or supposedly, are directly taken from oral tradition. "Supposedly" because written sources can in turn (re-)enter the oral tradition, and there are probably quite a few "book legends" that were concocted on a writing desk to begin with. Content-wise, many folk legends are Ghost Stories; others tell of memorable Folk Heroes (accordingly the category may overlap with heroic legend). These kind of legends are often made into folk ballads. Urban Legends, a.k.a. contemporary legends, may be considered the modern day's folk legends.

When a writer makes up artificial legends, whether to flesh out a fictional setting or the background of a story, or as a purpose in itself, that is a subgenre of Mythopoeia.

Tall Tales have many similarities with legends, with the key difference that the claim to factuality in tall tales is only a playful pretense.

If you came here looking for something different, go to Legend System for the tabletop game system, Legend Entertainment for the videogame developer, and Tropes of Legend for this very wiki's Hall of Fame of tropes.

Examples of legends, or works treating legend:

Heroic Legend

Arabian

Classical (ancient Greek and Roman)

English

Finnish

French

German

Indian

Irish

K'iche' Maya

Mesopotamia (Sumerian/Babylonian/Akkadian)

Norse

Persian

Russian & Ukrainian

Welsh

Religious legend:

Christian
  • The Golden Legend -- Jacob de Voragine's definitive legendarium of the Christian Middle Ages.

Buddhist

Folk legend

England

Germany

Jamaica

Switzerland

USA
  • While Davy Crockett was a real person, many of the stories around him are legends.
  • Johnny Appleseed: Like Davy Crockett, a real person surrounded by legends.

Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • July 18, 2012
    LordGro
    A definition of a genre of literature/oral tradition. Possibly an index.
  • July 19, 2012
    PaulA
    We already have an Oral Tradition index, with Myth And Legend redirecting to it.
  • July 19, 2012
    LordGro
    Right. And that page is in TRS for being a mess, and we are currently talking about spinning some of its content off into more detailed separate pages, like Legend (this one) and Mythology. Furthermore, legends do not exclusively come from oral tradition.
  • July 19, 2012
    surgoshan
    • The Baghavad Gita and its tale of Arjuna and Krishna probably qualifies as religious legend.
  • July 19, 2012
    JonnyB
    Compare Tall Tale.
  • July 19, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    Bravo, sir. One of the finer descriptions I've seen recently.
  • July 23, 2012
    LordGro
    ^Thanks for the accolade!

    Though I feel somewhat insecure about the composition of the works list. By my definition, there seems to be no hard reason not to list, for example, Shakespeare's Troilus And Cressida under Ancient Greek legend, as it is a work "treating legend". At close watch, many many works tell or retell legends -- to list them all would probably be a hopeless endeavour. And on the other hand, calling a work like the Iliad a 'legend' in itself (as opposed to a work treating legend) neglects that the author must have contributed a lot that is his very own original invention.

    @surgoshan: In my terminology, the Bhagavad Gita is, AFAIK, not a legend as it doesn't focus on a human protagonist. I edited the laconic to make that clearer. I also just launched another YKTTW for Sacred Scriptures where I listed the Bhagavad Gita.
  • September 2, 2012
    ArcadesSabboth
    There's such a radical break between Classical civilization and the Christian civilization that followed (and wiped out the previous religions, institutions, and temples) that I don't see how Shakespeare's plays can be included in Ancient Greek legend. They treat them as wholly fictional with no basis in reality, do they not?

    This draft appears to incorporate and include everything from the earlier Sandbox.Legend. Is that right?
  • September 2, 2012
    jatay3
    Could a separation be made between "myth" and "legend"? I thought I read somewhere that myth is more cosmic, dealing with the universe, creation, and the like; and legend deals with heroic deeds. To give a tolkienite example, Ainulindale is a constructed myth and Children of Hurin a constructed legend.
  • November 25, 2012
    ArcadesSabboth
    We were working on a separate myth page here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Sandbox/MythLegendAndFolklore

    Or rather, that's going to be the separate myth page once this legends page launches. We need to get the legend stuff off of that one.
  • November 25, 2012
    jatay3
    What about Mythopoeia? Are we going to mention, for instance Klingon epics about Kahless?
  • November 25, 2012
    jatay3
    Nevermind. Already mentioned, I see.
  • November 26, 2012
    Xtifr
    What about The Epic Of Gilgamesh? I see it's on the sandbox page, but not here.
  • November 29, 2012
    jatay3
    Just launch already.
  • November 29, 2012
    jatay3
    Uh...Houston we have a problem. There is a totally unrelated trope with this title.
  • November 29, 2012
    jatay3
    How about "The" legend?
  • November 30, 2012
    Xtifr
    The thing that has this title is not a trope, it's a disambiguation. And that's not a problem. We can simply add a pointer to the works pages here. There's no reason to discard this (I undiscarded it). At worst, we could simply rename it, but I don't think that's necessary either. If anything should be at the name Legend, it's this.

    And no, I don't think it should be The Legend. The definite article seems highly misleading.
  • December 8, 2012
    Tomodachi
    The Popol Vuh , from mesoamerican culture. Possibly a example of Heroic legend.
  • December 8, 2012
    lakingsif
    Would this be Super Trope to things like Urban Legends?

    Oh, and Robin Hood was real, like Davy Crockett, but there is controversy over whether he did what legend says he did.

    You wouldn't be able to call this index 'Legend' either (we have one already), and I think 'Legends' is too close. Maybe Legends Index or Index Of Legends.
  • December 8, 2012
    jatay3
    The legend?
  • December 8, 2012
    jatay3
    Nevermind.
  • December 8, 2012
    Xtifr
    ^^^ Again, the current page Legend is a disambiguation page. An actual trope/index would take precedence, so the name is not a problem. We can (and should) call this Legend.
  • December 22, 2012
    ArcadesSabboth
    Thanks for undiscarding this Xiftr!

    Urban Legends are Folklore, despite the name. At least that's what Lord Gro tells me.

    I am not sure how to handle the name conflict with the disambig. This page is intended to be the equivalent of the Literature page, that is, a page about a genre of fiction. It needs to be named Legend (Legends would be fine too). "The Legend" is misleading since this isn't about any one legend, it's about the genre (just as you wouldn't call the film genre as a whole "The Movie."

    If this were launched to Main.Legend, what would happen to the current disambig? Would it just be merged into the start of this page?
  • December 22, 2012
    Stratadrake
    IMHO I would prefer calling this page "Legends".
  • December 23, 2012
    LordGro
    Sorry for abandoning this for so long. Trying to make this ready for launching!

    Points brought up above that I consider solved:
    • @jatay3: Yes, I support making separate pages for myth and for legend. The definition mentions the distinction (the Myth YKTTW will yet have to be created).
    • @Xtifr: I see The Epic Of Gilgamesh has been added.
    • @lakingsif: Yes, this is a supertrope to Urban Legends. As the description says, Urban Legends are modern day folk legends (which is a subset of folklore). Also you're right, a legend is not necessarily entirely false. I edited the laconic to avoid being too narrow.
    • @Arcades Sabboth: Yes, this is the current Sandbox.Legend (which has already been blanked).

    Problem 1 to be solved: The composition of the works list. I am not quite satisfied with your distinction, @Arcades Sabboth, as the religious era a work was created in is no hard criterion for whether a legend (as opposed to myth) was believed or not. The Christian Middle Ages widely believed in the reality of the Trojan War, even if they did not accept the Homeric epics as factual accounts. Or take Beowulf or Nibelungenlied which are products of a Christian era but (re)tell legends that predate the Conversion. On the other hand, even in pre-Christian times not everyone necessarily believed in the factuality of the old legends -- Greek philosophers had begun to question the factual truth of the heroic legends long before the move to Christianity.

    Finally, the 'only recounting traditional material' claim has always been a pretense to some degree - even Homer or Aeschylus changed the tradition where they needed it, or threw in some things they made up themselves. So there was always someone who did not believe in everything the legends said.

    My suggestion: Don't give this page a works list at all, but split the list off to separate pages that are yet to be created:
    • The works currently collected under 'Heroic Legend', minus the Greek tragedies, could be moved to 'Heroic Epic' (for that is what they are). This is a bit more specific and excludes Shakespeare (but also the ancient Greek playwrights).
    • The work(s) under 'Religious Legend' could be moved to 'Hagiography'.
    • The list under 'Folk Legend' could be moved to 'Folklore'.

    Problem 2: The name conflict. I don't quite like renaming this page to 'Legends' just to separate it from the disambiguation page. How about making the disambiguation a separate section at the bottom of this page?
  • December 23, 2012
    Xtifr
    Yes, a single-line disambiguation is what's normally done when a trope shares a name with one or more works. Usually at the bottom of the description (not the page). Something like:

    For the Ridley Scott fantasy film, see Legend. For the Science Fiction/Western TV series, see Legend. Not to be confused with the manga, Legendz, the tabletop game system Legend System, the video game developer Legend Entertainment, or our own page on Tropes Of Legend.

    eta: as for the split, I say no. We don't have nearly enough examples to justify it.
  • December 23, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Really important disambigs (i.e. misused/mistaken for X) go at the top of the page and formatted differently (e.g. italics and indented), not the bottom of the description where nobody will see it.
  • December 25, 2012
    ArcadesSabboth
    Gro, I still think that we should only include the legends made by the culture and time-period that originated it. It isn't just a matter of religion when the entire culture is completely gone, and then the adaptations are from a different part of the world anyway. Modern England (or U.S.A.) isn't the same civilization as Ancient Greece at all, and we should not include Mary Renault's The King Must Die as an example of Ancient Greek legend. It's neither ancient, nor Greek.

    I am not familiar with Nibelungenlied, but Beowulf is medieval Anglo-Saxon legend, not ancient High Germanic or whatever.
  • December 31, 2012
    LordGro
    I added a short disambiguation, indented and in italics, at the top, and another paragraph at the bottom of the description. I omitted the links to Legendz and Fairy Tale Tropes -- I don't think they are needed.

    Though I guess the disambiguation at the top means we have to get rid of the quote -- disambiguation plus quote really looks confusing.

    @Tomodachi: Added the Popol Vuh.
  • January 2, 2013
    Xtifr
    I'm torn on the quote. It's a pretty good one, but probably not strictly necessary.

    Aside from that question, this definitely looks ready to go.
  • January 5, 2013
    LordGro
    I still haven't launched this page as I'm still torn on the works list. The point is that only religious legend is clearly defined as a genre of literature. But 'heroic legend' isn't strictly a genre in itself, rather a body of tradition that has been adapted into various genres and media: The 'classical' genre that presents heroic legend are heroic epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, but there is also theatre based on heroic legend, i.e. the Greek tragedies. But strictly speaking, both epics and tragedies are adaptations of legend, not legend in itself.

    Besides, I'd rather not give the impression that the three categories I defined are strictly mutually exclusive, or the only categories imaginable. For example, I classified William Tell as a folk legend, but by my own definition he could just as well go under heroic legend. In fact, it seems to me heroic legend in general can be considered a branch of folk legend.

    To illustrate my earlier suggestion to split the works lists off, I have filed a Heroic Literature YKTTW. I think it would make a pretty clear-cut genre page and if it is accepted, then maybe the 'heroic legend' works list on this page becomes redundant.
  • January 5, 2013
    Xtifr
    I'd be fine with removing those categories completely, and simply sorting this by country/region of origin.
  • January 5, 2013
    JonnyB
    Compare Tall Tale.
  • January 6, 2013
    LordGro
    ^Added Tall Tale and some other amendments.

    @Arcades Sabboth: I feel that culture/time period criterion is somewhat fuzzy. In late antiquity, when the Roman Empire was already Christian, the tales of the Trojan War were rewritten without all the elements that contradicted Christian teaching -- i.e. all interventions by pagan gods were written out. Where would you put works like "Dares Phrygius", "Dictys of Crete", or an Icelandic Saga of the Trojans? IMHO these works are not fundamentally different from the Iliad in their attitude towards ancient Greek legend: They still claim that the Trojan War happened, if not in exactly the way that Homer described it. They are only gradually different. So where to draw the lines where one culture ends and another begins, or when a time period ends and another begins?

    I agree that modern fantasy retellings are not "legends", but between modern fantasy and the Homeric epics there is a lot of terrain where I don't feel so unambiguously.

    I won't object much longer to launch the page in the current form if you want me to, but I still think Heroic Literature is a genre deserving of its own page. I wouldn't want to cram all the description there into this page.
  • January 6, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    I have to agree with Lord Gro. Heroic Literature seems to be not exactly the same thing as Legend.
  • January 14, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I am pretty unopinionated on the matter of splitting legends into Heroic Literature and other types of legend. I have much less knowledge about this side of things than about religious myths.

    ^^ At least we agree that the modern fantasy retellings don't count as ancient myths/legends. Looking at the first two of those links makes me wonder if the medieval Matter of Rome/Troy would best fit in Chivalric Romance -- not in subject matter, but in method of adaptation and probably tropes used (chivalry, knights errant, courtly love, tournaments, etc.) But I would not object to including Dictys and Dares themselves with the ancient legends. Your third link won't open for me.
  • January 20, 2013
    LordGro
    ^ Fixed the link to Saga of the Trojans.

    You're right, the Matter of Rome is Chivalric Romance. But it is also (at least the Trojan War epics) an adaptation of Classical Heroic Legend.

    I suggest I launch this page as-is. We've talked about it long enough and it's clogging up the YKTTW. We can always make changes via TRS. The Heroic Literature YKTTW can stand on its own.
  • January 20, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Yes, please launch. Should I move the Mythology and Oral Tradition sandboxes into YKTTW?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=4o70w3leny16dov4m4kwha7w&trope=Legend