This book, Urban Legends and the Japanese Tale by David Schaefer, is the 29th title in the Institute for Cultural Research's monograph series. Frankly, I'm not sure why this one was not in with the others (I'd read most of the first 28 in the early 90's), but I found it in the to-be-read shelves the other day, and figured I'd pop it in while I was "on the topic". The ICR was another of Idries Shah's "projects", which began in the mid-60's in London, holding various lectures and seminars, papers from which began appearing in 1970 (I found that they're up to #46 with two new titles last year). The ICR Monographs (as well as the Designist Communications "Sufi research" series) were some of my inspirations on getting into publishing ... most of their titles are in saddle-stitched "chapbook" format (which I found appealing as a way to get a lot of information into circulation "fast and cheap") ... unfortunately, I discovered that The Publishing World really hates "chapbooks", and it takes somebody like Shah to make these sort of things work! Anyway, I am quite fond of these small volumes, as they always are informational, and often quite eye-opening, as it were.
Urban Legends and the Japanese Tale doesn't fail on this count, relating the Web-ubiquitous "urban legend" to literary predecessors, especially in the Japanese setsuwa stories (although specific urban legend "story patterns" can likewise be found in the writings of Chaucer, Hawthorne, and Thoreau, to mention a few the author cites). The form of the "urban legend" can be related to "ghost stories" and "joke stories" within a spectrum of "moral stories", as all of these have some general descriptive elements in common. As this particular study came out in 1990, it obviously misses the whole internet aspect of the spread of these stories ... and it would be interesting to see how the author would frame the current ability of one idiot spreading some made-up piece of crap to millions in a matter of days!
One of the daunting things about the ICR Monographs is that they've never been cheap ... this 32-page saddle-stitched chapbook goes for $6.00 (OK, so my own poetry editions go for $5.00 in the same format, but they usually have 50-some pages!) ... and they're pretty much all still in print (except for #13 and #14 which have disappeared from all the listings, and must have been pulled early as I don't have them from 15+ years ago), so there aren't a lot of deep discount deals out there ... however, if you find "Urban Legends" an interesting subject, you might want to pick up a copy of this!