Definition of Legend

Originated from Latin “legendus,” legend means “something which ought to be read.” According to J. A. Cuddon, a legend is “a story or narrative that lies somewhere between myth and historical fact and which, as a rule, is about a particular figure or person.” Traditionally, a legend is a narrative, which focuses on a historically or geographically specific figure and describes his exploits. Similar to a myth, a legend can provide an etymological narrative often filling in historical gaps.

Difference Between a Legend and a Myth

There are marked differences between the two terms. Legends are made up stories, while myths are stories which answer questions about the working of the natural phenomenon. Myths are set in olden times, even in pre-historic times. However, legends are stories about people and their actions or deeds they perform to save their people or nations. The people mentioned in legends can be the ones, who have lived in the recent times or in the known history. The legends are told to serve a specific purpose, can be based on facts, but they are not completely true. People mentioned in a legend might have not really done what the story of the legend relates. In some cases, legends change the historical events. King Arthur, Beowulf and Queen Boadicea are some popular English legends. However, it is also important that some of the stories about the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin the Magician may not be true. The common point between a myth and a legend is that they both have passed down to generations in oral form.

Examples of Legend from Literature

Example # 1. Faust

Faust is the major character in the classical German Legend. According to the legend, Faust was a dissatisfied scholar. On account of his dissatisfaction, he makes a deal with the devil in exchange of his soul. The deal promises him a lot of knowledge and limitless pleasures of the world. However, he meets his tragic end, as the devil takes his soul after his death.

In fact, the legend of Faust presents an over-ambitious man, who surrenders his moral integrity for the achievement of worldly powers and success for a limited period of time. This kind of character teaches us the lessons of moral integrity and the value of ethical uprightness.

Example # 2. The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is the legend of a ghost ship. According to the legend, the Flying Dutchman is cursed to never dock a port, and it is also doomed to sail in the oceans forever. It is likely that the legend has originated from the nautical folklore of the 17th century. The oldest surviving version of this legend dates back to the late 18th century. During 19th and 20th centuries, there were reports of sighting the ship as a hull glowing with ghostly light. When another ship tried to contact, the crew from the Flying Dutchman tried to send messages to land or to the people dead long ago. According to the lore, the viewing of the Flying Dutchman happens to be an omen of doom.

Example # 3. King Arthur

According to the medieval histories, King Arthur was the British leader who was leading Britain army against the invaders in the 5th and 6th centuries. It is mainly the folklore, which led to the composition of legendary King Arthur’s story. Some literary inventions have been made in the story, but historical existence of King Arthur has always been questioned. There exist a few historical sources like the Annales Cambrige, the Historia Brittonum, and the writings of Gildas which may be attributed to be the sources of the legend of King Arthur.

Function of Legend

In literature, the function of a legend is to present the story of human actions in such a way that they are perceived true by the audience. Actions are presented as if they have taken place within human history. For its audiences, a legend has to include happenings that are not outside the realm of possibility, but it can include miracles. Change has certainly occurred in legends over time giving them a freshness, vitality and realistic taste. On the contrary, a large number of legends function in the realm of uncertainty; neither believed, nor doubted by the audiences.

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