legend (narration)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Legend of Icarus
Landscape With the Fall of Icarus, attributed to Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569). (De Agostini/A. Dagli Orti/Getty Images)


(1) A legend is a narrative—often handed down from the past—that is used to explain an event, transmit a lesson, or simply entertain an audience.

Though customarily told as "true" stories, legends often contain supernatural, bizarre, or highly improbable elements. Types of legends include folk legends and urban legends

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

(2) The term legend also refers to an explanatory list of the symbols on a chart, table, or map.

From the Latin, "(selected) to be read"

Examples and Observations (#1)

  • An Expanded Definition of Legend
    "The legend is a narrative produced and transmitted orally or in writing, about a single, extraordinary, supernatural, or marvelous, true or fictitious, believed or slighted, often dated/localized event (experience), brought up with didactic or entertaining intent; it serves to confirm, or expand the experiential horizon of the recipient and confirm or question a momentarily valid conception of the world."
    (Rudolf Schenda, quoted by Linda Dégh in Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre. Indiana University Press, 2001)
  • Folktales and Legends
    "Although folktales and legends are both important genres of orally told narrative, in many ways they are decidedly different. As folklorists use the term, folktales are fictional stories; that is, they are regarded as fictions by those who tell and listen to them. . . . 

    "Legends, on the other hand, are true narratives; that is, they are regarded by their tellers and listeners as recounting events that actually took place, although to say so is an oversimplification. . . . Legends are historical accounts (such as the account of Daniel Boone's encounters with Indians); or they are sorts of news accounts (as with 'contemporary' or 'urban' legends in which, for example, it is asserted that a madman with a hook arm recently attacked parked teenagers somewhere nearby); or they are attempts to discuss human interactions with other worlds, whether in the present day or in the past . . ..

    "However, in the social contexts in which legends are told, attitudes toward the veracity of any given narrative may differ; some people may accept its truth, others may deny it, still others may keep an open mind but not commit themselves."
    (Frank de Caro, Introduction to An Anthology of American Folktales and Legends. Routledge, 2015)
  • The Legend of Icarus
    - "It is our nature to protect our children—for each generation to pass on their cautionary tales to the next. So it is with the myth of Icarus: the legend of a boy who fashioned wings from feathers and wax, daring to fly into the heavens. His father was fearful, and warned Icarus to be careful, begging him not to tempt fate by flying too close to the sun. But in the end, the boy couldn't resist. His wax and wings melted from the sun's rays, and he plunged to his death."
    (Sendhil Ramamurthy as Mohinder Suresh in Heroes, 2006)

    - "In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
    Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
    Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
    But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
    As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
    Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
    Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
    Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."
    (From "Musee des Beaux Arts" by W. H. Auden, 1938)

  • An Urban Legend
    "One of the best known urban legends is the story of a man who, drugged at a party, awakens naked in a bathtub full of ice and finds a note (sometimes scrawled in lipstick on a mirror) warning him that one of his kidneys has been removed for sale on the black market."
    (Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003)
  • Print the Legend
    Ransom Stoddard:
    You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
    Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
    (James Stewart and Carleton Young in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "legend (narration)." ThoughtCo, Nov. 8, 2016, thoughtco.com/legend-narration-term-1691222. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, November 8). legend (narration). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/legend-narration-term-1691222 Nordquist, Richard. "legend (narration)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/legend-narration-term-1691222 (accessed March 19, 2018).