Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology

Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology

Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology

Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology


This marvelous collection brings together the great myths and legends of the United States--from the creation stories of the first inhabitants, to the tall tales of the Western frontier, to the legendary outlaws of the 1920s, and beyond. This thoroughly engaging anthology is sweeping in its scope, embracing Big Foot and Windigo, Hiawatha and Uncle Sam, Paul Revere and Billy the Kid, and even the Iroquois Flying Head and Elvis. In the book's section on dogmas and icons, for instance, Leeming and Page discuss the American melting pot, the notion of manifest destiny, and the imposing historical and literary figure of Henry Adams. And under Heroes and Heroines, they have assembled everyone from "Honest Abe" Lincoln and George "I Cannot Tell a Lie" Washington to Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Martin Luther King, Jr. For every myth or hero rendered here, the editors include an informative yet readable excerpt, often the definitive account of the story in question. Taken as a whole, Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America reveals how waves of immigrants, encountering this strange land for the first time, adapted their religions, beliefs, and folklore to help make sense of a new and astounding place. Covering Johnny Appleseed and Stagolee as well as Paul Bunyan and Moby Dick, this wonderful anthology illuminates our nation's myth-making, enriching our idea of what it means to be American.


This is a book of peculiarly American stories. Here, as everywhere from time immemorial, stories have served to entertain and to explain. They serve as mirrors in which a group of people can see themselves. More specifically and more often, they are like those mirrors in which we apply makeup or even disguises, designing images of who we think we are, how we believe we should appear to the world, and how we think we should perform in it.

Some stories reflect the cosmos and our particular way of seeing it and understanding its mysteries. These can be classified as mythology. Mythology deals with such persistently compelling matters as origins-- the beginnings of the world or of a particular people--and they are populated with deities and heroes who more often than not have supernatural powers. Myths, in this sense, are religious stories, and they are at the very least metaphorically and psychically true.

Those numerous peoples or tribes whom we call, collectively, Indians or Native Americans, the original immigrants to this continent, each had their own mythologies. The American landscape, its mountains, valleys, plains, and waters, and the sky overhead were already filled with deities and heroes when the first Europeans arrived with their mythologies. The Europeans brought Africans with them, usually as slaves, and the tales of Africa joined the mix. Asians, brought over as cheap labor, had their own mythologies as well. All of these stories are what might be thought of as local variations on universal religious themes.

In common parlance, another meaning has come to adhere to the word myth: a form of self-delusion, or more precisely a group delusion-- a widely held belief that is simply not true. This usage of the word arose from the field of anthropology but can nowhere be better perceived than . . .

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