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The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings [Paperback]

Jan Harold Brunvand
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
We are not aware of our own folklore any more than we are of the grammatical rules of our language. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Telling Stories in Our Culture Feb. 20 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Academic and professional folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand teaches us about "...modern American folk narratives, stories that most people have heard as true accounts of real-life experiences, and few except scholars recognize as an authentic and characteristic part of our contemporary folklore." Brunvand invented the term "urban legends" to describe these narratives and literally wrote the book on how to recognize, interpret and document them. This is that book--the first one, anyway.

Brunvand distinguishes the urban legend from tall tails, jokes and its other narrative cousins. The prototypical urban legend is represented as true, spread primarily by word of mouth, unattributed--often happening to a "friend of a friend," and has many variations in detail while preserving the story's core elements. Readers are encouraged to become amateur folklorists who can recognize these narratives, question their veracity, and explore our motives for repeating them to each other.

The bulk of the book presents and analyzes urban legends for readers benefit and entertainment. They are grouped by loose theme into chapters that cover car stories (e.g., "The Philanderer's Porsche"), teen horror tales ("The Hook"), contaminations ("Spiders in the Hairdoo"), death ("Dead Cat in the Package"), nudity ("Nude in the RV"), and business ripoffs ("Red Velvet Cake"). The final chapter reviews several "myths in the making" that were on the rise at the time the book was first released.

For the urban legends themselves, I agree that the snopes web site is a far more current, extensive, and dynamic collection. But reading this book is worthwhile for Brunvand's early thoughts and theories about their origins and our motivations for telling and believing them.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Study Of Urban Lore July 7 2012
By Dave_42 TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Jan Harold Brunvand's "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" is the first of several books he has published which take a scholarly look at Urban Legends. Where did these legends start, how have they evolved to fit a new time or situation. Urban Legends are interesting stories, as you will find people who are swear that they happened (usually not to them, but to a friend or a relation or a relation of a friend, etc.), and you can even find cases where they are reported as happening. They can be based on something which really happened, or something which never have happened, but regardless, their spread and retelling takes on a life and purpose of its own.

The first chapter of the book deals with all the foundational information. What are "Urban Legends"? How should they be interpreted? Brunvand uses "The Boyfriend's Death" legend to help explain the phenomena and how they are studied. By far this is the most important chapter of the book, as this is then the material the reader will use on the majority of the rest of the book.

Chapters 2 through 7 are all about the legends, broken into groupings such as Automobile, Teenage Horrors, Contaminations, the dead, kind of a catchall he titles "Dalliance, Nudity, and Nightmares, and then finally two favorite media legends. Chapter 8 then looks at urban legends in the making, where he looks at legends which never take off into the population as a whole (or haven't yet), or have gone into a period of inactivity, etc.

This is a good introduction into the study of Urban Legends. My negatives are all on the writing style of the book, and not the content. The presentation could have been much more accessible and interesting. While that may not matter as far as the quality of the information is concerned, it would have helped bring more people to a point where they can appreciate the topic and the significance of studying these stories.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Original Text for Urban Legends Jan. 29 2004
Format:Paperback
Thanks to the work of Jan Brunvand, the term "urban legend" has become part of the English language lexicon. This is the first book that Brunvand wrote on urban legends, and it contains the classics. You can find out the scoop on rats in KFC, spiders in bananas, the hookman, and (of course) the vanishing hitchhiker. The work shows how legends are oftentimes accepted without critique for being true, and the analysis provides interesting ways for considering why these stories catch on amongst tellers and listeners.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The very best book ever on this subject Nov. 18 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This author is a rare find in literature of this kind: a genuine, professional folklorist who carefully documents his subject and traces its beginnings. Brumvand is the first author to consult on urban folklore. This book is a keeper, one to read and re-read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not A Book About Urban Legends Sept. 16 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I bought this book thinking that it was a collection of short stories about urban legends. I was partly right. It does have short stories but it also contains a explaination about each and every one including varations of a story.
I would recommend that unless this is a book report for school or college that you should save your money and try and find it in a used book store or buy it used from a seller on amazon. It is not worth the money to buy it new.
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Format:Paperback
Brunvand was so ahead of his time. This book was originally published before the term URBAN LEGEND was a film, a sequel and a catch phrase. In these days of email boxes crammed to the brim with fake virus alerts, cookie recipes, pyramid schemes, and hundreds of forwards you cannot open, we forget the origin of "urban legends." Told and retold from generation to the next, Brunvand tells us the history of these "sworn to be true' stories such as "The Hook" and "The Boyfriend's Death" - how the stories got started and how they evolved into permanent teenage and campfire lore. Sure you can look 'em up on the Internet now, but you will never get the rich and wild history of tales told by the sister of an old boyfriend who had a cousin who SWORE it happened to her unless you read this book, and the many that Brunvand followed it up with.
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