Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Novels based on folk legends

At tor.com, this post by Shea Ernshaw: 5 Fictional Books Based on Real Folklore

We’ve all heard them: local legends and small-town rumors, whispers of an eerie abandoned house, a spooky bridge over a dried riverbed, a haunted forest.  … The following YA books were inspired by real world myths and legends and unexplained tales—my favorite kinds of stories.

This seems topical, considering I just posted about The Twisted Ones by T Kingfisher. That story concerns “holler people;” that is, stranger inhuman people who are associated with certain hollers.

Hollers, as you probably know, are an Appalachian term for “hollows,” meaning little valleys among the mountains.  The Twisted Ones is set, I think, in North Carolina, so Appalachian or at least Appalachian-adjacent. I don’t know whether T Kingfisher drew on any specific Appalachian or local folk legends for the story … wait, I don’t think so, she says in an author’s note that she drew on a specific literary inspiration: Arthur Machen’s 1904 short story, The White People

However, it feels like it’s based on a folk legend, so that’s good enough.

All the books featured on the tor.com post look like dark fantasy / horror. I’m just judging on title here, but “Teeth in the Mist” sounds like horror. So does “The Devouring Gray.” This one sounds interesting, in a way:

Conversion by Katherine Howe

Inspired by true events, Conversion is the story of several friends attending St. Joan’s Academy who are inexplicably struck by a strange condition which causes the girls to suffer from uncontrollable tics, seizures, hair loss, and coughing fits. … this book was based on the real-life events that took place in a high school in Le Roy, N.Y. where high school students began suffering from similar ailments. The community of Le Roy feared it might be pollution or poisoning of some kind, but it was eventually determined to be a case of “conversion,” a disorder where a person is under so much stress that their body converts it into physical symptoms. Also known as hysteria.

I’m skeptical about that conclusion, so here’s a link to a Skeptical Inquirer post about that if you’re interested. However, judging from the couple of posts I glanced over, it does appear that this might have been a case of mass hysteria.

However, I don’t want to move on from this topic without pointing out that, of course, the single best example of Appalachian folklore-based fantasy must surely be the Silver John stories by Manly Wade Wellman. I’ve been re-reading those recently and I’d forgotten the extraordinary colloquial style. If you’ve never read any of the Silver John stories, some of them are available online here.

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3 Comments Novels based on folk legends

  1. Mary Catelli

    Novels based on the folklore, set in the setting of it, pulling it all together. . . . The best ones are set in the modern world, but I only remember reading some such as a child, without their titles.

    (The closest I’ve come myself is Fever And Snow in which I uprooted a folklore being and transported her to a high fantasy world that was based on a different culture. Not quite the same effect.)

  2. Elaine T

    I was amazed to skim over the article yesterday and not see a mention of Wellman, although he did mostly write short stories.

    In the juvenile market… I don’t know where they’d land these days, maybe late MG or early YA?… Katharine Briggs (of Encyclopedia of Fairies wrote a couple: Hobberdy Dick and Kate Crackernuts .

    Hasn’t Doranna Durgin written some folklore, non dark fantasy based novels?

  3. Jeanine

    Seanan McGuire – Sparrow Hill Road and related works. Urban legend about picking up a hitchiking teen girl who turns out to be a supernatural entity.

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