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by Jan Harold Brunvand
"Too Good to Be True," Jan Harold Brunvand's sixth collection of urban legends, lives up to its grandiose subtitle by delivering a truly colossal selection of legends over 200 in all. Among these are fresh versions of old standards such as "The Slasher under the Car," "The Kidney Heist," and "The Body in the Bed," as well as some brand new whoppers like "Superhero Hijinks" and "Urban Pancake" the latter chronicling the karmic demise of an auto thief flattened by a collapsed segment of freeway during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California.
As we've come to expect, Brunvand supplies a running commentary informed by his vast experience as a folklorist and a keen appreciation for the entertainment value of the material. The larger format of this volume makes room for illustrations, including many examples of urban legends that have turned up in comic strip form. There are also more specimens than ever before of familiar stories as they have appeared on the Internet, which has become, says Brunvand, a "prolific source of UL texts and discussions of same" (amen!).
No less interesting than the folklore itself are the occasional glimpses into the folklorist's life. In one instance, Brunvand tells of tracking an infamous (though mostly true) academic legend, "The Unsolvable Math Problem," to its original source something that rarely happens in the field.
Perhaps the most entertaining bit in the book is not an urban legend at all, but rather a series of excerpts from Brunvand's appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman." During four consecutive guest spots from 1982 to 1987, Letterman confronted the good professor each time with a rendition of exactly the same legend, "The Killer in the Backseat," and the question, "Have you heard that one before?" The fourth time this happened, Brunvand interrupted his host to point out he was covering all-too-familiar ground. Letterman's peevish reaction, both startling and amusing, made for a very tense moment that Brunvand has here converted with good humor into a meta-cautionary tale.
Now that's folkloristics.
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