Robert McCrum, 20 October 1983
What is an urban legend? First of all, it is not the 20th-century, metropolitan version of Greek and Roman myth. The villains and heroes of the so-called urban legends are not the inner-city heirs of Persephone or Theseus. Rather, the urban legend (more accurately, the apocryphal story) is one of those amazing tales which has been the recent experience of a friend of a friend. Unlike the great legends of Celtic or American or Mediterranean folklore, it is essential that the urban legend is reported as being true. Take the one about the hippy baby-sitter (high on Speed) who cooks the baby instead of the Christmas turkey. Or the old lady who shampoos her poodle and puts it to dry in the microwave oven. Or the take-away chicken that turns out to be a finger-lickin’ rat. Or the Porsche that’s on sale for 50 dollars (Mr Average has run away with his secretary leaving his wife instructions to cash up his assets and mail the proceeds to his new address). The Vanishing Hitchhiker reproduces some thirty such apocryphal stories, together with their regional variants. For those who want a useful sourcebook, Professor Brunvand has given us a handy compilation.