Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a legend?

A legend is an old story that typically blends fact and fiction.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A legend is an old story that has been passed down for generations. A legend might be widely perceived as a historical fact, but its authenticity is unverified. Often, legends contain elements of both fact and fiction. Some legends can take the form of folktales and thus are part of a culture's folklore. 


Legends, myths, and fables are all old stories passed down for generations, but significant differences exist between them. Myths generally contain more supernatural elements than legends and are more often associated with the culture's religion in which they are told. Fables often feature anthropomorphized animals or inanimate objects and are meant to convey general truths. 


Legend evolved from the Middle English word legende, a written narrative chronicling a saint's life. These accounts were read in churches when particular saints were celebrated. Legende originates from the Latin word legere, meaning "to read."


An example of a legend is the story of Robin Hood, an outlaw who stole from the wealthy to give to the poor. Robin Hood is now a famous English legend retold in countless ballads, novels, and films. However, the historical origins of this legend (if there are any) still need to be discovered.


The legend of the city of Atlantis, which sunk into the ocean after being defeated by Athens, is another legend that has existed in popular culture for millennia. Atlantis was first mentioned in two of Plato's dialogues, but historians have yet to find proof that such a city ever existed.


see: mythfablefolklore

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