Living and Dead Legends in Fiction: More Than One Flavor

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One of the more traditional parts of fantasy are the legends that get talked about or even met in an adventure.  Isildur in Lord of the Rings, Aslan in Narnia, and Halt in The Ranger’s Apprentice are examples that all differ from each other.  What they have in common is reputation and/or fame, which is why they are called legends more than celebrities within their world.  Yes, I might be stretching with Isildur, but I’ll get to why he’s there in a little bit.  I think there are different categories that a legendary character can fall into, so let’s look at the ones I thought up:

The Legendary Hero

 This is probably the most common.  Your noble warriors and casters who saved the world from destruction.  More than likely, the current problem stems from a loose end that they were unable to handle.  These characters are known for being larger than life and possibly inspirations for the new heroes.  You also run into a problem when they’re still alive because people would wonder why these powerful beings don’t step in to thwart the new villain.  So, you find these characters either dead, retired with some type of injury, apathetic, or arrogant to the point where you wonder why they have their reputation.  A lot of times these legends operate as mentors such as Selenia Hamilton in Legends of Windemere.  Mostly, they create a history of heroism in the world that can be a crucial part of world-building.

The Fallen Legend

Here is where Isildur comes in because he’s a legend, but one who is known for failing in the end.  These heroes serve a dual purpose.  One is that they show that even heroes can fall and this is not a perfect world.  With a ‘famous’ character crumbling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the main heroes have trouble.  You open the door for the possibility of anguish and turning dark because it’s happened before.  The other is to set up either the main plot or a subplot where the failed quest needs to be completed.  This can be a secondary story with a higher risk of failure than the main one, but only if the two aren’t that connected.  Characters are evolved more by their subplots than the main one, so a quest that involves finishing what a failed legend starts can give your protagonists a special boost.

The Fake Legend

This one is fairly simple, but it is also predictable.  There are those living legends that you hear about throughout a story.  Great deeds are talked about and the hero might be a big fan.  When this celebrity is finally met, you realize that something is off.  It might be extreme arrogance or they’re acting shifty.  Inevitably, you discover that they didn’t do a lot of what they are credited for.  Some may have even lied to get ahead or killed the real hero to take their fame.  This typically ends either with the legend’s death or them finally doing something noble to help the heroes.  There really is only one reason for this, which is to have the heroes realize that they must believe in themselves and not those who came before them.  Well, it can also be used to give them a magical artifact that was going to waste and I’m sure a few other things.

The Earned Legend

I’m not really sure what else to call this, but it’s the category that Ichabod Brooks begrudgingly falls into.  This is his month, so I need to highlight him.  These are the legends who never set out to become one and haven’t saved the world during an epic quest.  One could call them an ‘Every Man Legend’ because they simply went about their lives and stumbled into fame.  For example, Ichabod did his job that involved a lot of exciting adventures because he needed to make a living.  Word of his deeds spread and it created a legend that isn’t entirely true.  Yet, he’s not a false legend because he has no interest in the title.  So there’s a sense of resistance toward the admiration because these legends were only going about their business


About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to Living and Dead Legends in Fiction: More Than One Flavor

  1. Great post, and I can see it helping with world building. I hadn’t even thought of this before. I’ll be adding some notes to my living documents about this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve found that it moves smoother if you come up with the legends as you write. That’s if they don’t get physically involved, but there’s an odd naturalness when this part of world building shows up out of nowhere in a conversation or by finding a relic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:
    This is a great post from Charles that can really help with world building. I can see it working beyond fantasy too. Science fiction comes to mind, but there is room for expansion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    This is a great tie to your book! I just read a graphic novel about a fake legend, who later had to become a real one.

    How would you categorize Achilles?


    • Mythology is always tough because its origin is folklore/religion more than fiction. They’re always very basic. Achilles would probably be a Legendary Hero, but it’s hard to tell since he has been put there after the initial works. Within the story, he would probably be close to Ichabod, but not exactly. He’s a hero with a reputation as well as a god-relation factor. Honestly, I think most mythological heroes fall more into the Legendary category. Even though they earn their reputation, there’s a lot of help from deities.

      Which book had the fake legend?

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        One written by Jane Yolen called THE LAST DRAGON.
        I enjoy epics like The Iliad and the Odyssey and The Wanderings of Oisin. Though I was disappointed in the movie TROY years ago.


      • Sounds familiar. Troy was okay. I expected it to be different and build Achilles as the central. More of an Odysseus fan anyway. I did like Bana as Hector.


  4. Jan Hawke says:

    Great post and topic, Charles! 😀 Having past stories and characters feeding into the ‘current’ adventure or situation give the story (and the world) a lot more context and texture.
    Isildur’s only one of many fallen heroes in TolkienWorld of course, but he’s one of the better fleshed out examples for Lord of the Rings! 😉


    • It definitely helps give a sense of history to the world. That way it doesn’t feel like the current adventure isn’t the first thing to happen. Can help explain the politics and cultures too.


  5. I like the way you separated the legends.Opened new thought to the whole subject.


  6. An interesting post, Charles. I am learning from you.


  7. Your category of Fake Legend reminds me of the character Gilderoy Lockhart, in the Harry Potter series. He would listen to stories by actual heroes, then cast a memory charm to make them forget, and claim the deed for himself.

    It was kind of fun when McGonnegal and Snape, who didn’t agree on much, teamed up to put him in his place. Then he was defeated by Harry and Ron, couple of kids! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, as we say.


  8. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this insightful post on the many nuances of legends in fiction from Charles Yallowitz and his Legends of Windemere blog.


  9. I’d call Ichabod a Grudging Legend 🙂


  10. K. E. Lane says:

    This is a great way to look at character structure, and use it to apply to the world as you’re writing it. Will be saving this in my “Writing Tips” folder. Well written, sir!


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