logAs stories with enough truth in them to make good story material and to incite the imagination to try to improve on actual happenings, yarns and tall tales belong to the borderland between fact and fantasy, shifting now to one side and now to the other.  With myth and folk tale, however, both the story teller and his audience cross over the dividing line into the realm of pure fantasy, where one see only what one wants to see and believes only what one wants to believe; where erroneous perception gives way to artful deception or naïve self deception as common sense and logic abdicate their throne.

The myth making imagination has already been seen at work in the heroic saga and epic of the South, rewriting history according to the ideal of perfection or imperfection.  Similarly the myth of frontier past is strong in the nostalgic legend of the Old South.  The desire to return to a golden age is closely related to the dream of a promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, who magnet first drew the colonists to these shores.

As yarn and tall tale are constantly passing into myth, so is legend.  The difference between legend and myth is the difference between  traditions of characters and events once actual and traditions of things which never were.  But behind legend and shining through it, there is always the light of myth, of which legends are only fragmentary reflections.

The mythical element in legend and folk tale often takes the form of a preternatural and malevolent force in nature, as in the “The Belled Buzzard” with it recurrent omen of disaster.  Corresponding and related to myths of origin are legends of the origins of places and place names (e.g. Bald Mountain), the origins of customs and the origins of songs and sayings.  Thus, “Oh Freedom” and “Swing Low” both originated in the tradition of a Tennessee mother who had been sold from her baby and was about to throw herself and her child over the steep banks of the Cumberland River.  As she stumbled along the road, muttering “Before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave,” an old woman over hearing her, read her intention and dissuaded her.

Tales of ghosts, witches, and the devil make up a large class of folk tales based on superstitions, in which the story has often outlived the practice or belief.  One of the best Southern folk tales in this class is “The Bell Witch” of Tennessee and North Carolina, a parallel for which is to be found in the story of Old Nance, a poltergeist who bedeviled the Beaver family in the Cumberlands.