The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends
A scarily skilled critical examination of Victorian-era urban legends
Winner of the 2023 Brian McConnell Book Award from the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research
In the last fifty years, folklorists have amassed an extraordinary corpus of contemporary legends including the “Choking Doberman,” the “Eaten Ticket,” and the “Vanishing Hitchhiker.” But what about the urban legends of the past? These legends and tales have rarely been collected, and when they occasionally appear, they do so as ancestors or precursors of the urban legends of today, rather than as stories in their own right.
In The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends, Simon Young fills this gap for British folklore (and for the wider English-speaking world) of the 1800s. Young introduces seventy Victorian urban legends ranging from “Beetle Eyes” to the “Shoplifter’s Dilemma” and from “Hands in the Muff” to the “Suicide Club.” While a handful of these stories are already known, the vast majority have never been identified, and they have certainly never received scholarly treatment.
Young begins the volume with a lengthy introduction assessing nineteenth-century media, emphasizing the importance of the written word to the perpetuation and preservation of these myths. He draws on numerous nineteenth-century books, periodicals, and ephemera, including digitized newspaper archives—particularly the British Newspaper Archive, an exciting new hunting ground for folklorists. The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends will appeal to an academic audience as well as to anyone who is interested in urban legends.
"Written in an engaging and accessible style, The Nail in the Skull and Other Victorian Urban Legends covers historical background and folklore in print during Victorian times and demonstrates an excellent understanding of narrative patterns. I’m delighted with the astuteness of the book and appreciative of the exhaustive research that has produced it. Bravo!"- Elizabeth Tucker, author of Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses
"The book is great fun, but much more than that. The introduction gives an invaluable historical overview of the concept of the "urban legend" and its place in folklore studies. This readable introduction is a valuable theoretical text, too, identifying "print folklore" in its relations to oral culture. Even if it is not why you came to the book, I recommentd the introduction (and the impressive bibliography) as providing much to contemplate while you savor the delights of stories like "Beetle Eyes" and "Chloroformed!""- Paul Cowdell, Fortean Times
"This is a scholarly account of an area of popular literature that has only recently been recognised as an area of serious research by folklorists, historians and social scientists…But it is also an entertaining and engrossing introduction to some of the stranger preoccupations of Victorian life, many of which find a echo in our own time."- John Rimmer, Magonia Review