David J. Puglia, Ph.D.
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North American Monsters

North Americans live amongst stories of legendary monsters and creatures. Since setting foot on the continent, settlers have attempted to make sense of the “new world” and its unfamiliar inhabitants. As newcomers spread out, legends of creatures and monsters flourished. The Jersey Devil soared over the Pine Barrens, Nessie glided through Lake Champlain, and the Goatman trotted through Maryland. Legend scholars, however, have kept these monsters and creatures on the periphery. Despite a large bookshelf for a general readership, two main strands of research persist: enthusiasts wanting to believe, and skeptics hoping to debunk.

Folkloristic studies of legendary American monsters and creatures, with the context, variants, and attention to narrative performance folklorists demand, remain scarce. Model studies, however, do exist, and folklorists have a distinctive method and approach to offer for the study of local monsters and creatures. North American Monsters: A Contemporary Legend Casebook exhibits these approaches by mining a broad cross-section of diverse folklore journals and books, assembling a collection of essays that demonstrates model research and encourages future pursuits. Avoiding local North American ghosts and spirits (a more prolific subgenre) with a preference for creatures or monsters strongly tied to specific areas, the proposed volume begins with several conceptual statements and historical overviews of local monsters and creatures before diving into more than a dozen case studies of specific monsters and creatures in their native habitats.

Despite teetering on the “triviality barrier,” the subject matter has proven popular with a broad segment of society. The essays included in this proposed collection come from a wide variety of scholars and a diversity of backgrounds, ranging from cryptozoologists to skeptics. The vast majority of the essays, however, are the work of professional folklorists, neither promoting nor debunking, but simply investigating and taking seriously the words and beliefs of their informants. Within this subset, there are a wide variety of approaches from archival to ethnographic and from historical to modern. The volume promises to reignite scholarly interest in the study of legendary local monsters and creatures and to establish contemporary legend scholars’ particular brand on a popular but underresearched subgenre.

 

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