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The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  847 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Folklore scholar Jan Harold Brunvand assembles the best-known urban legends—including "The Hook," "The Spider in the Hairdo," and "The Baby-Sitter and the Man Upstairs"—and provides an enlightening and entertaining analysis of their variants and evolution. The Vanishing Hitchhiker was Professor Brunvand's first popular book on urban legends, and it remains a classic. The c ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 17th 2003 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1981)
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Adrián Lamo Compilations of the best stories from are periodically published in eBook format. You can typically find links there, and if one…moreCompilations of the best stories from are periodically published in eBook format. You can typically find links there, and if one's not up at the moment, you can ask a moderator.(less)

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  847 ratings  ·  82 reviews

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Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Reread, because I find this book both terrifying -- the early chapters with all the Teen Murder stories, version after version, are so much creepier to me than any of them singly, or even in more frightening contexts -- and oddly comforting. I love seeing how stories change and develop -- and there's something especially delightful about the 1981 version, which also depicts what seems like an entirely different world, where information travels very differently. (Be sure to save those newspaper c ...more
Tim P
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 stars almost feels too low, given how ravenously I read this book. But I feel it had too much simple recounting of urban legends, and not enough analysis of what they tell about social insecurities, like the book allegedly set out to.

I've always been fascinated by dreams and what they tell us about our subconscious, and urban legends are the same for social consciousness. And understanding this is going to be more and more important in age of fake news and internet echo chambers. I feel like t
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Calling 'The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings' a work of horror is, perhaps, a tad exploitative. And yet one cannot deny the power of the urban legend to creep us out. While Brunvand penned this book as the result of his work in the world of folklore research back in the 1960s and 1970s, and its 1981 publication leaves it more than a little dated by today's standards, it's still one of the most eminently readable books on the subject today. Rather than simply colle ...more
K.T. Katzmann
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.T. by: A friend of a friend's cousin's girlfriend
Somewhere between
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This summer, I'm going to Tumblr-blog the entire Scary Stories Treasury. Before I dive into it, I wanted to get some background info on urban legends. I first learned about ULs from my battered and loved copy of the Werewolf Storytellers Handbook, and that spoke very highly of The Vanishing Hitchhiker, so I dived in.

So, how is it? Academically, a brilliant treatise on how storytelling changes. Entertainment-wise . . . a mixed bag.

The chapters I like, I really enjoyed
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-read
The two stars are for the amusing legends themselves. I especially liked dead grandma strapped to the roof of the car as well as the dead cat one. The rest of the book attempts to analyze these rumors, false stories and just plain amusements to explain parts of our society, which is not only dull it is sometimes silly (each chapter has at least 2 pages of footnotes). Getting through the first chapter was challenging.
The author has a master's degree in folklore which educated me as I had never he
This reader wants to thank
This book is not available in Italy (well, I couldn't find it anywhere) and I was almost tempted to delete it from my to-read list.
I'm fond of urban legends and this book is a sort of must-read for whoever wants to know more about classic tales of folklore. You'll find the whole lot: the vanishing hitchhiker, the dead granma whose body is stolen with the car, the babysitter cooking the baby in the oven and the old lady drying her poodle in the microwave
One of my favorite subjects is folklore, of which, urban legends are subset of. The legends in this book are good though the analysis is a bit lacking. Since it was published in 1981, its a bit out of date, since these stories now travel on the internet.
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
A dated and exhaustive (and exhausting) study of urban legends, rather than just a collection of same, that became tedious halfway through.
Zack Clopton
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Jan Harold Brunvand’s “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” was written in the late seventies and is doubtlessly out-of-date. Truthfully, I don’t think Classic urban legends like “The Hook” or “The Killer in the Backseat” circulate much among today’s youth, replaced by internet creepypastas and ghost stories which reflect modern anxieties and fears. There’s no way Brunvand could’ve predicted the rise of the internet and the way it completely changed modern folklore.

But anyway, as someone fascinated by cla
The worst thing I can say is that it gets a bit repetitious but then the author has collected variations of some of the most 'popular' urban legends not only across America but investigated where they have expanded into or from Europe. So Brunvand tells the basic story and then a variant or three and then mentions some of the other differences. Then is the investigation into the history - none of these are 'new'. They definitely move with the times and get updated as technology changes. Horse an ...more
Angela Hiss
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was interesting to read this book nearly forty years after it was published. It made me realize how trusting people were before the internet, simply because it was so hard to look things up. I had heard many of the basic stories in the book before, but nearly always in the form of a scary story (like the vanishing hitchhiker or the babysitter story), a joke (naked surprise party guy or wife selling ex-husband's car super cheap), part of a book (read about the beehive thing in Dave Barry Turns ...more
Bill Wallace
I read this and several of Brunvand's other books back when they were new, but I've recently been looking for information on haunted highways in the US and remembered this as a pretty good discussion of hitchhiking ghosts. Brunvand's recounting and definition of urban legends passed so quickly into American common knowledge that it may be hard today to realize what an impact they had in the 1980s. The concept of urban legends almost immediately became a part of our understanding of how we receiv ...more
Bert Z
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently watched the movie, Urban Legend, and I noticed the book that they were reading all about the beginnings of American Urban Legends and stuff, I thought it was just a prop but I looked it up anyway and lo and behold, it is an actual book, and what’s even better is my library had it, winning.

Anyway, the book was good, it’s an insightful read that anyone interested in Urban Legends should check out. The author, Jan Harold Brunvand, obviously is an authority on the subject, he presents eve
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This and Brunvand's other books are an interesting way to look at urban legends: as a part of folklore or social psychology. What do the stories represent, and why are we so intrigued by them? That's more the point than the details of the stories themselves.
One thing I found particularly funny, personally, was that so many of them were ones I had heard told as truth by the older sister of a good friend! I think she believed they were the truth, too... and that her high school teacher really did
I really need to stop reading books about stories that aren't true, such as the urban legend type in this book, as well as stories about Bigfoot*, UFOs, etc. Most of the books seem so interesting at first, but soon I can barely tolerate another make-believe story. Author Jan Harold Brunvand does explore why individuals believe stories that really did not happen, but those explanations weren't too deep and they, too, started seeming dull really fast. I'm wondering, though, if this isn't one of th ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Professor Brunvand is one of the best-known and most prolific experts on the topic of American urban legends. This is his first book, and gives an overview of a few of the best known urban legends of the second half of the 20th century. I was born in 1970, so I recognize some of the stories from when I was in school. They seem dated now, of course, but that's the nature of folklore- the stories are constantly changing and morphing into new versions. It's interesting to me to read some of the cul ...more
Scott Johnson
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a bit disappointing. It was mostly a compilation of anecdotes in a really haphazard fashion that might be caused by poor formatting in ebook form. It was just really cursory and shallow, when it was promising right in the title to present some sort of analysis.

I feel like there must be a better version of this out there somewhere that's more up to date; the age of this thing shows hard when it fails to even mention the existence of the internet once. It would be nice to see a treatment
Nov 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Very fun but not the insightful academic look I thought it would be. It’s very heavy on the first person experience with folklore and light on the discussion of themes, subtypes, and possible origins and lessons the different tales have. It’s also a bit...not jarring but it’s just so old now that it takes you out of the moment a lot. The references to the recent past of the 50s refer to things I’ve never even heard of and sometimes it was hard to relate to the stories and morals he covered. A go ...more
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read for a folklore course. This is a decent collection of urban legends, their common themes, how they’ve evolved over the ages, and attempts to trace their sources (usually never happens). My only frustration was when the author would hint at other stories and not explain them, as if they were common knowledge or else purposeful, malicious, unresolved cliffhangers.
Joe Wright
Mar 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
Painfully enumerative. I picked up this book hoping that the author would talk more about the meaning behind popular urban legends. Instead the book is mostly about tracing the distribution patterns of urban legends that were popular from about 1940-1981. Also, aside from "The Hook" and "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" I found most of the legends to be pretty bland. ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating how much has changed and how much hasn’t - a version of this that includes the internet and email really wouldn’t be all that different. A little disappointing that it doesn’t discuss HOW these things spread at all - so much of it is down to a suspension of disbelief or outright lying, but that’s not really explored. Maybe I should try his other book.
Kris Riley
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A literary retelling of various urban legends up until 1981 when this was published. The author attempts to explain how these stories cross language and generational boundaries. Did you know the "Vanishing Hitchhiker" has been around before motor vehicles?
Quick easy read - under 200 pages and well worth it.
Caitlin Bronson
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
This was a fun, if light, look at some popular American urban legends and their potential origins. The analysis on their meanings was a little thin, but the book was apparently meant as a general introduction to folklore, so I guess that makes sense.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
It's dated, but the tales themselves are amusing. ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Bit spooky, but interesting to see how many of the stories that circulate are just resurrected from previous decades and altered to fit the time
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not my cup of tea it was just dragging out the same stories over and over.
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm uncertain how a book on this subject could end up so dry and dull. It wasn't what I expected. Its age, published early in the 80s, shows in social commentary that is part of it. ...more
Feb 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does it matter if it is true? Why do we tell the stories we tell?
Linda Spear
Apr 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Another readaloud by my husband, librarian by accident, anthropologist on purpose. Or maybe the other way around. Anyway, he appreciates urban legends.
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My 2009 bookcrossing review:

I really enjoyed this book. It's an interesting look at the folklore of today, and even though it was written in 1981 - the year I was born incidentally - there are things in this that I recognise!

I remember similar versions of a lot of the stories in here from when I was at primary school. The only difference being that we just told them as ghost stories - we never suggested that they had actually happened or we knew someone involved. But somehow we must have heard t
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Jan Harold Brunvand (born 1933) is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Utah in the United States, best known for spreading the concept of the urban legend, or modern folklore. Before his work, folk tales were associated with ancient times or rural cultures; Brunvand's breakthrough was to take concepts developed in the academic study of traditional folktales and apply them to stori ...more

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