Robert McCrum

Robert McCrum Editorial Director of Faber and Faber, is currently working on a BBC Television series on the history of the English language.

Monkey Sandwiches

Robert McCrum, 20 October 1983

What is an urban legend? First of all, it is not the 20th-century, metropolitan version of Greek and Roman myth. The villains and heroes of the so-called urban legends are not the inner-city heirs of Persephone or Theseus. Rather, the urban legend (more accurately, the apocryphal story) is one of those amazing tales which has been the recent experience of a friend of a friend. Unlike the great legends of Celtic or American or Mediterranean folklore, it is essential that the urban legend is reported as being true. Take the one about the hippy baby-sitter (high on Speed) who cooks the baby instead of the Christmas turkey. Or the old lady who shampoos her poodle and puts it to dry in the microwave oven. Or the take-away chicken that turns out to be a finger-lickin’ rat. Or the Porsche that’s on sale for 50 dollars (Mr Average has run away with his secretary leaving his wife instructions to cash up his assets and mail the proceeds to his new address). The Vanishing Hitchhiker reproduces some thirty such apocryphal stories, together with their regional variants. For those who want a useful sourcebook, Professor Brunvand has given us a handy compilation.

No snarling: P.G. Wodehouse

Fatema Ahmed, 3 November 2005

On my father’s bookshelves, tucked between yet another novel by Somerset Maugham and J.B. Priestley’s account of a journey to Mexico with his archaeologist wife, was a copy of Carry...

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Thomas Hardy once told Robert Graves how he had gone to the Oxford English Dictionary to confirm the existence of a dialect word he proposed to use in a poem, and came to a standstill because the...

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John Sutherland, 4 March 1982

The survivors are two Jewish families, the Katzes and the Gordons, fled from Odessa and settled in pre-First World War Liverpool. Within their ethnic class and shared past they are markedly...

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Dead Cats and Fungi

Robert Taubman, 20 March 1980

Whatever the women in these Weldon and Shuttle novels achieve, it is not through effort or desperation so much as by passive submission. Women’s minds and bodies are the scene of all the...

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