“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” — W.B. Yeats
In creating The Nittany Valley Society we’ve described it as a “cultural conservancy” and talked about its role as “fostering a spirit of community across time,” but this line from Yeats sums up our ambition almost better.
It’s why we brough out The Legends of the Nittany Valley as a single volume of some of Central Pennsylvania’s most important folklore and legends. These are the stories that gave rise to what we call the “Penn State spirit,” and explain why we’re “Nittany Lions.” They’re origin stories.
Folklore is often considered by academics in almost exclusively an anthropological or even archeological sense.
“What do these stories tell us about those who told them? Their social circumstances? Their values?” Etc.
If you want to suck the life out of something interesting, keep asking those sort of questions.
Folklore, and the legends that folklore often become or give rise to, are like little books of Genesis for the people of the places where they have been told and retold. A certain type of person will read Genesis literally. A wiser person will understand that Genesis may well be rooted in an ancient, historical, human experience—but it’s present relevancy is what it tells us about our nature as creatures.
This is what The Legends of the Nittany Valley do for us, too. They tell us about our historical character, and our nature as Central Pennsylvanians and Penn Staters.
In this sense, they’re stories imbued with magic. Our senses only stand to grow duller from the encounter if we try to anaylze a magical thing to death, rather than to grow in the spirit of that magic.