If you plan to write stories based off folklore, rather than Hollywood’s take on monsters or things dreamed up out of your own head, you’re going to need to do research. I say that with all due sympathy and plenty of empathy, because really digging into folklore takes time, persistence, and no little out-of-pocket for odd books even if you can get lucky and plunder a university library that has interlibrary loan.
Try that if you can, you can find the oddest old books that way. And often, if you’re looking for folklore, older books are better. They may have been gathered right from the source, and if you can lay hands on works from the early 1900s or before, they were put together by people who lived a lot closer to the bone than we do. The mindset is different. Modern books on ghost stories and lore often have an underlying tone of, “Oh this is creepy but absolutely no threat – it’s fun!” Older books, like W. Y. Evans-Wentz’ classic The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries? “These things are either real or damn convincing hallucinations. Either way they’re potentially life-changing and NOT fun.”
Which mindset do you think fits better with urban fantasy?
If you don’t have a lot of time or cash, by all means internet-search and use Wikipedia to the hilt. There’s some good stuff, if you can cross-check it. But.
There’s one particular pit in folklore that I’ve stumbled into more than once writing the draft of Oni the Lonely, especially when trying to write the final confrontation scenes. A pit that often gets glossed over in a lot of modern works.
Folklore is regional.
Legends of oni and kappa differ from one part of Japan to the next. Folklore on crows and ravens differs across the world. Sometimes they’re all lumped together, sometimes they’re two or more very different beasts. Native American legends tend to focus on them as tricksters, Europeans as messengers to and from the dead, and China has a whole slew of different tales, from the sun-crows shot down by a heavenly archer to ordinary crows as symbols of filial piety. And in America….
Well. That’s the real trick. Too often writers looking at the United States think we don’t have our own folklore – too “young” a country – and surely substituting in legends from back wherever the ethnic group of the character ancestrally came from will suffice.
This is a mistake.
The folklore of the British Isles, for instance, is historically linked to the folklore of those descended from Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, and English in America. Many tales show up, if in an altered form. But they are not the same. In the Gaelic lands, crows are links between the living and the dead, servants of the great Phantom Queen, the Morrigan, and must always be addressed with respect.
In the Scots-Irish areas of the Appalachians, crows are bearers of ill-luck and servants of the devil, and the proper response to a crow trying to lay lethal ill-luck on you is shotgun.
So. If you plan to use folklore in your stories – from where? And how deep do you want to dig for it? Keep in mind that different places solve their supernatural problems in very different ways. I’d hate to be a hooded crow in the Blue Ridge Mountains….