Reviewed by David J. Puglia, The Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg
In a day and age when legends are as likely to be transmitted online as they are face-to-face, folklorists have begun assessing how our established concepts apply to the digital realm. The convergence of different forms of media has increasingly diminished the traditional boundaries between folk and popular culture and the digital and analog world. If the legend continues to thrive under these new conditions, folklorists will want to determine how the closely related legend-trip has similarly transitioned to the online environment.
In Legend-Tripping Online: The Search for Ong’s Hat, Michael Kinsella seeks to answer this question using the example of the Incunabula Papers—a conspiracy theory, an alternative reality game, and a mystical experience all wrapped into one. The “Incunabula Papers” refers to two documents, Ong’s Hat: Gateway to the Dimensions! A Full Color Brochure for the Institute of Chaos Studies and the Moorish Science Ashram in Ong’s Hat, New Jersey and Incunabula: A Catalogue of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Curiosa—Conspiracy Theory, Frontier Science & Alternative Worlds. Allegedly produced by banished Princeton faculty studying chaos theory at the Moorish Science Ashram in Ong’s Hat, New Jersey, these rogue professors perfected a device known as The EGG, which made possible interdimensional travel. The group then “embedded within [the Incunabula Papers] enough clues for its intended readers” to join the quest “but not enough for those with little faith to follow.” For folklorists this legend complex provides new challenges capable of expanding the body of legend scholarship. Legend-tripping online will not replace legend-tripping in the “real world,” as folklorists have found with some other forms, but rather exists in addition to and follows the same principles as the classic legend-trip.