Once Upon a Time in Law: Myth, Metaphor, and Authority

35 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2009 Last revised: 6 Feb 2011

See all articles by Linda H. Edwards

Linda H. Edwards

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law


We have long accepted the role of narrative in fact statements and jury arguments, but in the inner sanctum of analyzing legal authority? Surely not. Yet cases, statutes, rules, and doctrines all have stories of their own. When we talk about legal authority, using our best formal logic, we are actually swimming in a sea of narrative, oblivious to the water around us. As the old Buddhist saying goes, "We don’t know who discovered the ocean, but it probably wasn't a fish."

This article teases out several familiar archetypes hidden in discussions of cases and statutes. In the midst of seemingly routine law talk are stories of birth and death, battle and betrayal, tricksters and champions. These stories are simultaneously true and false, world-shaping yet always incomplete. Their unnoticed influence over the law's development can be powerful. But we so seldom question familiar narratives, and these archetypes practically run in our veins. We should learn to recognize and interrogate these stories, attuned to their truths, alert to their limitations, and ready when necessary to seek other more accurate and complete stories for the law.

Keywords: myth, metaphor, archetype, narrative

Suggested Citation

Edwards, Linda H., Once Upon a Time in Law: Myth, Metaphor, and Authority. Tennessee Law Review, Vol. 77, p. 883, 2010, UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1462570

Linda H. Edwards (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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