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Munchausen Lore

The real Baron Münchhausen (1720-97) was a German who managed to tell tall tales back home from wars. There is also the adventure-book hero Baron Munchausen. The real baron served as a model for him.

And what is lore? One of the meanings of the word is "a particular body of knowledge or tradition." The tales on the next page contain Munchausen tales by Rudolf Raspe (1737-94), German scholar and adventurer, and Goettfied Bürger (1747-94), German professor and poet.

The real baron

The real von Münchhausen, circa 1740

Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiheirr (baron) von Münchhausen was born on May 11 in 1720 in Bodenwerder, and died there on February 22 in 1797. He served initially as a page to Prince Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig. Later he served as a cornet, lieutnant and cavalry captain with a Russian regiment in two Turkish wars. The baron retired as a country gentleman at forty.

During his lifetime the baron was known as an excellent tale-teller, a raconteur. He told funny, unusual stories about his life as a soldier, hunter, and sportsman. Some of the tales were very sophisticated, with a hidden dramatic nerve.

His first tales of adventure and wonder appeared anonymously in 1781-83 in the magazine Vademecum für lustige Leute. Some of the tall tales that were attributed to the baron, can be traced to earlier sources, though.

Baron Münchhausen drawing by Gustave Doré. Modified section.

Braggart stories

The librarian Rudolf Erich Raspe made use of the stories after he had fled to England to escape arrest in Kassel, Germany. In 1785 (or 1786), while living in England, he published a collection of humourous tall stories related by a Baron Münchausen. The English edition was entitled Baron Münchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia. It became a great success. Few of these stories speak of the real baron. Raspe turned the baron into some braggart, and such a "type" of literature (braggart stories) was well developed.

Raspe's anonymously published book, later enlarged and given the new title The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, was much read. The first edition of these tales was translated back into German by the influential German poet and professor Gottfried Bürger, who added eight stories of his own to it. Bürger's work became a model for ensuing "Münchhausen wonder tales", that kind of genre. In 1788, Bürger added five more wonder tales to the collection and published his enlarged second edition. The work became a great success. Bürger's translations served to introduce Münchhausen to world literature. It became known and popular in many languages. (EB, "Münchhausen, Baron", "Raspe, Rudolf Erich").

The authorship of Raspe was not revealed until 1847. There are many editions and reprints nowadays. At least two recent ones are in English. The next page contains gist and retellings of the nice-looking little classic of its kind.


Baron Munchausen stories, Literature  

Raspe, Rudolf Erich. 1877. The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen. London: William Tegg and Co.


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