The original Baron Münchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia was published late in 1785, though its title page bears the date 1786. Published anonymously as authentic reminiscences, this slim volume recounted in fourteen anecdotes of some four thousand words each the preposterous experiences of an old German soldier. As a result of its immediate success, Rudolf Erich Raspe brought out a new edition with five additional “naval adventures,” published as Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages, and Sporting Adventures of Baron Munnikhouson, Commonly Pronounced Munchausen; as He Relates Them over a Bottle When Surrounded by His Friends (1786). At this point, Raspe’s influence ends. A host of ambitious editors and authors added to, embellished, illustrated, and amended the original author’s work. By the turn of the century, there were at least fifteen editions, and Raspe’s humble collection of tall tales had grown ninefold in the hands of inferior writers.
As a picaresque romance, Baron Münchausen’s Narrative minimizes plot. Each of the stories introduces a separate conflict that bears little or no relation to previous circumstances. Using resources beyond belief and his own supernatural skills, the baron stretches luck to the limit. For example, on a snowy journey from his home to Russia, he ties his horse to a stump in the square of a Polish village. Upon waking, he notices that a...
(The entire section is 588 words.)