The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
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.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
In Baron Münchausen’s Narrative, a series of tall tales purportedly document the adventures and exploits—both on land and at sea—of the infamous Baron Münchausen. (In English-language editions, the name is commonly spelled “Munchausen” or “Münchausen”; the real figure on which the character is based was Baron Münchhausen.) Told in the form of first-person memoirs as if to a circle of intimate friends, these short narratives derive their charm in large measure from the tension between the constant and overstated reassurances of their veracity and the patently impossible situations that they describe. In this spirit, several of the editions are prefaced by a sworn attestation that the adventures are true to fact, and the alleged document is signed authoritatively “in the absence of the Lord Mayor of London” by such reliable witnesses as Gulliver, Sinbad, and Aladdin.
The humorous vignettes depicted in this collection present the Baron as an extraordinarily fortunate fellow. Wherever his travels take him, he manages to find himself in the most miraculous of circumstances. On his way to St. Petersburg, Russia, for example, a blizzard prevents him from locating a certain Lithuanian town in which he had intended to seek lodgings. At the point of exhaustion, he hitches his horse to a lone post jutting out of the snowy ground and lies down in the open to rest. At daybreak, he awakens in a village square without his horse. Soon he hears neighing and looks upward to see the horse hanging from the...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Moon. The baron twice visits the Moon. In chapter 6 he tries to recover a silver hatchet from the Moon, which he reaches by climbing up quick-growing turkey-beans that he plants. On the Moon, everything is silvery bright, but the baron finds the hatchet in a heap of hay and straw, which he plaits into a rope for his return to Earth. His second trip, in chapter 18, is aboard a sailing-ship, lifted into the sky by a hurricane. The Moon now is like Earth, with cities, trees, mountains, rivers, and seas, where all creatures are extraordinarily large. The Moon’s people, the Lunarians, stand more than thirty-six feet tall; they carry their heads under their right arms and have only a single finger on each hand. They eat only once a month, by opening doors into their stomachs and placing whole meals inside themselves at one time. Their eyes are removable and interchangeable.
*Africa. Traveling north from the Cape of Good Hope, the baron discovers an unknown land. It is green and fertile, full of trees and wildlife. The inhabitants are white-skinned pygmies. As described in chapter 26, the only barbarity of these otherwise charming and civilized people is that they eat the raw and still-living flesh of cattle (a practice attributed to Ethiopians by European travelers in the late eighteenth century). By a ruse, the baron persuades the pygmies to eat fudge instead. He causes a great bridge to be built, linking the center of Africa with Great Britain. It is soon completed, dwarfing the Tower of Babylon and the Great Wall of China. When the baron uses the bridge he admires the view from its high point. Africa seems “in general of a tawny brownish color, burned up by the sun.”
*Egypt. The baron’s first tale about Egypt (chapter 9) begins with a diplomatic mission. Afterward, he hires a barge to travel down the River Nile, from Cairo to Alexandria. A great flood covers the land, and the barge becomes entangled with an almond tree. For more than forty days the travelers are stuck sixty feet from the original ground level, living on almonds; then the waters recede rapidly.
On another occasion the baron is traveling in a great chariot pulled by bulls. His chariot gets mixed up with the Needle of Cleopatra and leaves a deep track across the swampy ground of the isthmus of Suez.This gives the baron the idea for a canal that will link the...
(The entire section is 999 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Carswell, John. The Prospector: Being the Life and Times of Rudolf Erich Raspe, 1737-1794. London: Cresset Press, 1950. A useful biography of Raspe, including a commentary on his most famous invention.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. Into Other Worlds. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1958. Cites Raspe’s narrative in chapter 5, “A Lunatick Century,” in the context of other fictional lunar voyages.
Raspe, R. E., et al. Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Münchausen. London: Cresset Press, 1948. An edition of Raspe’s original text and its earliest embellishments, together with the first version of the sequel that was later integrated with Kearsley’s text. The introduction by John Carswell is an invaluable history of the text.
Rose, William, ed. Introduction to The Travels of Baron Münchausen; Gulliver Revived: Or, The Vice of Lying Prophecy Exposed. London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1923. Provides a brief history of the work and a commentary on its genesis.
Welcher, Jeanne K., and George E. Bush, Jr. Introduction to Gulliveriana IV. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1973. Discusses the fifth edition (Kearsley’s), which is here reproduced in facsimile, with particular reference to its contemporary critical reception.