Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 838
Baron Münchausen relates a history of his adventures. He once set out on horseback on a journey to Russia in midwinter. He ties his horse to a stump projecting from the snow and goes to sleep. When he awakens he finds that the abundant snow has melted and that his horse is dangling from the weather vane of a church steeple. He is subsequently pursued by a wolf that begins to devour his horse as it flees; when he attacks it with his whip, it eats the entire horse and ends up in harness itself.
While waiting to receive a commission in the Russian army, the baron hurries from his bedroom to shoot at a flock of ducks, but he strikes his head on the doorpost, which causes sparks to fly from his eyes. This experience proves useful when he finds that he has lost the flint from his flintlock; he has only to raise the musket to his face and punch himself in the eye to bag sixteen birds. He is not so lucky with a stag that he tries to bring down by spitting a cherry stone at it, but he later encounters a fine specimen with a cherry tree growing between its antlers.
His aim is just as true when he throws two flints at a pursuing bear; they strike fire in the creature’s stomach and blow it up. He has no such armaments when he encounters a wolf, so he thrusts his arm into the beast’s mouth, lays hold of its entrails, and turns it inside out. He dares not do the same to a rabid dog and throws his cloak over it instead; unfortunately, the cloak picks up the infection and passes it on to other suits in his wardrobe.
He possesses a greyhound so fast that it outruns its own legs and must thereafter be employed as a terrier. Another greyhound, a bitch, is determined to course even while heavily pregnant. One day when she chases a hare in a similar condition, the exertion leads them both to give birth, and instinct leads their respective offspring immediately to continue their mothers’ chase.
Once the Russian army’s campaign against the Turks begins, the baron’s horse suffers the indignity of being cut in two by a portcullis, but his farrier manages to sew the two halves together with sprigs of laurel that eventually sprout to form a bower over the saddle. He is captured soon after and sets to work as a slave to drive the sultan’s bees to their pasture every day. One day, when he throws his silver hatchet at bears that are attacking a bee, the hatchet carries the bee all the way to the Moon. To fetch it back, he climbs a gigantic beanstalk; then, while he is searching for it on the Moon, the Sun dries up the beanstalk, whereupon he has to make a rope out of straw to climb back down to Earth. He is still two miles up when he has to let go of the rope, and when he lands he makes a hole nine fathoms deep.
Although the baron’s original account of his adventures ends at this point, he—or someone pretending to be him—continues to add more episodes to this remarkable career. After the war, he goes to sea, where he has many adventures of a similarly preposterous but rather more complicated nature.
His adventures at the Siege of Gibraltar involve the cunning use of colliding cannonballs, the total destruction of the British artillery, and the employment of a slingshot to cut down two prisoners of war from a scaffold. The sling in question is a family heirloom once used by William Shakespeare for poaching deer and since employed in various other exploits, including the launching of a balloon. The baron saves other prisoners of war by making wings for them.
Later, the baron travels to Ceylon, Sicily, the South Seas, and many other places, everywhere accomplishing extraordinary feats of ingenuity. He visits the Moon again, this time as a passenger on a ship lifted up to it by a hurricane, but he finds it to be very different from his first visit. Inside Mount Etna he converses with the Roman god Vulcan. He and his companions are swallowed by a huge fish, and he is carried across the American continent by eagles.
His account continues to grow longer in subsequent versions, which become many and various. The most familiar English-language version continues with an expedition into the heart of Africa, a visit to an island of ice, a new expedition to Africa in the company of the Sphinx and the giants Gog and Magog, and an eventual triumphant return to England. These later adventures also involve him with Don Quixote. After journeys to America and Russia, he rediscovers the lost library of Alexandria, meets the legendary magician Hermes Trismegistus, and eventually liberates France from its revolutionaries, freeing Marie-Antoinette and her family from their imprisonment.
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