Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Munchhausen

The figure of the fabulous Baron Munchhausen (or Munchausen), a traveller and recounter of Tall Tales, has a bibliographic history as tangled and disreputable as the Baron's incredible accounts. The appearance of the anonymous Baron Munchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia (chap dated 1786 but 1785 UK; exp 1785; exp 1786; exp vt Gulliver Revived 1786; many other revs and exps) created the vogue for tales of the incredible and high-spirited German campaigner. Earlier versions of the first 17 tales had previously been published in two unsigned pieces in an improper Berlin periodical, Vade Mecum fur Lustige Leute, in 1781 and 1783. Hieronymus Karl Friederich, Freiherr von Munchhausen (1720-1797), a retired army captain who had long amused dinner guests with his straight-faced narration of fabulous supposed adventures, found his later years made miserable by this unsought notoriety. The author of the Oxford-published pamphlet (who probably also wrote the Sea Adventures in the 3rd edn) has been identified as Rudolf Erich Raspe, a brilliant German scientist and courtier who had fled in disgrace to England in 1775 after embezzling from collections of which he had been curator. Raspe had been acquainted with a kinsman of Munchhausen, and may have met the man.

By the time Gulliver Revived, announced as the third edition but now known to have been the fourth, was published, Raspe was no longer in control of his creation. Translations, further expansions, and Sequels by Other Hands followed for nearly a century, and Raspe's vigorous prose was slowly smothered by inferior accretions. This in no way impeded the work's popularity, and the 19th century saw editions illustrated by (among others) Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), George Cruikshank and Gustave Doré. The tradition continues: a 1969 US edition is "profusely illustrated" by Ronald Searle. Munchhausen's tales have been the source of several movies, of which the most noteworthy is Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). [GF]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.