Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Raspe, Rudolf Erich

(1737-1794) German professor and librarian who fled to England in 1775 after he was found to have been selling the precious gems and medals in his care. In England he set himself up as a mining expert and before long was found to be swindling his employer, Sir John Sinclair (1754-1835). RER fled again, this time to Ireland, where he died of a fever.

It is not surprising that RER should be interested in other rogues and scoundrels. He was probably friends with James Macpherson, who forged the Ossian poems. RER translated these and assembled similar Ossiana. He collected other Tall Tales, and thus met Baron von Munchhausen. Drawing upon a variety of sources, RER serialized several stories in Vademecum für lustige Leute ["Handbook of Humorous People"] between 1781 and 1783 and then expanded these as Baron Münchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia (fixup 1785 chap UK; exp vt The Surprising Travels and Adventures of Baron Münchhausen 1792). Although RER's work set in train a fascination for exaggerated tales, it was not his version that became the most popular. His countryman, Gottfried Bürger (1747-1794) translated it back into German with considerable embellishment as Wunderbare Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande, Feldzüge und lustige Abenteuer des Freyherrn von Münchhausen (1786 chap UK; exp 1788) and it was this version, issued in English as Singular Travels, Campaigns, Voyages and Sporting Adventures of Baron Munnikhouson, Commonly Pronounced Münchhausen, as He Relates them Over a Bottle When Surrounded by his Friends (1786 chap UK), that really attracted the public's attention. By the next edition, in late 1786, Munchhausen's adventures were being equated with those of Lemuel Gulliver (>>> Travellers' Tales), and for a while the two names became inextricably linked. The stories have stayed in print ever since, a recent edition being The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (coll 1993 US).

RER also wrote a gloriously atmospheric Gothic Fantasy, Koenigsmark der Räuber, oder Der Schrecken aus Böhmen (1790 chap UK; trans by H J Sarratt as Koenigsmark the Robber, or The Terror of Bohemia 1801 chap UK). Recounted by Münchhausen, it tells of the leader of a company of brigands who seems so invincible that it is believed he is a warlock. The story includes many supernatural agencies, including a werewolf and a giant Spider. [MA]

Rudolf Erich Raspe

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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.