Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Tall Tales

Tales where the personal recollection of events become exaggerated to unbelievable proportions, often leading to fantastic invention. Early Travellers' Tales are the forerunners of TTs, such 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) by Rudolf Erich Raspe. These established the criteria that have been often imitated, as in the Joseph Jorkens stories by Lord Dunsany and the Brigadier Ffellowes adventures by Sterling Lanier (1927-2007). Such stories had their natural development in the Folklore of the US frontier myth, featuring legendary heroes like the lumberjack Paul Bunyan, whose exploits were first recorded in Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox (1914 chap) by W B Laughead, and the cowboy Pecos Bill, whose adventures are included in Tall Tales from Texas (anth 1934) ed Mody C Boatright. Similar TTs evolved around such historical characters as Daniel Boone (1734-1820), Davy Crockett (1786-1836) and Kit Carson (1809-1868), whose exploits passed into Legend and became exaggerated with every telling. This frontier bragging encouraged Mark Twain to write "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavera County" (ot "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" 1865 New York Saturday Press). Many regional collections of TTs exist – e.g., Tall Tales of the Kentucky Mountains (anth 1926) ed Percy MacKaye and We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales from the Ozarks (anth 1951) ed Vance Randolph (1892-1980), both of which drew upon a rich vein of folk tradition that also inspired the John the Balladeer stories by Manly Wade Wellman.

The same attitude that encouraged TTs also engendered hoax stories. The most famous is the Moon Hoax by Richard Adams Locke (1800-1871), which first appeared in the New York Sun as a series of articles in 1834 (assembled as The Moon Hoax coll 1835 chap) and told of the discovery of flying beings on the Moon. Edgar Allan Poe delighted in this and produced his own story, later retitled "The Balloon Hoax" (1844), also for the Sun, of a trans-Atlantic balloon crossing. George Horatio Derby (1823-1861), Bret Harte (1836-1902) and Mark Twain all perpetrated hoax stories.

TTs are often told as Club Stories, and have a feeling of the Twice-Told. Examples include the stories of A J Alan, the Murchison Morks stories by Robert Arthur, the Squaredeal Sam stories by Nelson S Bond, the Papa Schimmelhorn stories by Reginald Bretnor (1911-1992) in The Schimmelhorn File (coll 1979), the Hiram Holliday stories by Paul Gallico and the Gavagan's Bar stories by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. The Probability Zero series of sf stories that ran in the magazine Astounding during WWII (and resurrected in Analog) is full of TTs. George H Scithers (1929-2010) and Darrell Schweitzer have edited two volumes of such stories, Tales from the Spaceport Bar (anth 1987) and Another Round at the Spaceport Bar (anth 1989).

TTs are also known as Shaggy Dog stories, a phrase which itself has inspired countless tales and encouraged fantasists to create the inevitable inversion, the "Shaggy God" story. TTs can often become quite surreal (> Surrealism) and are always meant as Humour. [MA]

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.