On this day in 1720, Baron Karl Friedrich Münchhausen was born. The German nobleman fought for the Russian Empire in two Turkish Wars. When he retired to his German estate in 1760, he gained a reputation as a raconteur, weaving outrageous tall tales based on his experiences as a soldier, traveler, and sportsman.
Munchausen might have been forgotten by history if not for German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe who listened to the baron’s tales and adapted them in a book Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia.
In Raspe’s book, the outlandish tales are narrated in first person by Munchausen. In one story, for example, the baron recounts a near-death experience he had while bathing one day in the Mediterranean. Startled by a giant fish swimming towards him, Munchausen curled his body into a ball and sailed into the fish’s mouth and into its stomach. Before he could figure out how to extricate himself from the fish’s belly, he felt the fish rising from the waters. A fisherman had caught the fish and was about to cut it up when he heard the baron yelling. Freed by the fisherman, the baron ends his story by saying that ever since that day, whenever he smells fish, he becomes sick.
Throughout the years the stories that Raspe put in print have been adapted, expanded, and rewritten in numerous languages. In 1988, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame made a film adaptation called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
In addition to being a name synonymous with tall tales, Munchausen’s name has also become well-known in the psychiatric and medical communities for a condition known as Munchausen Syndrome.
More than just telling entertaining tales, victims of Munchausen Syndrome deliberately deceive their doctors, describing false symptoms of illness and in some cases even inducing real symptoms by injecting themselves with foreign substances.
Today’s Challenge: Munchausen Your Autobiography
What are some incidents from your life that you might exaggerate in the tradition of the tall tale? Brainstorm a list of key incidents that you would include in your autobiography. Select one important incident and write it as a short autobiographical anecdote based on what really happened. Next, take that story and “munchausen” it by adding some hyperbole, drama, and outrageous embellishments. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: The raconteur knows too well that, if he investigates the truth of the matter, he is only too likely to lose his good story. –Herbert Butterfield
1-Goldberg, Philip. The Babinski Reflex. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.