Recovery Project (2) Baron Münchhausen

illustration by Gustave Doré
illustration by Gustave Doré

On the eighteenth day after we had passed the Island of Otaheite, mentioned by Captain Cook as the place from whence they brought Omai, a hurricane blew our ship at least one thousand leagues above the surface of the water, and kept it at the height till a fresh gale arising filled the sails in every part, and onwards we travelled at a prodigious rate; thus we proceeded above the clouds for six weeks. At last we discovered a great land in the sky, like a shining island, round and bright, where, coming into a convenient harbour, we went on shore, and soon found it was inhabited.

Below us we saw another earth, containing cities, trees, mountains, rivers, seas, etc. which we conjectured was this world which we had left. Here we saw huge figures riding upon vultures of a prodigious size, and each of them having three heads. To form some idea of the magnitude of these birds, I must inform you that each of their wings is as wide and six times the length of the main sheet of our vessel, which was about six hundred tons burthen. Thus, instead of riding upon horses, as we do in this world, the inhabitants of the moon (for we now found we were in Madam Luna) fly about on these birds.

–from Chapter XVIII: A Second Trip to the Moon
The Surprising Adventures of Baron Münchhausen
By Rudolph Erich Raspe
(1895 version)

The Münchhausen stories were first collected and published (in German) anonymously in 1781. They were basically the tall tales of this guy who went and fought some Ottomans and came back bragging about how he’d ridden on cannonballs and defeated swaths of Turks with the bat of his eyelashes — stuff like that.

The first English language version was published in London four years later, by Rudolf Erich Raspe — this version included a clutch of additional hyperbole, some of which reportedly pissed off the old Baron — presumably because they were more imaginative than he could muster.

Anyway, a year after that, Gottfried Bürger translated Raspe’s stories back into German and added some stuff to them. Then the Russians translated it and added stuff, then the Italians, the French, you name it — so that by the 19th century there were over 100 various editions!

I think that makes this text pretty freaking interesting. It’s kinda like a multicultural exquisite corpse.

One thought on “Recovery Project (2) Baron Münchhausen

  1. Now imagine if the various restrictions, like the fear of copyright infringement, like the predominance of the author, were challenged and lifted from current discourse and practice, how contemporary literature would be similarly enriched.

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