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The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen

One Introduction to The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen places the work in the category of Voyages Imaginaires: three initial exempla are identified: Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), each representing “the philosophical, the edifying and the satirical type of fictitious travel.”197 A fourth type, “the fantastically mendacious”, is then identified and it is to this particular genre that the Munchausen Adventures belong.198

It was conceived as a work of satire199 and a contemporary advertisement in the Critical Review of December 1785 boasted that, in it, “the marvellous has never been carried to a more whimsical and ludicrous extent”.200 It went through numerous editions,201 with embellishments from other hands.202 The adventures narrated about the Baron are a cornucopia of wonders which are literally incredible, despite the author’s insistence to the contrary in the “Preface to the First Edition”.203 On the very first page the Baron tells how, during a sea voyage, a storm tore up huge trees into the sky to a height of five miles and then, as it ended, dropped them in their original spots where they rooted once more!204

Travelling in Poland, he ties his horse to what seems to be a tree stump poking through the snow, only to find in the morning that the snow has melted and that his horse is tied to a steeple!205

Chapter XVIII describes a second trip to the moon.206 In a Supplement to the volume, which is probably not to be ascribed to the original author,207 the Baron makes a lengthy trip on the back of an eagle, visiting France, Gibraltar, the Americas, Greenland and England.208 The text is replete with visits to exotic places like Mount Etna and exotic “people” like the God Vulcan.

The pains of travel are never far away: in Mount Etna our traveller finds himself “bruised and burnt in various parts by the red-hot cinders” but “Vulcan himself did me the honour of applying plasters to my wounds, which healed them immediately.”209 Here, in one extraordinary passage, we find exotic people, exotic places and the pain of travel. The text is both “wanderland” and “wonderland”! And all is fantasy!

The Return is no less fantastic:

Having arrived in England once more, the greatest rejoicings were made for my return; the whole city seemed one general blaze of illumination, and the Colossus of Rhodes, hearing of my astonishing feats, came on purpose to England to congratulate me on such unparalleled achievements. But above all other rejoicings on my return, the musical oratorio and song of triumph were magnificent in the extreme. Gog and Magog were ordered to take the maiden tower of Windsor, and make a tambourine or great drum of it.210

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