Baron Munchausen  

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 Doré's caricature of Münchhausen, a portrait bust of Baron Münchhausen, the archetypical unreliable narrator
Doré's caricature of Münchhausen, a portrait bust of Baron Münchhausen, the archetypical unreliable narrator
This page Baron Munchausen is part of the fantasy series.Illustration: Screenshot from A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès
This page Baron Munchausen is part of the fantasy series.
Illustration: Screenshot from A Trip to the Moon (1902) Georges Méliès

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen (11 May 1720 – 22 February 1797) was a German nobleman and a famous recounter of tall tales. He joined the Russian military and took part in two campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Upon returning home, Münchhausen is said to have told a number of outrageously farfetched stories about his adventures.

Münchhausen's reputation as a storyteller has been exaggerated by writers, giving birth to a fully fictionalized literary character usually called simply Baron Munchausen.

According to the stories, as retold by others, the Baron's astounding feats included riding cannonballs, travelling to the Moon, and escaping from a swamp by pulling himself up by his own hair.

Münchausen syndrome and the Münchhausen trilemma are named after him.



The fictionalization of Münchhausen began in 1781–1783, when seventeen tall tales attributed to him appeared in the eighth and ninth volumes of the Vademecum fur lustige Leute.

An English version was published in London in 1785, by Rudolf Erich Raspe, as Baron Munchhausen's Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, also called The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen. However, much of the humorous material in them is borrowed from other sources. Indeed, the Baron himself was not notable for immodesty within his profession and relative to his accomplishments, and Raspe's publication rather damaged his reputation. Most historians agree that Munchhausen disapproved of some of the more outrageous of the tall tales that Raspe's book attributed to him.

Some of it is said to be a spoof based upon James Bruce.

In 1786, Gottfried August Bürger translated Raspe's stories back into German, and extended them. He published them under the title of Wunderbare Reisen zu Wasser und zu Lande: Feldzüge und lustige Abenteuer des Freiherrn von Münchhausen ("Marvellous Travels on Water and Land: Campaigns and Comical Adventures of the Baron of Münchhausen"). Bürger's version is the one best known to German readers today.

In the 19th century, the story had undergone expansions and transformations by many notable authors and had been translated into numerous languages, totalling over 100 various editions. Baron Munchhausen's adventures have also been published in Russia, where they are quite commonly known, especially the versions adapted for children. In 2005 a statue of Munchhausen was erected in the city of Kaliningrad (Königsberg).

It is not clear how much of the story material derives from the Baron himself; however, it is known that the majority of the stories are based on folktales that have been in circulation for many centuries before Münchhausen's birth.


Münchhausen was an object of numerous works of art, but the final say to his visual image belongs to an edition of the book produced in 1862 and illustrated by the artist Gustave Doré, see Doré's caricature of Münchhausen [1].

An English translation of the Gustave Doré version introduced by Thomas Teignmouth is here[2] featuring such illustrations as "the sun himself got chilblains".

The 1895 edition

See The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolph Erich Raspe


In 1943 Raspe's book was adapted into a German language film Münchhausen directed by Josef von Báky, with Hans Albers in the title role and Brigitte Horney as the empress Katherine the Great, written by Erich Kästner. This was Germany's fourth full-color motion picture, lushly filmed with amazing effects for the time, and produced at UFA studios.

In 1961, the Czech director Karel Zeman made an 83 minute film "Baron Prášil" (Baron Munchhausen), using his unique combination of animation and live actors, starring Miloš Kopecký as the Baron. (There had been an earlier Baron Prášil film in 1940 too.)

In 1979 Mark Zakharov shot the Russian film, based on the play written by Grigori Gorin, The Very Same Munchhausen, relaying the story of the baron's life after the adventures portrayed in the book, particularly his struggle to prove himself sane. In the movie, baron Munchausen is portrayed as multi-dimensional, colorful, non-conformist man living in a gray, plain, dull and conformist society that ultimately tries to destroy him.

In 1983 a French cartoon version was made, called Le Secret des sélénites. It subsequently became available in English under the title Moon Madness.

Terry Gilliam adapted the stories into the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [sic], shot in Belchite, Spain, and at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome. The film starred John Neville as the Baron and nine-year-old Sarah Polley as Sally Salt. Supporting the Baron as his faithful crew were Eric Idle, Charles McKeown, Winston Dennis and Jack Purvis. The film also featured Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed, Jonathan Pryce, Sting and Robin Williams (credited as Ray D. Tutto).

Various shorts are also known to have been made about the baron's life, including Les Hallucinations de baron de Munchhausen and Les Aventures de baron de Munchhausen by George Méliès.

Additionally, the Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics episode "The Six Who Went Far" is clearly Munchausen's troupe, but the baron himself is omitted for obvious legal reasons .

Role-playing game (RPG)

In 1998 a multi-player storytelling/role-playing game entitled The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen was produced by James Wallis of Hogshead Publishing.

Players of the role-playing game assume the role of a noble person and challenge one another to relate an improvised tale based on an opening line given by another player (for example: "Grand Poobah, please tell our assemblage about the time you singlehandedly defeated the entire Turkish army using only a plate of cheese and a corkscrew!"). Players are able to interject and introduce a limited number of complications to the tall tale at any time ("But, my dear Grand Poobah, is it not true that you have a horrible allergy to cork?"), and eventually all vote for the best storyteller. The game has several adaptations into drinking games.

In 1999 Pyramid magazine named The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Münchhausen as one of the Millennium's Best Games. Editor Scott Haring said it "is the roleplaying game that comes closest of them all to pure storytelling. In fact, it disregards so many conventions of 'traditional' RPGs ... that many folks argue it's not a roleplaying game at all. ... But who cares? It's huge fun."

In his 2007 essay, game designer and writer Allen Varney said that the game "can be beastly in play" since it "requires improvisation worthy of its namesake, and thus you need a particular kind of player and a particular mood for a session to proceed smoothly." However, he also described it as a "strikingly original exercise in competitive storytelling".

The game has been republished in an augmented version by Mongoose Publishing in 2008 as part of its Flaming Cobra line. Two versions were published, hardcover and softcover. The new version adds simplified rules for kids and a 1001 nights addition.

See also

pseudologia fantastica, Münchausen syndrome, Baron Münchhausen pulls himself out of a mire by his own hair

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Baron Munchausen" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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