Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Rudolf Erich Raspe

61MSsrnGZPL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_No one has journeyed to as many foreign lands as Baron  Munchausen. Nor, when it comes time to fire a cannon, will readers find anyone more accurate. The comfort of courtly life is as natural to him as the harshest polar desert. On the subject of politics and science he has no equal. And all discussion of the moon must start and stop with the only man who has ever been there. His feats of prowess are famed the world over. Who else could leap a hedgerow with a carriage and horse on their back? No one. And then of course there are the bears.

Travel books have changed through the ages, first it was make stuff up or borrow local legends to sell copies and these days there seems to be a trend to the more comical ‘look at what I did’ type of literature but artistic license can only take you so far.

The Baron however is the quintessential traveller,  he has many achievements and accolades to his name, even managing to parody the future and past of a genre.  It’s is definitely his most impressive feat which is saying something, as he has taken a trip to the moon, been trapped inside a giant fish, killed a bear with only two flints and single-handedly disarmed an army to name but a few.

As the astounding Munchausen is quick to point out to his detractors all of his feats are true (and he will fight anybody who says otherwise), Lemuel Gulliver, Sinbad and Aladdin will all attest to this and having read his journal lustily, I am in full agreement of those historical figures.

I did want to love this book and did for the first half, it gets going straight away, has fast paced short and snappy set pieces which keep the comedy quick-fire.  The Barons adventure’s are a delight as he gallivants around the world, constantly inverting the laws scientists believe to be immutable making his legend all the more impressive.

Part of the trouble with the up and down nature of the back half of the book comes from the introduction of other authors who have added to the biography of our hero.  The structure of the narrative is less set piece comedy and more traditionally structured.  For me it just doesn’t work as well, everything is slowed up and as a consequence did start to feel a bit of a chore towards the end.

I’m sure the bits I wasn’t keen on will be a joy to other people, it does have a lot of nods to classic travel literature and taken by itself it is a good read to be fair but after the strong start and the constant comedy it was just too jarring, it is best appreciated as two separate books.

The timeless appeal of Munchausen’s raucous travels comes from a fusion of the artistic licence of the travel writing and the occasionally bawdy and always amusing humour.   It’s a knowing nod to a public that appreciates a good yarn that is fused with the odd fact, there are plenty of times when something is explained away by adding information after the fact to make something perfectly feasible, that would have seen the author painted into a corner otherwise.

It’s that inventiveness and lighthearted eccentricity that has it in the same genre as Alice in Wonderland, albeit less about inventive wordplay and more about comic whimsy. It apes the genre and the classic authors with its exaggerated, scarcely believable, tongue in cheek fun and would be a boisterous addition to any book shelf.

13 Replies to “Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Rudolf Erich Raspe”

  1. Hi, Ste J! Well, you say to tell you stuff, or maybe what I should actually do is ask you stuff, or both. Back in the early 1990’s, my brother showed me a movie of Baron Munchausen’s adventures. Have you seen it? If not, you’re in for a treat. It was funny, though I can’t remember much about all the specifics at this time (getting older, you know!). Anyway, there can’t be many of them about, it should be easy to find. There’s even a psychological condition named after him, called “The Munchausen Syndrome.” Bears investigating (not “the bears investigating,” of whom you spoke, but “the issue bears investigating,” you see).


    1. I do remember waking up halfway through the film, being amused and then going back to sleep again…I just had to read the book before I watched the film properly though, as is the proper way. I think Munchausen is aptly named for his made up tales of derring do…or perhaps the Illuminati have successfully erased a true hero from history, they love conspiracies that lot which may or may not be a bare faced lie!


  2. I remember seeing the film of this back in the day, and for some reason it scared the pebbles out of me. Perhaps it would be more palatable in book form. Or perhaps not.


    1. I really need to watch it, Terry Gilliam is a fine director so it will finally be a film worth watching, I find there to be a dearth of decent new films so going back a bit is the way forward, so to speak.


    1. It is a travesty to not have it read to you, the adventures will amaze you, it is hard to believe that they are all true but that is what the Baron claims so it must be true.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This book reminded me of ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,’ written by the Spaniard, Miguel De Cervantes Saarvdra in 1605, it was a very funny book and then when I watched the film I realised the author is just a genius! Again, I wish I could read this book… I sure wish so!


    1. I have yet to read Don Quixote, it is one of those books that I want to read and then I see the size of it and go for something smaller. I need to resort my book priorities. I hear it is wonderfully satirical though…I wonder where my copy is now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The structure sounds odd which is a shame as the stories sound fun. And I like the idea that an author will fight you if you challenge his claim that he has actually traveled somewhere!

    p.s. I sent you a photograph via twitter of the autumn leaves here to show you how lovely it’s getting. I hope it gets that way for you. Autumn in the East coast of the U.S is my favorite season – a firework display of foliage.


    1. I am notoriously rubbish at checking my Twitter so I will go check it out after I finish here. You always capture beautiful weather with your photos and it makes me happy. I love your description of a firework display, that’s a wonderful analogy if autumn.

      The short episodic nature of the earlier stories works well and keeps things snappy and always demands that you read just one more story before bed.


  5. For me, this is one of those books you know ‘everything’ about – to the point of not being sure if you’ve read it or not.. I hadn’t come to that point yet – I know I haven’t read it and it’s another title that has been waiting on the list for years.
    And I know I won’t be reading it any time soon..


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