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Baron Münchhausen: the Travel Liar Icon

Gulliver revived; or, The vice of lying properly exposed. 7th ed., considerably enlarged, and ornamented with twenty explanatory engravings, from original designs

Rudolf Erich Raspe, Gulliver revived; or, The vice of lying properly exposed, containing singular travels, campaigns, voyages, and adventures . . . also an account of a voyage into the moon and dog star, by Baron Münchausen (London, 1793)


This is not a forgery, strictly speaking, nor a hoax. It nonetheless remains an iconic contribution to the “travel liar” tradition at its zenith in the late 18th century. Raspe’s Gulliver revived was intended, rather, as a spoof on the stupendous follies and imaginative flights of fancy travel liars were willing to take in order to pitch their literary wares to the reading public. The real Baron Münchausen was known in polite society as a famous teller of entertaining tales about his many travels, though by invoking this very real, living man as the ostensible source of these ridiculous published tales, Raspe leaves the reader wondering where the real Baron Münchausen ends and the fictional one begins.

In fiction, Baron Münchausen was a world, and even a space traveler, rocketing off as far as the moon and stars, everywhere turning worlds upside-down. Here, pure fantasy transports the reader to “Dog Star,” where “large mastiffs, with their eyes near the lower end or tip of their noses… [have] no eye-lids, but cover their eyes with the end of their tongues when they go to sleep.” Raspe’s characters reveled in extremity and pressed the boundaries of fiction, near always with a wink and a smile.