Places: Baron Münchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1785 (serial form for the bulk of the first edition, Vademecum für Lustige Leute, 1781 and 1783)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Moon

*Moon. Baron Münchausen’s Narrative of His Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in RussiaThe baron twice visits the Moon. In chapter 6 he tries to recover a silver hatchet from the Moon, which he reaches by climbing up quick-growing turkey-beans that he plants. On the Moon, everything is silvery bright, but the baron finds the hatchet in a heap of hay and straw, which he plaits into a rope for his return to Earth. His second trip, in chapter 18, is aboard a sailing-ship, lifted into the sky by a hurricane. The Moon now is like Earth, with cities, trees, mountains, rivers, and seas, where all creatures are extraordinarily large. The Moon’s people, the Lunarians, stand more than thirty-six feet tall; they carry their heads under their right arms and have only a single finger on each hand. They eat only once a month, by opening doors into their stomachs and placing whole meals inside themselves at one time. Their eyes are removable and interchangeable.

*Africa

*Africa. Traveling north from the Cape of Good Hope, the baron discovers an unknown land. It is green and fertile, full of trees and wildlife. The inhabitants are white-skinned pygmies. As described in chapter 26, the only barbarity of these otherwise charming and civilized people is that they eat the raw and still-living flesh of cattle (a practice attributed to Ethiopians by European travelers in the late eighteenth century). By a ruse, the baron persuades the pygmies to eat fudge instead. He causes a great bridge to be built, linking the center of Africa with Great Britain. It is soon completed, dwarfing the Tower of Babylon and the Great Wall of China. When the baron uses the bridge he admires the view from its high point. Africa seems “in general of a tawny brownish color, burned up by the sun.”

*Egypt

*Egypt. The baron’s first tale about Egypt (chapter 9) begins with a diplomatic mission. Afterward, he hires a barge to travel down the River Nile, from Cairo to Alexandria. A great flood covers the land, and the barge becomes entangled with an almond tree. For more than forty days the travelers are stuck sixty feet from the original ground level, living on almonds; then the waters recede rapidly.

On another occasion the baron is traveling in a great chariot pulled by bulls. His chariot gets mixed up with the Needle of Cleopatra and leaves a deep track across the swampy ground of the isthmus of Suez.This gives the baron the idea for a canal that will link the Mediterranean and Red Seas. (The real Suez Canal was completed more than seventy years after Rudolf Eric Raspe wrote this book.) The baron digs the channel with his chariot (rediscovering the long-lost great library of Alexandria in the process) but requires two million laborers from Russia and Turkey to finish the job.

Strange islands

Strange islands. While sailing home from Australia, the baron’s ship is caught in a storm and conveyed to an island from which is flowing a river of milk, fresh and delicious. On landing, he discovers that the island is made of cheese. Upon it grow vines, with grapes full of milk, and corn, “the ears of which produce loaves of bread, ready made.” The island, larger than Europe, contains many rivers of milk and wine, fruit trees of all kinds, and large birds.

On a later voyage the baron encounters an island of ice, off the Guinea coast of West Africa. His ship is wrecked upon it, but he manages to secure the ship to the ice and to tow it back to England. En route he has seeds planted and succeeds in growing crops of fruit and vegetables on the ice, one of which is a tree that bears plum-puddings.

While sailing across the Atlantic to North America, the baron’s ship discovers a floating island inhabited by both white-and dark-skinned peoples. Although he describes the island as delightful, sugarcane fails to grow properly there due to the great mixture of climates to which the island is subject. The baron then finds a huge iron stake, which he thrusts through the center of the island and fastens to the bottom of the sea.

*North America

*North America. While the baron is exploring the “frightful deserts and gloomy woods” of North America (chapter 32), he and three companions become separated from the rest of their party and are set upon by hundreds of savage Indians. All four men are scalped and tied to stakes to be burned, but they escape when their captors become drunk. They recover their scalps and fasten them back in place with the sap of a tree.

*Poland

*Poland. In chapter 2, while the baron is in Poland, he spends a winter night in the open. It is an apparently deserted area, covered by snow. He ties his horse to a stump sticking out of the ground. Overnight there is a thaw, and he wakes to find himself in the middle of a village, actually lying in the churchyard. His horse is hanging by its bridle from the weather-cock on the steeple of the village church, but a well-aimed shot from his pistol releases the horse, which seems none the worse for its ordeal. In chapter 6 the baron mentions a European winter so severe that the postilion on a horse-drawn coach could not get a sound out of his horn until, later at an inn, the notes and tunes inside the horn had thawed out.

*London

*London. Although England’s capital is mentioned several times, the book contains little description of the city. In chapter 12, when the baron constructs a balloon in London (the Montgolfier brothers demonstrated hot-air balloon ascents in Paris only two years before the book’s publication), he must buy silk from all the mercers and weavers in London in order to get enough for the canopy. Later, he goes to sleep inside a cannon at the Tower of London and is inadvertently fired across the River Thames, landing in a haystack between Bermondsey and Deptford.

BibliographyCarswell, John. The Prospector: Being the Life and Times of Rudolf Erich Raspe, 1737-1794. London: Cresset Press, 1950. A useful biography of Raspe, including a commentary on his most famous invention.Green, Roger Lancelyn. Into Other Worlds. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1958. Cites Raspe’s narrative in chapter 5, “A Lunatick Century,” in the context of other fictional lunar voyages.Raspe, R. E., et al. Singular Travels, Campaigns and Adventures of Baron Münchausen. London: Cresset Press, 1948. An edition of Raspe’s original text and its earliest embellishments, together with the first version of the sequel that was later integrated with Kearsley’s text. The introduction by John Carswell is an invaluable history of the text.Rose, William, ed. Introduction to The Travels of Baron Münchausen; Gulliver Revived: Or, The Vice of Lying Prophecy Exposed. London: G. Routledge & Sons, 1923. Provides a brief history of the work and a commentary on its genesis.Welcher, Jeanne K., and George E. Bush, Jr. Introduction to Gulliveriana IV. Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1973. Discusses the fifth edition (Kearsley’s), which is here reproduced in facsimile, with particular reference to its contemporary critical reception.
Categories: Places