tall tale

tall tale

tall tale, extravagantly and humorously exaggerated story of the backwoods exploits of an American frontiersman. Originating in the 1820s, the genre remained popular well into the 20th cent. One of the earliest heroes of this type of folklore, Colonel Davy Crockett of Tennessee, boasted:
I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride a streak of lightning, slip without a scratch down a honey locust, can whip my weight in wildcats … .
These bold deeds were made famous throughout the West by Crockett's Autobiography (1834) and by his Almanacs (1835-56). Crockett also popularized the deeds of the gigantic Mike Fink, "King of the Mississippi Keelboatmen," who was said to have once slain with a single shot both a deer and a Native American who was pursuing it. From Canada came the tales of the hero of the lumberjacks, Paul Bunyan, whose Blue Ox "Babe" was "forty-two ax handles and a plug of chewing tobacco between the eyes." The cowboys' hero was Pecos Bill, who "taught the bronco how to buck," and Southern blacks told tales of John Henry, the railroader and steamboat roustabout who once won a contest against a steam drill.
A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it was true and factual. Some such stories are exaggerations of actual events, such as, "that fish was so big, why I tell ya', it nearly sank the boat when I pulled it in!" Other tall tales are completely fictional tales in a familiar setting, such as the American Old West or the beginning of the Industrial Age. Tall tales are often told so as to make the narrator seem to have been a part of the story. They are usually humorous or witty.

The tall tale is a fundamental element of American folk literature. The tall tale's origins are seen in the bragging contests that often occurred when the rough men of the American frontier gathered. The tales of legendary figures of the Old West, such as Pecos Bill and the lumberjack Paul Bunyan, owe much to the style of tall tales.

The bi-annual speech contests optionally held by Toastmasters International public speaking clubs may include a Tall Tales contest. Each participating speaker is given three to five minutes to give a short speech of a tall tale nature, and is then judged according to several factors. The winner and runner-up proceed to the next level of competition. The contest does not proceed beyond any participating district in the organization to the International level.

The comic strip Non Sequitur sometimes features tall tales told by the character Captain Eddie; it is left up to the reader to decide if he is telling the truth, exaggerating a real event, or just telling a whopper.

Other subjects of American tall tales include:

Australian tall tales

The Australian frontier similarly inspired the types of tall tales that are found in American folklore. The Australian versions typically centre around a mythical station called The Speewah.

The heroes of the Speewah include:

  • Big Bill - The dumbest man on the Speewah who made his living cutting up mining shafts and selling them for post holes
  • Crooked Mick - A champion shearer who had colossal strength and quick wit.

Another folk hero in Australian folklore is The Man from Snowy River - A hero (created by author Banjo Patterson) whose bravery, adaptability, and risk-taking could epitomise the new Australian spirit.

Similar traditions in other cultures

Similar storytelling traditions are present elsewhere. The Cumbrian Liars in the United Kingdom provide one example. The film Laughter and Grief by the White Sea shows an illustration from the Pomors Russians by the White Sea.

See also

External links

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