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I recently read several very favorable reviews of the new novel, Death and Mr. Pickwick, by Stephen Jarvis. Before I read it, I thought it would be useful to finally finish The Pickwick Papers, which I'd always found too episodic to get through. I enjoyed the original novel and commenced reading Mr. Jarvis's riff. Therein he makes the case that Charles Dickens's Pickwick stories were merely written to go with illustrations by the artist Robert Seymour, rather than vice versa, and that it was the artist who created the character.

But before he ever even introduces Dickens into the story, he's given us a rousing account of the illustrators of the day, whose work sold papers, journals and novels. Besides Seymour, one of the most popular caricaturists was George Cruikshank, a friend and illustrator of Dickens, of whom I'd likewise never heard. But, as is the way of such things, once you know the names they start popping up all over. So, we were watching Michael Portillo's Great Railway Journeys and he happened to be in Germany, doing a stand up about The Brothers Grimm. He revealed that the stories did not become best-sellers until Cruikshank illustrated them. Then I was in a thrift store and found this edition of Munchausen, which just happens to include Cruikshank's original artwork. One felt obligated to buy it.

The Adventures itself is sort of a one trick pony, though a pretty funny pony at that. Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Munchausen, the historical Baron, was fond of telling tall tales about his life and his experience fighting with the Russians against the Turks. Rudolf Erich Raspe was a jewel thief and general scamp who decided to cash in on the colorful Baron by embellishing his tales even further and borrowed liberally from the style of Gulliver's Travels to do so.

The stories make no pretense of being plausible, including catching canon balls, flying to the moon, etc. And, at their best, they're quite amusing. But they are also inherently visual, as Roger Ebert relates here, concerning maybe the most famous/infamous tale:
The real von Munchausen apparently did not complain about this book that made free with his reputation, even though it included such tall stories as the time the baron tethered his horse to a "small twig" in a snowstorm, and discovered when the snow melted that the twig was actually a church steeple.

I remember the illustration that appeared with that story when I read it as a child: The baron on the ground, looking up in perplexity at his horse, which was still hanging from the steeple. I remember asking my father how the horse was going to get down, and my father speculating that he would have to wait until it snowed again, which seemed like a bleak prospect for the horse. And so I asked if the baron could feed his horse in the meantime by climbing up the steeple with hay. The mind of a child is wonderfully literal.

As told by Raspe, the Baron actually shoots the reins to free the horse, as pictured here by Cruikshank. But note that Mr. Ebert's memory of the story is of the picture. As Mr. Jarvis has Seymour say in his novel : "Pictures do sell words."

The Baron's adventures are still worth a read, but be sure to get yourself an illustrated version. And don't forget the wonderful Terry Gilliam film adaptation.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

George Cruikshank Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: George Cruikshank
    -INFO: George Cruikshank : British artist (Encyclopædia Britannica)
    -EXHIBIT: Satire and Social Commentary The Life of George Cruikshank (Cleveland Museum of Art)
    -INFO: George Cruikshank (Spartacus Educational)
    -ARCHIVES: George Cruikshank illustrations, travel manuscript, and letter, circa 1810, 1853-1870 (Penn State Library)
    -INFO: George Cruikshank [English Illustrator, 1792-1878] (ArtCyclopedia)
    -INFO: George Cruikshank, 1792-1878 — biographical introduction (Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor for Canada; Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Victorian Web)
    -IMAGES: Oliver Twist illustrations (David Purdue's Charles Dickens Page)
    -EXHIBIT: George Cruikshank (1792-1878) (Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane)
    -IMAGES: Sur La Lune Fairy Tales Gallery
    -PROFILE: Stars of Political Cartooning – George Cruikshank (Brian Cronin, October 15, 2008, Comic Book Resources)
    -ETEXT: The Life Of George Cruikshank, Vol. I. (of II), by Blanchard Jerrold (Project Gutenberg)
    -PROFILE: On George Cruikshank (Charles Baudelaire, Curiosités esthétiques: Salon 1845-1859)
    -ARCHIVES: George Cruikshank, 1792-1878 (A Guide to Library Resources at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Rudolph Raspe Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Rudolf Erich Raspe
    -WIKIPEDIA : Baron Munchausen
    -ETEXT: The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by George Cruikshank , Rudolf Erich Raspe
    -BIO: Rodolph Eric Raspe (Robert Hunt, 1885, The Western Antiquary)
    -ETEXTS: Baron Munchausen (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO: The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (libriVox)
    -ARCHIVES: Raspe, Rudolph Erich (1737-1794) Mineralogist Author of 'munchausen' (National Archives)
    -Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe (heritage History)
    -ESSAY: Rudolph Raspe and The Surprising Adventures of Baron Münchhausen (Billy Byrne, Foolish Notions)
    -ESSAY: Almost Nothing but the Truth: Was the real, 18th-century Baron von Munchausen, known for telling tall tales, a pathological liar? How did he become so famous that a psychological syndrome was named after him? And what's his connection to computers? (Eli Eliahu Apr 08, 2011, Ha'aretz)
    -REVIEW: of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen by R.E. Raspe (Denis Donoghue, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Travels and Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Mary Mann, BookSlut) FILM:
    -INFO: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Terry Gilliam (IMDB)
-ESSAY: Rudolf Raspe and the "Real" Baron Munchausen (David Morgan, Wide Angle/Closeup)
    -REVIEW: Fly Me to the Moon: Love and Lunacy in The Outrageous Baron Munchausen (Cerise Howard, June 2015, Cinémathèque Annotations on Film : Sense of Cinema)
    -REVIEW: The Cinematic Legacy of Baron von Munchausen : Celluloid Munchausen (Patrick Ellis Volume 7, Issue 9 / September 2003, Off Screen)
    -REVIEW: of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Brian Eggert, Re(focused)views : Deep Focus)
    -REVIEW: of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Groucho Reviews)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Metaphysics and Slapstick (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)
    -REVIEW: of LOSING THE LIGHT: Terry Gilliam and the Munchausen Saga, By Andrew Yule (Harlan Ellison, LA Times)

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