World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Tall tale

For the film see Tall Tale (film)

A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events, for example fish stories ("the fish that got away") 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 set in a familiar setting, such as the European countryside, the American frontier, the Canadian Northwest, or the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Tall tales are often told in a way that makes the narrator seem to have been a part of the story. They are usually humorous or good-natured. The line between legends and tall tales is distinguished primarily by age; many legends exaggerate the exploits of their heroes, but in tall tales the exaggeration looms large, to the extent of becoming the whole of the story.

Rabelais' giant, Pantagruel, sleeps after his encounter; curious onlookers surround the sea serpent he has vanquished. Woodcut by Gustave Doré


  • American tall tale 1
    • Examples 1.1
  • Similar traditions in other cultures 2
    • Australian tall tales 2.1
    • Canadian tall tales 2.2
  • Modern-day tall tales 3
    • Tall tales in visual media 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

American tall tale

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, some listed below, owe much to the style of tall tales.

The semi-annual speech contests held by Toastmasters International public speaking clubs may include a Tall Tales contest. Each and every 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.


Paul Bunyan's sidekick, Babe the blue ox, sculpted as a ten-meter tall roadside tourist attraction

Subjects of American tall tales include legendary figures:

Other stories are told about exaggerated versions of actual historical individuals:

Similar traditions in other cultures

The Columnar basalt that makes up the Giant's Causeway; in legend, a fine set of hexagonal stepping stones to Scotland, made by Finn mac Cumail

Similar storytelling traditions are present elsewhere. For instance:

The skvader, an example of a tall tale hunting story.
  • Toell the Great was one of the great tall tales of Estonia.
  • Juho Nätti (1890–1964), known as Nätti-Jussi, was a Finnish lumberjack known for telling tall tales, and his stories have also circulated as folk tales and been collected in books.

Australian tall tales

The Australian frontier (known as the bush or the outback) similarly inspired the types of tall tales that are found in American folklore. The Australian versions typically concern 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.
  • Rodney Ansell

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

Canadian tall tales

The Canadian frontier has also inspired the types of tall tales that are found in American folklore.

Modern-day tall tales

Tall tales in visual media

Early 20th century postcards became a vehicle for tall tale telling in the US.[3][4] Creators of these cards, such as the prolific Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr.,[5] and William H. "Dad" Martin, usually employed trick photography, including forced perspective, while others painted their unlikely tableaus,[4] or used a combination of painting and photography in early examples of photo retouching.[6] The common theme was gigantism: fishing for leviathans,[4][7] hunting for[4][8] or riding[9][10] oversized animals, and bringing in the impossibly huge sheaves.[4][11] An homage to the genre can be found on the cover of the Eat a Peach album.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cumbrian Liars
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^

Further reading

  • Brown, Carolyn. (1989). The Tall Tale in American Folklore and Literature. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-627-1.

External links

  • American Tall Tales
  • Tall Tales, Whoppers and Lies – Audio Recording
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.