A tall tale is a story with unbelievable or outright impossible elements (such as an impossibly tall man, hence the name "tall" tale), told as if it were true and factual.
Tall tales arose, more or less, from braggy exaggerations and other cock-and-bull stories. They may contain exaggerations of actual characters or events, or they can be entirely made up. Common prototypes for tall tales are fish stories
("it was this big!") (which makes it transparent where the “tall” humor is coming from), as well as the the hunter's story
, the war story
, and the traveller's story
. Tall Tales are inherently related to Satire
, although they are usually humorous and good-natured.
Some tall tales draw on myth
but while mythology may exaggerate the exploits of their heroes to make them more awesome, the Tall Tale is aware of its own absurdity and exaggerates so as to become ludicrous.
Note that "tall tale" is sometimes also used in a wider sense for any "story that isn't true" (particularly when the teller pretends it is true); in this looser sense it also covers Shaggy Dog Stories
and campfire Ghost Stories
(in parts of the US, "tall tale" and "shaggy dog story" are indeed synonyms).
Tall tales are also often told in a way that makes the narrator
seem to have been a part of the story. If he himself is the hero, there are likely to follow outrageous Badass Boasts
(often followed by the praise of one’s own modesty). This kind of a narrator is a Munchausen
or a Miles Gloriosus
. Standard stylistic devices are also the insistence on factuality, and the pitying of naïve skeptics for their disbelief.
Tall tales may also include fantastic creatures. In the USA, the Fearsome Critters of American Folklore
are a traditional subject of tall tales. In Australia, expect to see Yowies and Bunyips and Drop Bears, Oh My
Tall tales are an ancient genre of folktales
(as encountered in the tales around Paul Bunyan
in the USA or Crooked Mick
in Australia). But there is also the literary tall tale; the literary tall tale catalyzed the emergence of such respectable genres as Science Fiction
and the Utopia
This page is for the Tall Tale genre. If a work is a tall tale itself, or a compendium of them, or the plot revolves around the telling of tall tales, then it goes in this trope. If it merely contains a braggart who is telling tall tales, but the tales aren't the focus of the work, then the trope you seek is Miles Gloriosus
or The Munchausen
- Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill, a Disney film about a young boy's adventures with Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and John Henry.
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Terry Gilliam, based on the 18th century tall tales around Baron Munchhausen.
- Big Fish, which is all about a man deciphering his father's tall tales.
- Lampshaded in an exchange between Edward and Josephine.
Edward: Will never told you? Ah, he wouldn't have told it right anyhow. All of the facts and none of the flavor.
Josephine: Ah, so this is a tall tale.
Edward: Well, it's not a short one.
- Tall Tale America: A Legendary History of Our Humorous Heroes is a book about American tall tales.
- True History by 2nd century AD author Lucian of Samosata is likely the Ur Example.
- Played with in The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem. It's never clear whether Ijon Tichy, the book's narrator, "really" had all those wacky adventures in space, or whether he is just a teller of tall tales.
- The several books under the label The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by Erich Rudolph Raspe (1785-1789 and 1792) and Gottfried August Bürger (1788).
- In the Red Mars Trilogy, which is set on a future Mars that is being terraformed, people still tell stories of a Paul Bunyan-type figure called "Big Man," but they make him out as a Trickster Archetype creator figure, not unlike Raven in Native American mythology. This is an In-Universe illustration of how tall tales can evolve into mythology.
- Jonathan's Swift Gullivers Travels combines political and social satire with the genre of the traveller's tall tale.
- Arthur C. Clarke's short-story collection Tales from the White Hart consists of a number of science-fictiony tall tales told by an odd fellow in the titular Fleet Street pub.
- In the P. G. Wodehouse "Mr. Mulliner" stories, the eponymous raconteur entertains his fellow pub-goers with tall tales about his numerous relatives.
- Arabian Nights is an ancient Arabic version, with a woman spinning fantastic tales in order to prevent her own execution and eventually win the heart of the king.
- In Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who... Series, crime journalist Jim Qwilleran collects various tall tales from around Moose County, and eventually publishes them.
- Pippi Longstocking tells these all the time.
Mythology and Folklore
- An episode of The Twilight Zone ("Hocus-Pocus and Frisby") features a backwoods man named Frisby who continually tells tall tales. When he tells the townsfolk he was abducted by aliens, they believe he is just Crying Wolf. (The whole episode could be a tall tale... from Rod Serling's point of view.)
- Chau from Off Centre did this once about the story of Euan and Liz.
- Tales based on fictional characters:
- Paul Bunyan
- Pecos Bill
- Slue Foot Sue
- Rip Van Winkle
- Crooked Mick, a traditional Tall Tale character from Australia.
- Actual historical characters that have tall tales built around them:
- An adaptation of the Baron Munchhausen stories was popularized by radio comedian Jack Pearl in the 1930s, with his character's signature response to any doubts about his veracity- "Vas you dere, Sharlie?"- becoming a well-known catchphrase.
- The party game called The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is based on the art of tall tale telling. Each player in turn tells the most unbelievable (but absolutely true!) stories, with the others trying to trip him up, without calling him an outright liar. Whoever tells the best story wins.
- Captain Park's Imaginary Polar Expedition, a board game from Cheapass Games. You play members of a Victorian gentleman's club, all of whom are trying to one-up each other with heroic tales of adventure. In fact, all your exploits are entirely fictitious. You've just spent the last few months hiding in a hotel and sneaking out in disguise to scavenge in junk shops for "artifacts" from your "expeditions". The aim of the game is to collect convincing sets of photographs, anecdotes, and artifacts, without being spotted and exposed as a fraud.
- In The Adventures of The League of S.T.E.A.M. episode, "Tall Tails", three League members sit around telling stories of their encounter with a Kraken... some of them being a bit hard to swallow.