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Literature / Tall Tale America

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Tall Tale America: A Legendary History of Our Humorous Heroes is a collection of American Tall Tales written by Walter Blair in 1944. Includes exaggerated accounts of Real Life historical figures like Davy Crockett, Jim Bridger, and Christopher Columbus as well as completely fictional heroes like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Alfred Bulltop Stormalong.

Unlike most Tall Tale collections, there are subtle strands weaving the tales together so that they form a single Shared Universe history of the United States. Aside from a shooting match between Mike Fink and Davy Crockett, there aren't any real crossovers, just mentions along the lines of: "Along about the time Paul Bunyan was developing lumbering to a high point up north, down in Texas Pecos Bill was doing likewise for the cowboy business."

These stories provide examples of:

  • Misery Builds Character: The main theme of the book. The very first paragraph says, "When it comes to raising up heroes, there's nothing under the sun that's as helpful as hardships. This is because the way a man gets to be a hero is by overcoming hardships."
  • Unreliable Narrator:
    • In the bibliography (titled "Proof") the author claims that, in preparing the book, he's "fixed up fact after fact to make it truer than it ever was before."
    • Jim Bridger (a.k.a. Old Gabe) is one of these in-story. His string of anecdotes about the amazing things he's seen and done ends with him describing a fight he had with a nine foot tall Indian.
      "Good heavens!" says the tenderfoot, standing up in his excitement. "I do not see how you survived!"
      Old Gabe looked at him, even sadder than before. "I didn't," he said. "That dratted Indian killed me. Time to turn in."
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Mike Fink wins his shooting contest with Davy Crockett when he shoots a comb out of his wife's hair. Davy could have matched him by shooting the other comb, but he refuses to point his gun anywhere near a woman.