Good and bad Munchhausen syndromes

Rudolf Erich Raspe, Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia, 1875

I have recently read one of the editions translated into Romanian, Aventurile Baronului Munchhausen, illustrated by V. Smirnov, translated by C. Dragomir, copyright Editura Litera, 2011, 64p

 

The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen was one of the literary thrills of my childhood. My mother used to buy me all the beautiful illustrated books she could find at that time (Romania was still a communist country) and I think I was really lucky to have them.

The baron is the biggest liar of all liars. His lies are actually so good that you wonder how a person can have so much fantasy. The book was not designed for children as it should have been a social satire, a mirror of the 18th century society but the stories answered so well to children’s expectations that it became a success. The character actually had a correspondent in reality, a baron born in Germany who fought for the Russian Empire in the Russo-Turkish War. After he retired he used to tell jokes and over exaggerated tales from his military career so Rudolf Erich Raspe turned him into a fictional character whose notoriety became universal.

Munchhausen’s stories are so exaggerated that he practically presses the button for children’s reversible reaction. Everybody knows that stags don’t have cherry trees growing on their forehead and that people do not tie their horses to the church steeple. So, not only will children be entertained but they will also easily identify the lies in the story and mark the difference between reality and fantasy.

The psychiatric Munchhausen syndrome is a severe illness about faking and fabricating symptoms for gaining attention and sympathy. It is something abnormal and sometimes patients don’t recover. They play ill, simulate diseases and invasively ask for surgery.

Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attentionsympathy, or reassurance to themselves. Casually referred to[by whom?] as hospital addiction syndromethick chart syndrome, or hospital hopper syndrome.[citation needed] Munchausen syndrome fits within the subclass of factitious disorder with predominantly physical signs and symptoms, but patients also have a history of recurrent hospitalization, travelling, and dramatic, extremely improbable tales of their past experiences.[1] The condition derives its name from the fictional character Baron Munchausen.

(Source: Wikipedia.org)

The book is nevertheless a collection of great adventures and an excellent portrait of an always lucky and appreciated baron. Munchhausen has Herculean powers – he can cut a whale’s throat with his knife, saves himself from drowning by pulling his own hair, easily kills bears, lions or crocodiles. And he always saves the day without much trouble.

All the stories are told in the first person narrative, the baron boasting and comically detailing all his tall tales. He describes himself as a very good soldier, a courageous leader who can win a battle by riding a cannonball and intimidating enemies. When his horse is cut into two, the baron fixes him using laurel branches. Always calm and optimistic, sometimes ironic, Munchhausen is a real entertainer. The audience might be skeptical but the stories, the familiar tone, the simple language and the charming illustrations are so catchy that the readers soon forget the nonsense and enjoy the adventures.

 

You can find the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=wordstoworlds

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