I’ve been fascinated for a number of years about the idea of writing personal tall tales. It’s a tough thing to explain why this is and where exactly this fascination blossomed into a full-on obsession, but I can tell you that the seed was planted when I watched that movie “Big Fish” a number of years ago.
It was an OK movie. But what stuck in the cavernous gaps of my poor little brain about it was the notion of tall tales, and the idea of how they could wrap themselves around ordinary people.
A quick recap of the movie “Big Fish” for those who may have missed it or have foggier memories than little-ole-obsessed me: Enter present-day protagonist and son of the primary movie protagonist. He is dealing with the impending death of his father. The father (the aforementioned primary protagonist a’la a series of flashback narratives) is a guy who has spent his entire life being a larger-than-life character in a series of grandiose tall tales he has constructed, re-told, adapted, and stretched over the years from the folds of an otherwise modest life. This is a larger-than-life character the son (trapped in a literal and reality-based world-view) struggles to reconcile with the glimpses of the everyday ordinary man he thinks he knows. The dad nears the end, the stories are recapped and re-told one last time for the sake of catching up the audience, some of the reality is pried loose, and (spoiler alert) father and son have a moment of understanding just as the dad dies in a flight of metaphor and one last tale tale invented by his son.
Again, it was an OK movie. And again, the story was a nice tear-jerker-kinda plot. But what really has stuck with me the last number of years since I first saw it –and about the only reason I really remember the film, actually– was that it sparked this notion of the tall tale in my head… and I can’t really shake it loose.
But What the Heck is a Tall Tale?
Wikipedia sums it up nicely: A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some such stories 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!” –Tall Tale, Wikipedia
Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan are a couple of big character stories that I grew up with.
Most people are probably very familiar with the notion of tall tales as a kind of general storytelling or folklore: y’know Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan are a couple of big character stories that I grew up with.
And many other people have probably blurred the edges of their own storytelling –relating adventures back to their family and friends– to create slightly bigger tales than reality would support. I’m sure we’ve all done just that, actually.
But I’ve been thinking –pondering for a long time, as I just noted– and the idea of purposely constructing these tales is quite interesting to me.
How Would That Work, Exactly?
A few years ago I penned a few random ideas as a kind of “Family Mythology” framing out a couple of vague stories that might form the seeds of some tall tales.
It’s not that life is boring, but rather that the lessons we’ve learned from life often loom in our memories larger than they really were. We exaggerate and self-aggrandize not because we are narcissistic but rather that we have ideas in our head that have come from spaces and events that don’t seem so important as to warrant those ideas. It’s not that they couldn’t have come from such things, but years and decades later in the telling real life lessons often warrant the reaction “you got THAT from THAT?”
as an experiment in storytelling combine a handful of my own real life lessons into tall tales
I was not trying to supplant that reality, but rather as an experiment in storytelling combine a handful of my own real life lessons into tall tales, stories with the grains of truth made to seem boulders: seconds or minutes of panic stretched into days and weeks of turmoil, oddball characters morphed into multidimensional archetypes, and small mistakes or misunderstandings ballooned into life-altering trials.
The result –I hoped– would be a collection of short stories that I could tell along the way. A collection of stories that capture the imagination, inspire a curiosity for the reality that’s layered within, and preserve a nugget of family history. Thus these were my…
Four First Attempts at Tall Tales
The Rats of the Berlin Zoo is the story of a three-day chase through the streets of Berlin pursued by the Rat Brothers, a gang who sought to drag me into the dark depths of the city for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. (A tall tale of facing fears.)
The Goollish of Oh-Street is the story of my year spent learning the language of an angry and disturbed creature living the caves beneath my apartment,a creature who only emerged from his lair at night to shout at the sky. (A tall tale of standing up to misconceptions.)
The Raindrops of Wellington is the story of a week spent stuck inside a broken elevator: nine very different people from very different places who’s only means of escape was to agree on the means of escape, something that we couldn’t quite figure out. (A tale of uniting for a cause.)
The Battle of the Sky is the story of my secret training and subsequent battle, when I fought back a hoard of mind-enslaved businessmen with naught but an electronic sword and the power of punnery. (A tale of going down with fight.)
Of course, these are just the seeds of the ideas. There is much more left to write and in their writings it is bound to be an effort of multi-revisionary-ever-more-exaggerated storytelling… but then that’s subject matter for another post. Stay tuned.