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 Europeancountryside, the American frontier, the Canadian Northwest, or the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Things are often told in a way that makes the narrator seem to have been a part of the story, and are 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.
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 proceeds to the next level of competition. The contest does not proceed beyond any participating district in the organization to the International level.
The comic stripNon 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.
Some stories are told about exaggerated versions of actual historical individuals:
Johnny Appleseed – A friendly folk hero who traveled the West planting apple trees because he felt his guardian angel told him to
Johnny Blood – An American football player whose reputation for wild behavior was as well known as his on-field play
Nat Love, also known as "Deadwood Dick", was born a slave in Tennessee in 1854. Tales of his adventures after emancipation, as a cowboy and as a Pullman porter, gained such fantastical elements as to be considered tall tales
Sam Patch – An early 19th-century daredevil who died during a jump on Friday the 13th
The skvader, an example of a tall tale hunting story.
Similar storytelling traditions are present elsewhere. For instance:
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:
The many farfetched adventures of the fictional German nobleman Baron Munchausen, some of which may have had a folklore basis.
Legends of the Irish mythological hunter-warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, also known as Finn MacCool, have it that he built the Giant's Causeway as stepping-stones to Scotland, so as not to get his feet wet, and that he also once scooped up part of Ireland to fling it at a rival, but it missed and landed in the Irish Sea; the clump became the Isle of Man, the pebble became Rockall, and the void became Lough Neagh.
A brown bear coating himself in baking soda to be acceptable to humans as a polar bear, a young boy selling frozen words, and a woman whose voice cuts through a giant tree to release oranges that light the Polar night are all tales told by a Pomor elder in the Soviet animation film Laughter and Grief by the White Sea (1988).