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Book titles are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more information.
To retell any stories, get permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
In performance, always credit your sources.
Alphabetized with short descriptions for your convenience and to save you research time.

Ages 4-8

Paul Bunyan by Carol Ottolenghi. (2004 - Ages 4-8)
Paul Bunyan was the largest, smartest baby ever born in the state of Maine! He grew up to be the biggest lumber jack in the world, with his blue ox, Babe by his side, they worked their way west through the North American Forest. Join their journey and see what wonders they created along the way!

Paul Bunyan: My Story (Step into Reading) by David L. Harrison. (2008 - Ages 4-8)
WHOOOOOEEEEE! THAT PAUL Bunyan sure knows how to tell a story. The mammouth, mythic lumberjack tells the tallest tales about growing up, making friends, and working in the great North Woods as the biggest, best, and strongest lumberjack the world has ever seen.
Told in simple, unaffected first-person narrative, this Step 3 reader is the perfect way to introduce young readers to tall tales. 

Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe by Dell J. McCormick. (1936 - Ages 4-8)
New paperback edition of McCormick's collection of folk tales about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his enormous blue ox Babe.

Paul Bunyan 20th Anniversary Edition (Reading Rainbow book) by Steven Kellogg. (1985 - Ages 4-8)
Who was the largest baby ever born in the state of Maine? Who dug the Great Lakes? Who gouged out the Grand Canyon? Why, Paul Bunyan, of course, America's finest, fastest, funniest lumberman and favorite tall-tale hero.

Bunyans (Scholastic Bookshelf) by Audrey Wood. (2006 - Ages 4-8)
You may know that Paul Bunyan was taller than a redwood tree and stronger than fifty grizzly bears--but you may NOT know that he also had a wife and two kids who helped him create some of the most striking natural wonders of North America! With warmth, humor, and dazzling landscapes, award-winning writer Audrey Wood and acclaimed illustrator David Shannon team up to present the tall-tale beginnings of Niagara Falls, the Rocky Mountains, Old Faithful, and more.

Ages 9-12

Paul Bunyan by Esther Shephard. (2006 - Ages 9-12)
Paul Bunyan was never "stumped," and no job was ever too big for him and his blue ox to handle. From Michigan to Minnesota, from North Dakota to the Pacific Northwest, wherever Paul went, he liked to do things in a big way. These twenty-one tales about the super lumberjack are a unique American contribution to the world's folklore.

Paul Bunyan (Robbie Readers) (What's So Great About...?) by Jim Whiting. (2007)
Paul Bunyan chopped down forests, created the Grand Canyon and a few mountains, and, whenever he took a step, made each of Minnesota s 10,000 lakes. He could cut down many trees with one swing of his monstrous ax. His companion was a big blue ox named Babe. Are these American myths true or pure fiction? Find out how Bunyan s amazing exploits may have been based on those of a real person.

Paul Bunyan (Tall Tales) by Bill Balcziak. (2003)
Presents the life story of the enormous lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, who along with his blue ox Babe, is said to have made the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota with his footsteps.

Paul Bunyan's Sweetheart by Marybeth Lorbiecki. (2007)
Paul Bunyan has a BIG problem. Hes in love but the lady who has caught his eye will have nothing to do with him. Whats a giant lumberjack to do? When Paul Bunyan meets pretty Lucette, he knows shes the gal for him. After all, shes so tall she cant fit into an ordinary cabin. She can churn butter into a thick creamy river, and when she cleans house she can twirl up a tornado! Why, its a match made in heaven! But to win Lucettes heart, Paul must prove his worth in a love test.

Tall Tales of Paul Bunyan (The): The Graphic Novel (Graphic Spin) by Martin Powell. (2010)
Classic American tales are retold with energetic, cartoon depictions meant to emphasize the outrageous entertainment elements. Both books are summary compilations of many storiess, stripped to their essence, and they feel a little short because of it, with Pecos Bill feeling the most choppy and episodic. By replacing the traditional purple, shaggy-dog prose with over-the-top illustrations, each volume does successfully recapture the bombastic scope of the original stories.

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Adults and all ages

Animal Folk Tales of America: Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, The Jumping Frog, Davy Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, Sweet Betsy, and many others by Tony Palazzo. (2010 - Ages 4-8)
A long out-of-print treasure returns! This loving and vividly illustrated celebration of America conjures up a time when tales were truly TALL. Set when the country was young and its horizons seemed endless, these epic stories portray a marvelous landscape where outsize legends grew and thrived. Sure to stir the imagination with its humor and wonderfully evocative illustrations.

Legends of Paul Bunyan (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book) by Harold W. Felton. (2008 - Ages 9-12)
Paul Bunyan is a true American folk character, created in logging camp bunkhouses by men who spun exaggerated stories that combined hard work and fantasy.
While the origins of Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox are hazy, many storytellers have over the years contributed their own takes to produce an existing body of work—a true American legend. 

Marvelous Exploits Of Paul Bunyan (The) by W.B. Laughead. (2010)
Subtitled: The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan as Told in the Camps of the White Pine Lumbermen for Generations During Which Time the Loggers Have Pioneered the Way Through the North Woods From Maine to California Collected from Various Sources and Embellished for Publication.

Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, With More Than 100 Logging Camp Tales by Michael Edmonds. (2009 - Ages 9-12)
Presents the culture of nineteenth-century lumberjacks in their own words. It includes eyewitness accounts of how the first Bunyan stories were shared on frigid winter nights, around logging camp stoves, in the Wisconsin pinery. It describes where the tales began, how they moved out of the forest and into print, and why publication changed them forever. Part bibliographic mystery and part social history. An appendix includes more than 100 original tales about Bunyan.

Paul Bunyan (Rabbit Ears Storybook Classics) by Brian Gleeson. (1993)
Jonathan Winters narrates the exploits and adventures of American folk hero and logger Paul Bunyan, Babe the big blue ox, and other outrageous characters.

Paul Bunyan and Other American Tall Tales (PlainTales First Tales) by Melody Warnick. (2009 - Ages 4-8)
Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Davy Crockett are some of the roughest, toughest characters to ever blaze the frontier. Clever as the crack of a whip and strong as a wildcat, these tall-tale heroes each left a legacy of larger-than-life deeds that has captured the American imagination for over a century. Three rib-tickling tracks tell the whole story believe it or not.

For complete, searchable lists of all books available on
about Paul Bunyan, click here:

Books about Paul Bunyan for All Ages
(over 940 choices)
Books about Paul Bunyan for Ages 4-8
(over 30 choices)
Books about Paul Bunyan for Ages 9-12
(15 choices)

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Life of Paul Bunyan and the Life of Pecos Bill (The) by Aaron Brachfeld. (2010) (Kindle)
This authoritative edition of two of America's favorite heroes is beautifully illustrated and illuminated and ready to read by the adults and children who have enjoyed hearing about these two great men since they were invented around the camp fire. Brachfeld includes breathtaking images, engaging humor and easy reading for the children, and interesting literary histories for the adults. Trace the history of the lumberjack and the cowpoke to ancient Greece and pause to give thought to their futures.

Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan (The) by W.B. Laughead. (2006) (Kindle)
This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

Paul Bunyan and His Big Blue Ox by W.B. Laughead. (2010) (Kindle)
This is a classic reprint of the Red River Lumber Company book, written and illustrated by W. B. Laughead. Appropriate for all ages, this title represents a portion of the Pacific Northwest lore regarding the giant logger and his blue ox, Babe. It may be an exaggeration that Paul Bunyan and Babe created the Grand Canyon -- we have it on good word from some folks up North that he just extended it a bit. Here's to the legends of our industrious past, and to those real and live men and women who really did tame the western mountains.

Paul Bunyan and His Loggers by Cloice R. Howd. (Kindle)
This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

For a complete, searchable list of all Kindle books available on
about Paul Bunyan, click here:

Kindle Books about Paul Bunyan
(19 choices - check carefully as some look "iffy")

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Online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them for more information.
Get permission to tell any stories that are not in the public domain (published prior to 1923).
Always credit your sources.
Paul Bunyan - posted by
Excerpt: "Paul Bunyan is a mythological lumberjack who is usually believed to be a giant as well as a lumberjack of unusual skill. The character was first documented in the work of U.S. journalist James MacGillivray in 1910. In 1916, as part of an advertising campaign for a logging company, advertisement writer William Laughead reworked the old logging tales into that of a giant lumberjack and gave birth to the modern Paul Bunyan legend, thereby making Paul Bunyan a fakelore character."
Includes information on authenticity, myth, tourist attractions, see also, references and external links.
Thousands of images for Paul Bunyan through Also includes links to Paul Bunyan books, Paul Bunyan illustrations, and Paul Bunyan costumes.
Paul Bunyan - posted by
Excerpt: Paul Bunyan is a larger-than-life folk hero who embodies frontier vitality. He is a symbol of might, the willingness to work hard, and the resolve to overcome all obstacles. He was popularized by newspapermen across the country in 1910 and has been a part of the American culture ever since...
Click on link for more information.
Thousands of videos for Paul Bunyan through Includes videos from Disney, Mel-O-Toons, Center for Puppetry Arts, Perfume for Men, and many more.
Paul Bunyan, The Giant Lumberjack Online Story - posted by Includes crafts, coloring pages, preschool lesson plan, printable activities, and more.
Paul Bunyan Statues and Stories - posted by Includes Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Docoumentry about Paul Bunyan, Legends of Paul Bunyan, More Great Websites About Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan Days, Videos of Paul Bunyan Days Parades, Paul Bunyan (Rabbit Ears Storybook Classics), Melo-Toons: Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan Stuff on eBay, Statues of Paul Bunyan, and much more.
The Truth About Folk Heroes - posted by From Ancestry Magazine archives. Includes facts about John "Appleseed" Chapman, Annie Oakley, John Henry, Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan and His Blue Ox, Babe, with references for further reading.
Is Paul Bunyan a fraud? - posted by - written by Cecil Adams.
Excerpt: The Paul Bunyan tales have been described as "fakelore"--"a slender vein of oral anecdote" embellished by copywriters for low commercial ends. That's putting it a little harshly; the stories are a cut above the usual promotional puffery. Still, there's no denying the truth: Most of the Paul Bunyan yarns, commonly thought of as tall tales spun by loggers during winter evenings in the north woods, were actually the work of inspired hacks...
Click on link for more information.
26 videos titled "The Truth About Paul Bunyan" - many of them by Michael Edmonds, author of the book Out of the Northwoods, the Many Lives of Paul Bunyan as he goes on a speaking tour.
Paul Bunyan - posted by, taken f rom the Oxford Companion to American Literature, 1995, authors James D. Hart and Phillip W. Leininger.
Excerpt: Bunyan, Paul, giant hero of many tales told by lumberjacks of the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest. Originally, the stories may have described a French Canadian, “Bon Jean,” but in their later form they are pure mythology. They tell of the exploits of the greatest of all boss loggers, which include such fantastic feats as the creation of the Grand Canyon and Puget Sound, and the invention of the double?]bitted axe and of a gigantic hotcake griddle, greased by flunkies who skate on it with sides of bacon strapped to their feet...
Click on link for more information.
Full of information and links about Paul Bunyan.
Tall Tales. Excerpt: "Join us for some really Tall Tales. We've got giant mosquitoes, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Brer Rabbit, and folklore stories that will make you laugh so hard you'll bust a gusset! After you've read a few, e-mail us one of your favorite tall tales..."
Featured: "The Fisherman and the Bear"; Other Tall Tales: Adventure On the Rogue; Arizona Weather; Arkansas Traveler; Babe the Blue Ox; Bear Lake Monster; Bigfoot Wallace Runs the Mail; Bigfoot Wallace and the Hickory Nuts; Birth of Paul Bunyan; Black Bartelmy's Ghost; Black Dog of Hanging Hills; Blackbeard's Ghost; many more.
For more, click on the link above.

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Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)

Book titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them for more information.
Get permission to tell any stories that are not in the public domain (published prior to 1923).
Always credit your sources.
Posts are added as they are received by Story Lovers World.

1) Query:
I am preparing for a gig, and I decided it was time I told some stories that are new for me too, not just for the audience. Storytelling spring cleaning :) I have been reading Paul Bunyan stories lately, and I find them fun :) So I decided to give it a try. Nobody ever heard any of those stories over here, so it's going to be new for the audience as well.
Any tips, suggestions, recommendations? I haven't told many tall tales before :)

Macsek 3/30/11


a) Funny you should mention Paul Bunyan. I just got off the phone with a school planing a Frontier Days Festival. They requested Paul Bunyan. I had told these before so was glad for another opportunity to pull them out again. I love then. However my previous experience told me. Very young children don't under stand the ...tallness and exaggeration. Young children can be very literal. And the fact that Paul is cutting down trees left and right was not a big winner. Not an eco friendly story when taken out of context. An understanding of history is important. Other than that have fun with Paul. I will. Let me know how it goes.

Mij B. 3/30/11

b) I immediately thought of Chuck Larkin, who told such wonderful tall tales. His biggest piece of advice was to find a way to make some part of the telling first person, "I saw this with my own eyes." (which you could do with some of the settings, since you have been to the U.S., even if you didn't make it to the exact spot). Chuck's website is still there, with many wonderful tall tales, and he was always most generous in permission to tell . . .

Mary G. 3/30/11

c) I second the caution that very young children don't see the humor in tall tales. They're still building confidence that they can predict how the world works, so when Paul defies reality, it's confusing rather than funny. They may be amused by what they interpret as outrageous slapstick (vis loggers greasing Paul's huge pancake griddle by skating with slabs of bacon on their feet) but they don't really "get" the joke.

Wise ones, what's the youngest age at which listeners would surely join you in the talltale laugh?

Fran S. 3/30/11

d) Interesting point! I've noticed that the very young children do not see a frog when I do that hand-twisting "frog" thing. They look puzzled rather than amused. (also their fingers aren't long enough to do it as I do until maybe age 8 or 10, so they make up their own versions). In Mexico, once, I couldn't tell a story with it, not enough Spanish, but a boy of four or five told me "rana" and made his own with his hands, entertaining us both on a bus ride.

When I tell my "Carnival Elation" tall tale to young 'uns, I do talk about the difference between lying and telling a tall tale for fun, and if there's time, I let them try to guess what really happened and what didn't. I've seen kindergartners handle that with no trouble. I also have found I need to define "elation" with almost all age groups. (glad I wasn't on the Ecstasy)

Mary G. 3/30/11

e) In my experience, tall tales like that work best with older kids and adults. Because American tall tales were almost all literary creations, rather than folk tales, some of them may work better than others. It will just take a little practice to see which ones "translate" well for your audience. For instance, if you were telling in an area where pancakes were not a common food, the story about Paul Bunyan's cook and his giant griddle wouldn't be as funny.

Nick S. 3/30/11

f) I heard a good ol' boy explain the difference: a lie aims to keep you misled from the truth. A tall tale stretches the truth so far that it lets you in on the joke.

(That may be a different point with listeners of different experience. Doesn't work with listeners who can't recognize where the story has stretched too far.)

Fran S. 3/30/11

g) Fran, that is exactly the "boundary problem" that I have encountered. Many of the children in my area are first or second generation in the U.S., and their experience with "common" culture may be limited. The older kids and adults have been exposed to more, and are easier to bring along into the joke.

Also, and I don't know if anyone else on the list ever had a problem with this, but with tall tales there are other issues. Some of them are so tightly tied to a particular aspect of history or culture that the story may require more pre-explanation. How many modern kids know much about sailing clipper ships across the Atlantic? [Alfred Bulltop Stormalong] How many are interested in the steel industry? [Joe Magarac] They better understand Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill, but even the ones familiar with the idea of a farm may not get into the Febold Feboldson stories.

When I was a kid, I read all of the tall tale books at our library, and it wasn't until years later that I learned how "un-authentic" some of those stories were. Yes, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and a few other
characters were fairly old, but ones like Joe Magarac were actually quite "modern" by comparison. My understanding is that he started out as an ad campaign character, of all things. [Imagine the folklore that could develop around the Pillsbury Doughboy!] The editors and compilers of tall tales for children either didn't know or didn't care about the difference.

Nick S. 3/30/11

h) My son-in-law insists it's not a lie if you are only kidding!

Sandy B. 3/30/11

i) I remember reading tall tales when I was a kid, but didn't particularly like them.
Don't like 'em especially now either. Wonder if that lack of "Authenticity" was the reason?

Kimberley K. 3/30/11

j) Maybe it's because Paul was a native of MIchigan, contrary to claims from MiNnesota, WAshington and ORegon. It was an authentic Michigan timber company that made up the stories, some of which seem to be influenced by late and non-canonical Fionn mac Cumhaill tales. I wonder what the non-US list members are making of all this. Could someone post a link to some Paul Bunyan stories so they'll know what we're talking about?

Richard M. Dublin 3/30/11

k) Here you go Richard, from a previous article.
American Folklore
Read the story of Paul Bunyan’s birth, watch him dig Lake Michigan and follow him down to the Whistling River. Six stories that will make him step right off of the page!

l) Well, there's always the collection here:

These include several of the "classic" Paul Bunyan stories, retold by S.E. Schlosser, who has done a series of books on regional scary stories. They're not always the best versions, but give a good idea of the type.

Nick S. 3/30/11

m) I like it! Of course, part of what we do is teach them the difference. When the cuties ask, "Did that really happen?" I remind them that we talked about stories sometimes stretching the truth, or as my great-nephew asked once, when I pointed to Mars and told him that's where I was from, "Are you storytelling me, Aunt Mary?"

Mary G. 3/30/11

o) Here's the Wikipedia website that will give you lots of information about Paul Bunyan as well as links to many of the stories:

Here's a searchable link to all the books (943) about Paul Bunyan available through This includes children's books as well.

Jackie B. 3/30/11

p) Folklore scholar/promoter Richard Dorson waged a life-long campaign against Paul Bunyan, he coined the term "Fakelore" to cover that kind of material, and Bunyan specifically. Much of the tales were written by authors paid by Weyerhauser lumber (which I believe one of the Koch brothers' industries today) and offered free to newspapers who wanted copy, which at that point in our history they all did. Annoying that triumphalist deforestation propaganda now should be enshrined by curriculum committees across the US, who decide which "American Folktales" all 4th year schoolchildren are supposed to be familiar with. Don't get me started.

I enjoyed reading Paul Bunyan stories when I was maybe nine or ten. Kids can enjoy such things without getting the joke. (The Ruth Plumley Thompson Oz stories were full of puns -- a guy named Herb whose chest was a medicine chest, for example, I didn't get it at all, but I enjoyed the character.) So I liked the detail about guys greasing a giant griddle by skating across it with bacon stapped to their shoes, without finding it particularly funny, it was just satisfying in a literal kind of way.

As an adult, I was firmly in Dorson's camp-- Paul's not folklore, and there's no good way to tell those stories-- until I saw Odds Bodkin performing a piece of Bunyana, and was actually kind of blown away by it, quite a shock. Similarly, I didn't think there was a good way to tell Pecos Bill until I heard Robin Williams' recording, with Rye Cooder playing guitar. I recommend a listen to both, for those who haven't heard them. And, apparently somebody did eventually find a live bit of Bunyan lore in the woods, though which came first, the newspaper stories or the camp lore, is an open question.

I've run across European folktales about local heros who start as outlandishly hungry and fast-growing giant infants who eat huge amounts before becoming heroic fighters that reminded me of Bunyan in their deadpan piling on of detail.

Tim J. 3/30/11

q) While I agree with Dorson about Paul Bunyan not being traditional, it's tough to prove that there were NO Paul Bunyan stories or antecedents before the 20th century. The best explanation I've seen is that he was a literary character from around 1910, and that the lumber companies paid for someone to create more stories a few years later. The thing is, if he was a purely literary character, why didn't the original author object? That really does puzzle me.

I have told a few tall tales, and they can be fun with the right audience. Pecos Bill stories can be told to older kids and adults. A friend of mine has done some of the Alfred Bulltop Stormalong stories, which are even more outrageous than Paul Bunyan.

Nick S. 3/30/11

r) I found myself thinking more about Chuck today, and his famous line, "I'd eat fried chicken before I'd lie to you." The logic of which drove even my high school students to distraction.

Mary G. 3/30/11

s) Well, if you were deathly allergic to chicken, then it would be a "cross my heart and hope to die" kind of statement...unless you were lying about the chicken, of course.

Nick S. 3/30/11

t) You are most clever! Of course, the key to Chuck's statement is the "before" . . .

My students did figure out what her was saying . . . and that Chuck loved fried chicken. Of course, for a vegetarian it would have to be something other than chicken . . .

I miss Chuck!

Mary G. 3/30/11

u) Nick wondered: "The thing is, if he was a purely literary character, why didn't the original author object?"

If the author was an employee of the lumber company writing the stories on company time, the copyright belonged to the company. They probably saw the retelling of the stories as free advertising.

Richard M. Dublin 3/30/11

v) No, it seems to have been the 1916 author who worked for the lumber company. That's what puzzled me. The 1910 guy seems to have been just a journalist, and his stories came first...if the lumber company was paying him, too, then the six-year gap seems odd.

The "work for hire" aspect is a part of American tall tale culture, when you think about it. Take a look at the source of a lot of the Davy Crockett stories, and you will find that they were in the annual books published under his byline...some of which were supposedly ghost-written with his name attached. The way I see it, about half of the American tall tales were about real historical characters, or exaggerations thereof, and the others seem to be exaggerated archetypes.

For instance, in Ohio there are stories about a farmer who was the stubbornest, angriest man in the world, who would even get into arguments with the Almighty. The stories exist all over Ohio, but thename of the man changes from county to county, apparently, and several places claim to house his tombstone. It seems likely that they were based on a real person, but at some point, you can't tell.

In the west, there are the outright fictional characters like Pecos Bill, but also outrageous stories told about real people, from Wild Bill Hickock to Joaquin Murrieta. I've seen a few examples of this kind of thing from other nations, but my impression is that the U.S. has a lot more of these than most places. It might be a matter of historical perspective...maybe the first Robin Hood stories were just tall tales
about his archery, but it doesn't seem that way.

Nick S. 3/30/11

w) Here's what Wikipedia has to say about PB's origins. Of course, they've been wrong before, but the dates match.

"Paul Bunyan is a mythological lumberjack who is usually believed to be a giant as well as a lumberjack of unusual skill. The character was first documented in the work of U.S. journalist James MacGillivray in 1910. In 1916, as part of an advertising campaign for a logging company, advertisement writer William Laughead reworked the old logging tales into that of a giant lumberjack and gave birth to the modern Paul Bunyan legend, thereby making Paul Bunyan a fakelore character..."

And here is more information about the first mention of Paul Bunyan in print... and links to some of the stories.

The Round River Drive
by James MacGillivray

This is the first mention of Paul Bunyan in print. It originally appeared in the Detroit News, July 24, 1910, illustrated section, p. 6. I've added headings and some notes at the end. -- Michael Gilleland

The Winter of the Black Snow
The Grindstone
Deer Hunting
Pea Soup
The Harness and the Windfall
The Whiplash
The Big Tree and the Schoolma'am
The Distillery
Round River

Paul Bunyan Home

Jackie B. 3/30/11

x) From my very lay-understanding of this, the Robin Hood tales fit into a medieval genre of outlaw stories which had been told and indeed written for at least a couple of centuries before the Robin tales. I have an academic book hidden somewhere amongst piles of others on this topic. Naturally, prowess with weapons is a common feature.

Richard M. Germany 3/30/11

y) So there you have documented proof that Paul was from Michigan.

Added later:
But if the journalist wrote the piece as an employee, the copyright remains with the newspaper. On the other hand, freelancers might not have been able to claim copyright back in 1910. I don't know what the copyright laws were then.

"... my impression is that the U.S. has a lot more of these than most places."

It might have been just before you joined the list, Nick, that we discussed the prevalence of tall tales in US culture and near-total lack of tall tales per se elsewhere. Exaggerations of hero feats, yes, and I just happen to have an example handy from my just-finished translation of the 8th-century Bricriu's Feast (Fled Bricrend):

At dusk, they saw a huge, hideous giant enter the hall. He was at least twice the size of any of the Ulster warriors, ugly and terrifying. He was dressed in an old animal skin and a dull grey cloak, and his head of hair was so big and thick there was room for thirty calves to shelter under it. Bulging from his head were two fierce yellow eyes, each the size of a cauldron big enough to cook an ox. Thick as the upper arm of an ordinary man was each of his fingers. In his left hand he carried a chopping-block that was the load of a twenty-ox team. In his right hand an axe the weight of three ingots of iron. It would take a six-ox plough team to move it. The razor-sharp edge would cut hairs blown against it. ... [The axe] measured seven feet along the edge.

George Henderson's translation was published in 1899, so it's possible James MacGillivray read it and took inspiration from it.

Richard M. Dublin 3/31/11

z) Nick, don't tell Pittsburghers, especially those in "mill hunky" families that Joe Magarac is just a made-up ad character! After all, he's one of three folk heroes from here: the other two are Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) and Mike Fink.

Somewhere in the depths of the Heinz History Center is a statue of Joe, proudly displayed when it first opened.

Go to this page:
for an article and some depictions of him.

Csenge, I have always avoided telling Joe Magarac tales, having no personal connection with the mill culture (as an outlander from New Jersey). But a few years ago, Tom the Town Bard, Tom Rippel, a former student of mine, got in touch with several Pgh tellers asking if any of us could do a gig for him. Before discovering storytelling after his retirement, he'd been part of a national association of environmental engineers and lawyers, and they were having their annual conference here. Tom wanted them to hear stories from this area while on a riverboat dinner cruise. Sean Miller and I agreed to do it.
I figured that Sean would do Mike and Gil Morgan from the early oil fields, and I had no trouble doing Johnny Appleseed, so I decided I should alsodo Joe, as well as a story about Andrew Carnegie and his mother Margaret Morrison. After some research, I realized that the best Magarac story for me to do was the ntroductory origin tale, which is the one where Mike Mestrovic decrees a competition at a picnic for his daughter's hand.

My next problem was to get a handle of some kind on the story....some more research established that Joe *had * been married--there were a few fragments--to a woman named Josephine. Aha!
What developed was a song that begins,

Mary Mestrovic is beautiful.
I, Josephine, am not.
Suitors galore,
blocking the door,
Mary Mestrovic is beautiful.
I, Josephine, am not.....

I found it much easier to intereweave the song with the story; it was received well.

Moral: Find a way to make Paul fit into your telling. Is there a local folk hero you can compare him to? Is there logging anywhere close to where you are? Even a few words about a time when there were so many trees people didn't worry about there not being enough, and how men living far away in the deep woods without any tvs, videos, or books, so they made up exaggerated stories to entertain themselves might work.

Please tell us how it goes!

Barra the Bard 3/31/11

aa) That matches what I had read in other sources. He didn't reach is full "63 axe-handles high" size until the later stories. Here's a link to a text of MacGillivray's story, helpfully annotated by a fellow named Michael Gilleland:

Nick S. 3/31/11

bb) Tim: Many years ago, I was subscribed to an oral traditions listserv. I recall one posting that said Paul was actually based on several earlier, now litttle-known logging folk heroes. It speculated that they may have begun in Maine and migrated west and north, beginning with French-Canadian loggers. Anyone know of any?

Barra the Bard 3/31/11

cc) I really only used Robin Hood as an example because there's some reason to believe that he was based on a real person. A friend of mine was a huge Robin Hood buff, which rubbed off a little on me, so I've done some reading.

There were many other outlaw ballads and stories, but somehow Robin Hood became the "star" character, and many of the older ones were rewritten to be about him. The producers of the 1980s Robin Hood tv show from England even made use of this, and included a few of those characters in one story line as older outlaws. Look up songs and stories of Adam Bell or Clym of the Clough. Those are two of the ones where at least fragmentary versions have survived.

Added later: I can see why Pittsburghers would attach themselves to Joe Magarac, since Johnny Appleseed and Mike Fink are mostly famous for leaving the town. :-)

Nick S. 3/31/11

dd) Johnny Appleseed was born in Leominster, MA. Spent some time in PA, maybe some in Pittsburgh. Spent most time in OH, IN, & IL. Died in the Worth family cabin in Ft. Wayne, IN and probably buried somewhere in Archer Cemetery in Ft Wayne. Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course claim his grave is there, marked by a rock. He was real although, like St Patrick, not all the stories about him are true.

Added later: As a young boy in the late 40s, I was very interested in Paul Bunyan stories. I read all that I could find. I often told (and heard) them at scout camp. Like many tall tales the origins are dim and murky. Loggers love to sit around in the evening spinning yarns and trying to top each other's stories. Probably bits and pieces of loggers that they knew combined and grew and eventually became the Paul Bunyan tales. A few authors heard them and put some on paper. This tended to solidify the tales of Paul and Babe.

I still use Paul Bunyan tales from time to time. With children I have to go slow so they understand, and exaggerate in a fun way, and tell them the way they understand. From an ecology standpoint Paul Bunyan is not the best example. I touch on that as I end the story. Like many tall tales there are no exact facts to keep straight, so I set Paul mainly being from Indiana, especially the northern part. We don't have big forests here, and now we know we have Paul Bunyan to thank for that. They are great fun stories and I believe they should be kept that way and not over analyzed.

Bob S. 3/31/11

ee) Other than the clear-cutting of trees [with no mention of replanting] and the use of fatty foods, I don't have problems with them from a modern standpoint. :-)

I grew up reading the Glen Rounds version of the Paul Bunyan stories, and they were a lot of fun. As I recall, he did a good version of the story about the coldest winter ever...

Nick S. 3/31/11

ff) They didn't do much else, but they were loads of fun. One of the things that gave me a lifelong interest in the outdoors, and even thought about going into forestry as a career. Yes I knew the tales were tall but......

Bob S. 3/31/11

gg) Before we leave Paul Bunyan behind, I'll throw in these bits. The wife and I used to sing folk and country. One night we did "Five Nights Drunk", and a scrawny 75-year-old came up afterwards and said he hadn't heard the song since he was in a lumber camp in the 1920s.

The wife sang "Logger Lover", which hints of the bunyanesque:
"He never shaved his whiskers
from off his horny hide.
He just pounded them in with an axe-blade
and chewed them off inside."

Richard M. Dublin 3/31/11

hh) Bob, I grant you that John Chapman was born elsewhere, but he had an orchard on Grant's Hill (later leveled for Grant Street, in the middle of Downtown Pgh, and was known to have started out via flatboat with saplings. Realizing that they were too bulky, he switched to seeds, later getting them (free) as part of the leftover squeezings cider mills had no use for, and still later, as the Midwest became more settled, started orchards farther West. He was quite well-off when he died.

We're willing to share, but by golly, he DID spend time here in the 'Burgh!

Barra the Bard, feeling unusually combative--must be being sick and the unseasonably cold weather.

Responses to hh) above:

1) Yup! I remember him when my Grandpa used to take me downtown! Well maybe I don't go that far back but I remember the Diamond Market I think it was called. Lots of big (at least big to me as a child) fresh fish impressed me. Don't know if it is there any more.

Bob S. 3/31/11

2) Bob, Diamond Street still exists near the Courthouse and Richardson jail, just behind Grant Street, but alas, no market for as long as I've been coming to Pgh, which was a weekend visit in '68, later the summer of that year, and lived there the following year for some months. Finally moved here in '75, and except for 3 horrible years in southern WV, have been here ever since. Pgh. had some great market places in the 19th Century: what is now Market Square, in its latest incarnation (just completed); Allegheny Square (except for the Carnegie Library, Buell Planetarium (now part of the Children's Museum along with the Old Post Office) was decimated by urban redevelpment in the 60s into a huge barren plaza and big shopping mall later turned into an office complex (I worked in a Waldenbooks there and was the Easter Bunny for 3 wks one year), and the South Side Market--a vast red brick building, the only original markethouse still standing. I think it's used as a community center/vendor space now.

In fact, as they work to draw more people into living as well as working in Downtown, the plea for a grocery store is getting louder. I can recall a grocery section in the back of a five-and-dime in the 90s, before it closed down, very convenient at lunchtime and for picking up something before heading home after work. Then again, some say that with the Strip District not too far away with its plentitude of ethnic food places, it's not needed. I think it is.

Hmm, the more I think about it, the more I seem to remember a market of some sort on Diamond, but I never went into it.

Barra, feeling better now 3/31/11

3) It was probably in the late 40s. Grandpa used to take me all kinds of places. I remember going to the old Ft Pitt Blockhouse. It was many years later that I discovered how close to the river it was. In those days that was not a nice area. My Orthodontist was in the Jenkins Arcade. We would come by train. My grandparents lived in Dormont. Everyone is gone now but we get to Pittsburgh to vist the graves (my parents and grandparents) in Mt Lebanon Cemetery usually once a year.

Bob S. 3//31/11

4) The Ft. Pitt Blockhouse is now in the center of Point Park, the lovely green park you see to the left behind the fountain as soon as you come out of the Ft. Duquesne Tunnels across the Ft. Pitt Bridge.
I do remember the Jenkins Arcade! My first weekend in Pittsburgh, my roommate Betsy and her mom took me Downtown to luch there at a cafe with Betsy's Auntie, whom we met under the Horne's clock. I often cut through the arcade, now replaced by Fifth Avenue Place, which I also sometimes cut through now, as well as sometimes eating in the second floor food court.
We used to drive through Dormont on our way to Johns sister's for holidays. I've been by the Mt. Lebanon Cemetary; it looks like a peaceful place.

You might let me know the next time you come to the 'Burgh...especially if you bring T'Karri!.

Barra 3/31/11

2) There are over 600 books about Paul Bunyan, First reference was July 1910 in the Detroit news Tribune, Paul was a minor character in James MacGillvray's story "The round River Drive" It was 12 short anecdotes. Larger public was appealed to in 1914 by W.B. Laughead-32 page post-card size with the title "Introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan of West of Westwood, Cal." for the red river lumber company- It was advertising between- Laughead attempted to sandwich hunks of advertising between stories about Paul. Laughead christened Pauls blue ox, Babe. this info comes from a 1952 book Paul Bunyan: Last of the Frontier Demigods by Daniel Hoffman.

Mike M. 4/1/11

3) I have enjoyed all this information about Paul Bunyan and will tell my American Giant stories in a couple weeks.
But it makes me wonder - If Paul is a FakeTales What are our original American Folk Stories? Would you call some of the Jack Tales American even though they came over form England or Uncle Remus or is it the Native American Tales? We are a relatively new country/culture aside form the Native Americans. I'm interested in what you think.

Mij B. 4/1/11


a) The only original American folk stories belong to Native Americans. All the rest are immigrants and the children of immigrants; just like the rest of the people. And like the people who tell them; the accents, clothing, and attitudes of the stories underwent some changes with the move to a new continent. Also like the people, the stories lost their connections to their original landscapes and cultures; and are somewhat blurred (?) disconnected (?) lost(?) (homogenized (?) re-created (?), blended with other culture's stories (?) as a result.

I was re-reading The Toe Bone and the Tooth by Martin Prechtel. When he received the story, he AND the story were still intimately connected to a particular Guatemalan Mayan landscape and culture. It makes a difference to the story. It's way more LIVE and vivid somehow......

With the exception of those storyteller's who are connected to a live tradition through, say a grandparent or parent of whatever culture, the rest of us are trying to bring life back to what are essentially cultural fossils.

There's nothing wrong with that. Stories of whatever culture contain a deep connection to the imaginative/ spiritual/dream life of all human beings. People are hungry for that connection in our bland, homogenized, disconnected, mass-media culture.

Countries of immigrants are deeply deprived, on one level, and have a terrific opportunity on another level. In the U.S.; consider the music - which I might argue is our country's greatest contribution to the world. But ALL of it comes out of a collision of cultures; and/or an evolution from traditional forms......

Kimberley K. 4/1/11

b) Jack tales came from English and Scotch-Irish settlers. Because we are such a melting-pot country, yes, I would include them--and the Nasreddinn tales, and Raven, and so many more.

It seems to me, as a Celtic teller specializing in Scottish and Welsh tales (although I do many multicultural ones--after all, I live in Pittsburgh, a BIG ethnic neighborhood city!) that one definition of a country's folktales is their unique flavor. That's one reason why I tell so few Breton tales, because to me they are more Catholic than Celtic on the whole--and please note, I qualified that.

It also seems to me that Folktales fall into two, perhaps three or four categories:

1) Tales passed down by the folk of that country, all those that are about a type--hero seeking his/her fortune, animal fables, tales starring a particular occupation (blacksmith, charcoal burner, woodcutter, shepherd, etc.) Yes, these could include Jack and other trickster tales.

2) Tales based upon a real person, who has passed into the realm of public imagination: George Washington, Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, Tempe Wick, Molly Pitcher (to cite two of heroines of my NJ childhood), Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickock, etc.

3) Literary/fakelore tales, in which a character, perhaps invented/created by a particular person for whatever purpose, is taken enthusiastically to heart by the public: Sherlock Holmes, Paul Bunyan, possibly Joe Magarac, to name a ffew.

4) Folk tales that have emigrated from other cultures: Nasreddin, Uncle Remus, Jack, the Chelm villagers, and many more.

To get back to category 3 for a minute--I'm including them because folktales are created by and for the folk. In largely oral societies, there was no emphasis on copyright or authorship (although I know an Irish story about a tailor determined to have another man's pet story for his own, and went to great lengths to try to get it); these were simply stories people enjoyed and told and retold. Our recent discussion of the Bunyan stories indicates that that process is still happening, and for the general public, has been completed with this character. If we had been a less literate society in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, would we even know about Parson Weems' fictionalizing about Washington?

Granted, some of these overlap....

And while this is only tenuously linked to this subject, it has occurred to me to wonder why this process doesn't seem to have been applied to Abe Lincoln--or has it and I'm unaware of it? (Other than the walking a mile to return a penny)

Recently I was talking to someone about the fact that my maternal grandfather once corrected Einstein on a mistake in a formula. Another friend said, "You should tell him about meeting Helen Keller." The first person, who doesn't know me well, said, "Oh, come on! Einstein is hard to swallow, but Helen Keller? You've got to be making that up!" I'm not, but apparently he found it impossible to believe that an ordinary family could meet two amazing people--who, after all, interacted with many ordinary people in the course of their (long) lifetimes.

Barra the Bard 4/1/11

4) I have to say I've been reading and enjoying this thread thoroughly!

I've been working with an extraordinary group of third graders; their teachers are studying myths and legends and wanted me to work with them on "legends."

Our first task? To sort out what a "legend" is. I had the group talk about different stories, and they created a diagram of "folklore," separating out folk tales, myths, fairy tales, legends, and fables. I also had a section to the side where we wrote down "just plain good stories" like Harry Potter and the like. You wouldn't believe how many kids think that stories like those are folk tales! But I digress.

One of the things I tried to be clear on was that no matter how well we try to define "legends" (or any other genre of the oral tradition) it was bound to be a bit messy. After all, I told them, I'm a storyteller and even experts in the field can't agree on many of these things! So while we talked about some of the traits that often characterize the genres, I couldn't pretend that there are hard-and-fast rules. These kids are sophisticated enough to understand that - AND (total bonus here) they were able to go back into their general classroom discussions and teach their peers the same thing. Win win win.

The reason why I'm loving the discussion of PB so much is that we started out with him in our discussion of legends. Yes, I did the research and found the references to "fakelore." Yes, it's possible that PB is more of a myth, or just an advertising scheme gone wild.

But here's the thing. It's also possible (and this is what my extraordinary third graders discussed) that while PB as an historical, show-me-the-birth-certificate-person did not exist, it's quite possible that he grew out of our imagination, or that he's become such a fixture, because of how people thought of lumberjacks and the importance of the lumber industry at the time. Ever see photos of those guys, and know about the life they led?

Character-wise, those men had to be all those things that PB was. Combine that with some tired nights around the campfire, and I can see a tradition being born.

All of the Paul Bunyan posts have been accumulating over our spring break. But you can guarantee that I'll be sharing some of the debate with my students come Monday. They'll be so excited to know, again, that they can engage in critical discussion of these traditions - just like the pros!

Lainie L. 4/1/11

Response to 4):

I can see why you've enjoyed this so much!

I personally think that Paul's genesis was in earlier lumberjack tales, where they sort of coalesced into one character. Wasn't it C.S. Lewis who wrote that Thor might have started out as a bad-tempered farmer with a hammer?

But this is so much fun to discuss! What a great experience you and those students are having!

Barra 4/1/11

5) There are plenty of truly American folktales, including tall tales about real people.

Davy Crockett, Mike Fink, Johnny Appleseed, Casey Jones, John Henry, Jesse James, Joaquin Murrieta…all real people whose stories outgrew them. Technically, even Windwagon Smith was based on a real inventor. It was a bad idea, but wind-powered wagons were a real invention, supposedly.

Many of the African-American stories, including the ones collected as Uncle Remus tales, are blendings of African, Caribbean, European and Native American themes and characters, filtered through American institutions. You can see this even more clearly in the High John stories than in the Brer Rabbit tales. They blend an Anansi-style trickster with the institution of slavery, but also include the Christian version of the devil in at least one common one.

That doesn’t even include the stories of the different regions, which blend folktales from a variety of cultures.

Then, there are the mythical creatures of different regions: The Jersey Devil, the Tollers and Behinders of the mountains, the Cactus Cats of the southwest, and bunches of others.

The other thing which runs through American folktales are groups of tales based on a technology or a form of transportation. There are whole collections of stories about sailing ships, trains and so on. Right now, there are plenty of urban legends based on automobiles, and eventually they will work their way deeper into the folkloric consciousness, I’m sure… J

Added later:
I had never seen the “West of Westwood” heading on that one…for those of you not from California, that location is not exactly a forested wilderness, but at the time of those stories was a lightly-inhabited area, which now includes Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, both very upscale communities.

Added later:
Kimberley, are you saying that folk stories by immigrants that area created in America are not American stories?

So, I guess that French folklore is all fake, for anything created after the end of the Gothic kingdoms? Or do we make the cutoff at the defeat of Vercingetorix at the hands of the Romans?

Seriously, there are stories that have been created here, that are not just blendings of the tales from other lands. How do we describe these new stories

Added later:
How are you defining traditional, in terms of the age of a story? I think it's an important question in this discussion. Here in California, versions of La Llorona are still told in various forms. Cultural references within the story suggest that it probably originated during or after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Is that old enough to be traditional, by your standards?

The story of, say, the Pied Piper of Hamlin was being told as "traditional" within a time frame shorter than the time from the founding of Jamestown to the present. So, is the story of John Smith and Pocahontas old enough to be a folktale?

Added later:
There are plenty of stories told about Lincoln, but I think they were so thoroughly documented at the time that they never went through as much of an “oral tradition” phase as some of the stories about Washington. The Cherry Tree story was a fiction from a book that tried to use Washington’s life to teach moral lessons, but what about the tale of him being strong enough to throw a silver dollar across a major river? That seems more in the tall tale tradition. The whole “wooden teeth” thing seems to have been a simple misunderstanding…they were of an even less likely and more disgusting substance, by modern standards.

Lincoln is given credit for a number of phrases that he used in his speeches and writings, where he was quoting other sources. I recently attended a talk on that subject by a man who has spent a couple of years analyzing Lincoln’s work to try to figure these out. Anyway, his quotations are another form of folklore, in that he became the more famous source of the phrases that he was quoting.

In addition, there are multiple books just collecting jokes that Lincoln either told, or was reported to have told. These are not always the same thing. The best of these books, I think, was called Abe Lincoln Laughing, by Paul M. Zall. He was a professor at a university here in California, and he spent many years studying the humor of the 19th century, so this is a fascinating book which puts Lincoln’s humor into context.

Nick S. 4/2/11

Created March 2011; last update 4/1/11

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