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What is a Tall Tale? - Definition, Characteristics & Examples

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  • 0:02 Defining a Tall Tale
  • 1:10 Most Popular Tall Tales
  • 3:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Sedillo

Andrew Sedillo has taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Technology at a middle school level. He currently holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Education, Master's of Arts Educational Learning Technology, and a Graduate certificate in Online Teaching and Learning.

This lesson assists you in learning about all components of tall tales, their characteristics, and why they continue to be a popular genre in literature. A short quiz follows.

Defining a Tall Tale

One thing that many of us have in common is the kind of stories we read and heard growing up. This statement alone may trigger flashbacks to some of your favorite childhood books. Were any of them about larger-than-life characters accomplishing incredible feats? If so, then you might have been a fan of tall tales. These stories have consistently been one of the most popular types of genres, and many tall tales written hundreds of years ago are still relevant to this day.

A tall tale tells the story about a main character who is described to be extraordinary compared to people in real life. (A main character is also called a protagonist.) These stories are highly exaggerated. This is done intentionally by the author to engage the reader in a story that allows the reader to get in touch with their imagination. Oftentimes, these tales are funny as well.

Tall tales were popularized in the United States in the 18th century. They were told by people as a means of entertainment and relaxation after a long day's work.

Most Popular Tall Tales

Below are the names and descriptions of some of the most well-known and popular tall tales. As you go through them, see how many you remember!

Paul Bunyan

Paul Bunyan is a tale about the tallest man in Maine. He wasn't just tall, he was giant. In the tale, people of Maine credit Paul Bunyan for digging their lakes, creating the Grand Canyon, taming a river, and digging Lake Michigan. Paul Bunyan is also recognized as the best lumberjack of all time. He is often seen with his pet, Babe the Blue Ox, who would grow to also be a giant!

Pecos Bill

Pecos Bill tells the story of a boy who was left behind by his family and was raised by coyotes near the Pecos River. Pecos Bill was later found by a cowboy who took him under his wing. Pecos Bill would go on to become one of the best cowboys in all of the land. Bill's legacy begins to build as he takes out gangs, fights a rattlesnake, and lassos a tornado. He is even credited for creating the art of becoming a cowboy.

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