The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 5, No 3 (2017)

Pigs, pastures, pepper pickers, pitchforks: Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories and the tall tale

Michael Heyman


Past studies of American nonsense literature have tended to lump it together with the British, for many good reasons. This article, however, distinguishes American nonsense, not just from the British, but from any other tradition, by way of its folk origins and cultural context. One of the least-recognized writers of nonsense is Carl Sandburg, who is famous for his iconic American poetry, but his Rootabaga Stories (1922-30) are some of the best and most distinctive representatives of the genre. Sandburg’s nonsense short stories are lyrical and strange, but their value lies also in their distinctive American origins. They are distinguished in having particularly American themes, cultural tendencies, and geography, but also in their formal techniques, which hearken back to American folklore and the tall tale in particular, as in W. B. Laughead’s Paul Bunyan (1922).


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