Work Type


Publication Date



Liberal Arts and Sciences


humor; nonsense literature; America; tall tale; Paul Bunyan


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 from the British 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).


This article was published open access in the European Journal of Humour Research under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.



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