Paul Bunyan

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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. Bunyan's crews included the one that logged on the Big Onion River during the winter of the blue snow, when it was so cold that cuss words froze in the air, thawing out the next Fourth of July with a great din. Among his companions were Babe the blue ox, who measured 42 axe handles and a plug of Star tobacco between the eyes; Sourdough Slim, the cook; and Johnny Inkslinger, the clerk. A similar hero of the South is Tony Beaver. Books by Esther Shephard, T. G. Alvord, R. L. Stokes, and James Stevens collect Bunyan tales. Frost wrote a poem, “Paul's Wife,” Louis Untermeyer wrote a verse version of many tales in The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan (1945), and the choral operetta Paul Bunyan by Auden and Benjamin Britten was produced (1941) but never published, except for three songs in Auden's Collected Poems.

Subjects: Literature.

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