Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian writer of short, elegant metaphysical fictional pieces, wrote in 1957 A Manual of Fantastic Zoology. In 1967 an expanded version was published under the title The Book of Imaginary Beings. Two years later a further, expanded edition appeared, an edition that Andrew Hurley, the translator of the present edition, criticizes for getting Borges’s collaborator Margarita Guerrero’s name wrong and for bad translation. Hurley excises the four extra "beings" included in that version, consistent with the last Spanish edition that appeared while Borges was still alive.

Borges (1899-1986) was educated in English in Geneva and had a varied career as a critic, literary writer and editor, teacher, lecturer and librarian ("I speak of God’s splendid irony in granting me at once 800,000 books and darkness," he wrote, referring to the blindness that overtook him in his 50’s). His vast reading in religion, literature (especially Poe, Kafka, Kipling and Chesterton) and philosophy (especially Berkeley) heavily influenced his fiction, which often focuses on books in a self-referential way, yet not in the smirking style of much modern meta-fiction. This is because his fiction is about ultimate reality, not art itself.

One can see this even in The Book of Imaginary Beings, a modern bestiary (not limited to beasts), a trip (in Borges’s words) to "that zoological garden whose fauna is comprised not of lions but of sphinxes and gryphons and centaurs." Here are 116 such fantastical beings collected, arranged in alphabetical order, including the following well-known creatures: "The Behemoth," "The Brownies," "The Double," "Elves," "Gnomes," "The Golem," "The Harpies," "Lilith," "The Pelican," "Trolls" and "The Unicorn." In describing these beings Borges finds ample opportunity to speculate on the nature of the universe.

You can find the review here

Buy The Book of Imaginary Beings at

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