Literature Study GuidesFiccionesPart 1 Prologue Summary

Ficciones | Study Guide

Jorge Luis Borges

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Ficciones | Part 1, Prologue : The Garden of Forking Paths | Summary



The stories of Part 1 of Ficciones need no "extraneous elucidation," but Borges comments on some of the stories nonetheless. "The Garden of Forking Paths" is a detective story in which the motive for the crime is not entirely known until the end. The other seven stories are fantasies. Borges claims he is "not the first author of the narrative titled 'The Library of Babel.'" That is, he is not the first writer to propose an infinite Library. He hints most of "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" is realistic, the only unreal thing in the story being "the destiny [Menard] impose[s] upon himself."

Next Borges describes the advantage of writing stories about imaginary books. Because "the composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance," it's better to "pretend these books already exist, and then to offer a résumé, a commentary." Three of the stories in Part 1 are of this kind: "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain," and "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim." In abstract terms Borges compares "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" to the novel The Sacred Fount by the 20th-century writer Henry James.


Borges sometimes comments with a mocking distance, describing himself as an "inept" and "indolent" writer who prefers to write short works rather than "go on for five hundred pages developing an idea." He compares his commentary stories to books by two 19th-century authors: the Scottish historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle and the English novelist and essayist Samuel Butler. Thus Borges puts his work in an international context from the start, giving himself British, English-speaking, Old World forebears. Carlyle's Sartor Resartus comments on the "life and opinions" of the imaginary German philosopher "Herr Teufelsdröckh" ("Mr. Devil's Dung"). Although the commentary pretends to be about the philosophy of clothes, it actually argues the old forms of human belief are dead and new ones are needed. Butler's The Fair Haven pretends to defend Christianity while mockingly undermining its foundational miracles. Borges, therefore, seems to be hinting his own commentary stories have deep aspirations about thought and belief.

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