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Ficciones | Symbols



In Ficciones mirrors symbolize duplication. In "Death and the Compass" Lönnrot arrives at the villain's lair and finds himself "infinitely reflected in opposing mirrors." These reflections are fitting because Scharlach is a reflection of Lönnrot. Like Lönnrot he reads Hebraic books and interprets crimes on that basis. In the story "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" the illustrated book The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim is subtitled "A Game with Shifting Mirrors." In that story the law student meets a succession of men, each of them a "mirror" of Al-Mu'tasim. But the mirror shifts because in the end there is the suggestion the law student himself is Al-Mu'tasim.

The mirrors stand for the way art and thought create duplicate worlds or duplicate selves. Thus in the entranceway to the Library in Babel, there "hangs a mirror, which faithfully duplicates appearances." The mirror's duplication may be "illusory," as the narrator of "The Library of Babel" says. However, the mirror's duplication reveals both worlds, the real one and its reflection, are nothing but appearances. Thus the mirror removes some reality from the so-called real world. This is one way in which "mirrors have something grotesque about them," as the narrator states in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." In that story the narrator and his friend Bioy discover "from the far end of the corridor, the mirror was watching us." The world in the mirror, or the mirror itself, can acquire a grotesque autonomy in Ficciones.


Labyrinths in Ficciones represent the wanderer's perplexity and the maze-maker's attempt to construct something infinite. They also represent the tangled paths of thought and interpretation. Although labyrinths are an important symbol in Ficciones, they are mentioned rather than depicted. Labyrinths turn up in book titles: A General History of Labyrinths (in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius") and The God of the Labyrinth (again in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" and also in "An Examination of the Works of Herbert Quain"). This difference between a physical and a written labyrinth is the central focus of "The Garden of Forking Paths." Yu Tsun's grandfather, Ts'ui Pên, retires to write a novel and create a labyrinth. At his death he bequeaths to his heirs the novel The Garden of Forking Paths, but no one can find his labyrinth. Like all the labyrinths in Ficciones Ts'ui Pên's is "a symbolic labyrinth," as Stephen Albert points out. Its mazelike forking paths represent the multiplicity of possible interpretations.

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