Jorge Luis Borges – Book of Imaginary Beings (1969)

“… Falling between these two is The Book of Imaginary Beings, a compendium of brief, almost stark descriptions and stories about fantastic animals from many older texts and sources, including the bestiaries of medieval Europe and their classical antecedents, Chinese and Indian myth, folk tales, the legends of indigenous peoples, and the minds of writers such as Kafka and Poe. First published in 1957, at the very time when (as Borges later explained) the vision that had gradually been failing him since birth had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer read or see what he was writing, this cryptozoological chiaroscuro is one of Borges’s great creations. In the preface, Borges warns that Imaginary Beings is not meant to be read straight through: ‘Rather, we should like the reader to dip into these pages at random, just as one plays with the shifting patterns of a kaleidoscope.’ This is good advice. Though brief – less than 160 pages – Imaginary Beings is dense and deep. I have read it several times over the years and am always coming across new things in it. Many of the more than 100 entries are delightful – and amusing – from start to finish. The beasts include the Upland Trout, which nests in trees and is a good flier but scared of water, and the Goofang, which swims backwards to keep the water out of its eyes. Others are simply weird. What are we to make of the Strong Toad, which has a shell like that of a turtle, glows like a firefly in the dark, and is so tough that the only way to kill it is to reduce it to ashes? ‘Fauna of Mirrors’, begins with what looks like a joke on erudition of Shandy-esque proportions: ‘In one of the volumes of the Lettres édifiantes et curieuses that appeared in Paris during the first half of the 18th century, Father Fontecchio of the Society of Jesus planned a study of the superstitions and misinformation of the common people of Canton … ‘ Imaginary Beings is also populated with creatures that, however bizarre, are far from absurd. …”
Guardian – Caspar Henderson: rereading The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges
W – Book of Imaginary Beings
[PDF] Book of Imaginary Beings

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