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Borges and Tolkien

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  • Ernest Davis
    A passage in Borges story The Zahir is remarkably similar to one in The Return of the King, it seems to me. The Zahir: [The Zahir is a coin. Once someone
    Message 1 of 7 , Jul 16 9:53 AM
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      A passage in Borges' story "The Zahir" is remarkably similar to one in The
      Return of the King, it seems to me.

      The Zahir: [The Zahir is a coin. Once someone has seen it, they cannot forget
      it, and eventually they go insane, unable to think of anything else.]

      "Time, which generally attenuates memories, only aggravates that of the
      Zahir. There was a time when I could visualize the obverse and then the
      reverse. Now I can seem them simultaneously. This is not as though the Zahir
      were crystal, because it is not a matter of one face being superimposed on the
      other; rather it is as though my eyesight were spherical, with the Zahir in the
      center. Whatever is not the Zahir comes to me fragmentarily, as if from a great
      distance: the arrogant image of Clementina, physical pain."


      The Return of the King:

      "Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?" he said. "And our
      place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir's country, the day I
      saw an oliphaunt?"

      "No, I am afraid not, Sam," said Frodo. "At least, I know that such things
      happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound
      of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are
      left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and
      the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else
      fades."

      The Zahir was published in 1949 in Spanish and not translated to English until
      the 60's, so there's certainly no direct influence in either direction. Does
      anyone know of anything similar in earlier literature? (The "literature" on the
      Zahir that Borges cites in his story is imaginary.)

      Also, a more general question. It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that
      Tolkien ever heard of Borges or read him; he was pretty much unknown in the
      English-speaking world until the early 70's. On the other hand, it would be
      somewhat surprising if Borges had never heard of Tolkien. Borges
      lived until 1986 and was deeply interested both in Old English language and
      literature and in fantasy. But I have never seen any mention of Tolkien in
      Borges' writings. Does anyone know of any? As Borges wrote in
      another essay, "How vast and uncommunicative is the world of literature!"

      -- Ernie
    • Jason Fisher
      ...   In his recent book Inside Language (Walking Tree, 2007), Ross Smith makes a point of comparing Borges and Tolkien at some length; however, he was also
      Message 2 of 7 , Jul 16 10:10 AM
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        > Also, a more general question. It seems unlikely, though
        > not impossible, that Tolkien ever heard of Borges or read
        > him; he was pretty much unknown in the English-speaking
        > world until the early 70�s. On the other hand, it would be
        > somewhat surprising if Borges had never heard of Tolkien.
        > Borges lived until 1986 and was deeply interested both in
        > Old English language and literature and in fantasy. But I
        > have never seen any mention of Tolkien in Borges� writings.
        > Does anyone know of any?

        In his recent book Inside Language (Walking Tree, 2007), Ross Smith makes a point of comparing Borges and Tolkien at some length; however, he was also unable to come up with any substantive connections. Only �similarities�, like the ones you�ve noted.
        Jason

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Ernest Davis
        In my previous message I wrote, idiotically, ... But since he was blind since 1955, that makes it less surprising. ... Thanks very much, I will look it up! --
        Message 3 of 7 , Jul 16 11:18 AM
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          In my previous message I wrote, idiotically,

          > On the other hand, it would
          > be somewhat surprising if Borges had never heard of Tolkien. Borges
          > lived until 1986

          But since he was blind since 1955, that makes it less surprising.

          Jason writes:

          > In his recent book Inside Language (Walking Tree, 2007), Ross Smith
          > makes a point of comparing Borges and Tolkien at some length

          Thanks very much, I will look it up!
          -- Ernie
        • DiegoSeguí
          Hello, I ve been reading and enjoying the list for a while now, but have not participated for want of anything interesting to say. ... Not exactly a mention,
          Message 4 of 7 , Jul 16 11:26 AM
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            Hello, I've been reading and enjoying the list for a while now,
            but have not participated for want of anything interesting to
            say.

            > On the other hand, it would be
            > somewhat surprising if Borges had never heard of Tolkien.
            > Borges lived until 1986 and was deeply interested both in
            > Old English language and literature and in fantasy. But I
            > have never seen any mention of Tolkien in Borges¢ writings.
            > Does anyone know of any?

            Not exactly a mention, only a second- or third-hand reference: a
            member of the local Tolkien Society (Argentina) once had the
            chance to ask Borges' second wife, María Kodama, about this, and
            she remembered having gone to Scotland sometime around 1976-7
            (she was his secretary by then). During that trip it appears
            that someone read aloud to him the first chapter of 'The Lord of
            the Rings', but he did not seem to be interested and the thing
            was dropped. Perhaps the particular occasion can be traced,
            though.

            By the way, I discussed this with people who have studied Borges
            even professionally, and a usual explanation I got is that
            Borges, although he had many books read to him after we went
            blind, did not choose contemporary authors.

            I hope that helps. Regards,

            Diego Seguí
            Argentina
          • John D Rateliff
            Although interesting, I don t think this shows signs of being influence one way or the other; just two great writers touching on the same theme. I don t know
            Message 5 of 7 , Jul 16 12:01 PM
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              Although interesting, I don't think this shows signs of being
              influence one way or the other; just two great writers touching on
              the same theme.
              I don't know of any evidence that Tolkien knew of Borges' work,
              and think it's unlikely. Borges certainly knew English literature
              well -- he was v. fond of Chesterton and also knew Dunsany's work --
              but I think he'd turned inwards by the time Tolkien's work was well-
              known. It may have been read to him, but that would be difficult to
              prove one way or the other. The best way to try would be reading
              memoirs and interviews, then writing to Borges' biographers. I don't
              think Borges has yet had a volume of his collected letters; if so the
              editor(s) of that would be in a good position to know. The best
              source wd be his companion, Maria Kodama, if she's still alive.
              If you do turn up any more on this, I'd be interested in hearing
              about it. And of course it'd be well worth writing up the comparison
              between the two's treatment of the theme even without any evidence of
              a direct connection or common source.

              --JDR


              On Jul 16, 2008, at 9:53 AM, Ernest Davis wrote:
              > A passage in Borges' story "The Zahir" is remarkably similar to one
              > in The
              > Return of the King, it seems to me.
              >
              > The Zahir: [The Zahir is a coin. Once someone has seen it, they
              > cannot forget
              > it, and eventually they go insane, unable to think of anything else.]
              >
              > "Time, which generally attenuates memories, only aggravates
              > that of the
              > Zahir. There was a time when I could visualize the obverse and
              > then the
              > reverse. Now I can seem them simultaneously. This is not as
              > though the Zahir
              > were crystal, because it is not a matter of one face being
              > superimposed on the
              > other; rather it is as though my eyesight were spherical, with the
              > Zahir in the
              > center. Whatever is not the Zahir comes to me fragmentarily, as if
              > from a great
              > distance: the arrogant image of Clementina, physical pain."

              > The Return of the King:
              >
              > "Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?" he said. "And our
              > place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir's country, the day I
              > saw an oliphaunt?"
              >
              > "No, I am afraid not, Sam," said Frodo. "At least, I know that
              > such things
              > happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of
              > water, no sound
              > of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or
              > star are
              > left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil
              > between me and
              > the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and
              > all else
              > fades."
              >
              > The Zahir was published in 1949 in Spanish and not translated to
              > English until
              > the 60's, so there's certainly no direct influence in either
              > direction. Does
              > anyone know of anything similar in earlier literature? (The
              > "literature" on the
              > Zahir that Borges cites in his story is imaginary.)

              > Also, a more general question. It seems unlikely, though not
              > impossible, that
              > Tolkien ever heard of Borges or read him; he was pretty much
              > unknown in the
              > English-speaking world until the early 70's. On the other hand, it
              > would be
              > somewhat surprising if Borges had never heard of Tolkien. Borges
              > lived until 1986 and was deeply interested both in Old English
              > language and
              > literature and in fantasy. But I have never seen any mention of
              > Tolkien in
              > Borges' writings. Does anyone know of any? As Borges wrote in
              > another essay, "How vast and uncommunicative is the world of
              > literature!"
              >
              > -- Ernie
            • Vincent Ferré
              Good evening to all, Do you have, in English, a translation of Borges s essay on ancient germanic literature ? it was translated in French in 1966. Vincent
              Message 6 of 7 , Jul 24 7:09 AM
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                Good evening to all,

                Do you have, in English, a translation of Borges's essay on ancient germanic literature ? it was translated in French in 1966.

                Vincent



                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • WendellWag@aol.com
                I presume you mean the essay variously titled The Kenningar and Ancient Germanic Literature . I have a copy of Borges s Selected Non-fictions, the most
                Message 7 of 7 , Jul 24 7:01 PM
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                  I presume you mean the essay variously titled "The Kenningar" and "Ancient
                  Germanic Literature". I have a copy of Borges's Selected Non-fictions, the
                  most common collection of his essay translated into English. It doesn't
                  contain that essay.

                  Wendell Wagner


                  In a message dated 7/24/2008 10:03:18 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
                  ferretolk@... writes:




                  Good evening to all,

                  Do you have, in English, a translation of Borges's essay on ancient germanic
                  literature ? it was translated in French in 1966.

                  Vincent

                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]







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