Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius • 1941 • Magical Realism short story by Jorge Luis Borges


A 17th century secret society „Orbis Tertius“ invents a fictional planet called Tlön and wills it into existence through cultural force. In this century long act, our culture changes also.

The main story is set in 1940 when the story itself was published in Argentinian magazine Sur. Borges and a literary friend solve a detective puzzle about a lost entry of an Encyclopedia where they find about a (fictious) land Uqbar somewhere near Iraq, uncovering the search to 1935. It feels like a Lovecraftian tale, where the narrator (in this case Borges himself) uncovers one clue at a time, that reality is a deception. An anachronistic postscriptum is set seven years in the future and, similarly to the footnotes, supports the fictious sources in a typical Borgesian way to lull the readers between belief and disbelief. It doesn’t contain a plot or action whatsoever but is a story of ideas, covering linguistics, metaphysics, and philosophy. It hasn’t got a tension arc but instead an arc of changing reality towards fiction, changing between these two layers. The ultimate goal ist to prove that mankind, like God, is able to create reality.

This story is worth a re-read, from back to front to really understand its inner workings. It is confusing, mind-blowing, and intellectually highly appreciated. Just don’t expect any pulpishness, action, or character development from it.

Meta: isfdb. Published May 1940 in Sur. Read in The Big Book of SF. Available online.

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