HP Lovecraft was a writer who created universes in which many dark and strange things are possible. While his protagonists were often alone in these dark creations, Lovecraft himself was not unique in telling compelling tales.
His skill however was rare and most of Lovecraft’s imitators and contemporaries have been forgotten, and many more unread. But one who stands out is one who is not obvious (though perhaps he’d have liked that) as a fellow master of the short story that preys on your mind long after you close the book — Jorge Luis Borges.
The two Americas and two Americans
Borges and Lovecraft wrote same time, at the start of the 20th century, though at opposite ends of the Americas. Borges was an Argentine with Latin and European heritage in blood and literature, Lovecraft the New Englander with a WASPish taste.
Both are still hugely popular, though with writers who set tales centuries, even aeons, from the present, a mere century is too early by their standards to say they’ve stood the test of time.
Borges and Lovecraft explored the limits and possibilities of human abilities in a vast, often uncaring, universe. They also often set their tales in the first-person, writing as one who is experience an aspect of the universe no other human has tasted before. They also had a peculiar disinterest in female characters, and though this was typical of the era, does also give each other a similarly male take in their tales.
Yet whereas Lovecraft is the master of horror, Borges’ stories were more ecumenical, taking in the world’s literature and genres beyond horror to include great literature, spies and love. Borges was also a great — perhaps greater — essayist.
Borges’ tribute to Lovecraft
Borges knew of Lovecraft and his work. In 1975, years after the New Englander’s death from cancer in 1937, Borges wrote a tribute, There are more things. Though it shares themes of monsters and human curiosity, it lacks Lovecraft’s punch (and Borges’ typical insights).
So if your only experience of Borges as a Lovecraft fan, or if you don’t know him at all, there are better Borges stores if looking for a tale that will stick with you long after you shut your book.
Top 7 Borges stories with a touch of Lovecraft
Some minor spoilers here, but in no particular order these are Borges tales I’d recommend to any Lovecraft fan:
- The Circular Ruins — in an ancient stone circle a man plans to dream a man into existence
- Lottery of Babylon — is all that happens, good and ill, a product of fate or an ancient game of chance?
- The Library of Babel — if you’ve heard of any Borges story, it’s this one. Evoking the lost city of Pnaktous in Shadow out of time, there exists a library where all the world’s knowledge resides. If you can find it.
- The Gospel According to Mark — several of Lovecraft’s horror stories read like conventional ones, until the horror of the situation creeps in
- The Immortals — Lovecraft has protagonists learn as they set on a quest that power can be debilitating
- Shakespeare’s Memory — identity and being mix as they do when Randal Carter with the silver key
- The Writing of the God — the power of words and what to do with the power
There are several collections of Borges’ work, but I think the best place to start is with his Ficciones (or Fictions) contains the stories.
You probably own it already if you’re here, but the Complete Lovecraft is a beautiful edition.