Jorge Luis Borges is probably one of the finest literary minds of the XXth Century. In 1954, he wrote this little-known Preface to the 'Cronicas Marcianas', the Spanish translation of the Martian Chronicles. Under his gifted supervision, they were published the next year by Editorial Minotauro, Buenos Aires.
This is my translation to English of what Borges the Erudite wrote then - I am not sure if Mr. Bradbury will ever read it, but I doubt he wouldn't be pleased at such an elegant introduction of his work by a world-class writer to the Spanish-speaking world:
"In the Second Century of our Era, Luciano de Samosata composed a truthful History, comprising, among other wonders, a description of the selenites who - according to the truthful historian - thread and comb metals and glass, put on and take off their eyes, drink air juice or squeezed air; in the early XVI century, Ludovico Ariosto imagined that a knight discovers on the Moon all that is lost on Earth, the tears and sighs of lovers, the time wasted in gambling, useless projects and unsatisfied longings. In the XVII Century, Kepler drafted a Somnium Astronomicum, that aspires to be the transcription of a book read in a dream, densely revealing in its pages the configuration and habits of the snakes of the Moon, that stay in deep caverns during the heat of the day and come out at dusk. Between the first and second of these imaginary trips there are thirteen hundred years, and between the second and the third, about a hundred; the first two are, however, irresponsible and free inventions and the third one is stalled by a thrive for credibility. The reason is clear. For Luciano and for Ariosto, a trip to the moon was a symbol or archetype of the impossible, as black feathered swans were for the Latin; for Kepler, it was already a possibility, as for us. Didn't John Wilkins, inventor of a universal language, publish in those years, his 'The Discovery of a World in the Moone: Or A Discourse Tending To Prove that 'tis probable there may be another habitable World in that Planet' with an appendix titled "The possibility of a passage thither"?
In the 'Attic Nights' of Aulo Gelio, one reads that Arquitas the Pythagoric manufactured a wooden pigeon that flew in the air; Wilkins predicts an analog or similar mechanism will take us, someday, to the moon.
By its nature of anticipation of a possible or probable future, the 'Somnium Astronomicum' precedes, unless I am mistaken, the new narrative genre that Americans of the North label 'science-fiction' or 'sciencefiction' and of which these Chronicles are an admirable example.
Their theme is the conquest and colonization of the planet. This arduous enterprise of the future men seems destined for the times, but Ray Bradbury has preferred (unknowingly, perhaps, and by secret inspiration of his genius) an elegiac tone. Martians, who at the beginning of the book are horrible, deserve his pity when anihilation reaches them. Men vanquish and the author is not proud of their victory. He announces with sadness and disappointment the future expansion of mankind over the red planet - that his prophecy reveals as a desert of vague blue sand, with ruins of chess-like cities and yellow sunsets and ancient ships to wander on the sand.
Other authors stamp a coming date and we don't believe them, because we know it is a literary convention; Bradbury writes 2004 and we feel the gravitation, the fatigue, the vast and vague accumulation of the past - the 'dark backward and abysm of Time' from the Shakespeare verse. Already the Renaissance had noted, by mouth of Giordano Bruno and of Bacon, that the real Ancient Ones are us, and not the men from Genesis or Homer.
What has this man from Illinois done, I ask myself when closing the pages of his book, that episodes from the conquest of another planet fill me with horror and loneliness?
How can these fantasies touch me, and in such an intimate way? All literature (I dare reply) is symbolic; there are a few fundamental experiences and it is indifferent that a writer, to transmit them, recurs to the fantastic or the real, to Macbeth or to Rascolnikov, to the Belgium invasion in August 1914 or to an invasion of Mars. Who cares about the novel, or novelry of science fiction? In this book of ghostly appearance, Bradbury has placed his long empty Sundays, his American tedium, his loneliness, like Sinclair Lewis did on Main Street.
Perhaps the third expedition is the most alarming story in this volume. Its horror - I suspect - is metaphysical. The uncertainty of the guests of Captain Black suggests uncomfortably, that we do not know who we are either, or how our faces are to God. I would also like to highlight the episode 'The Martian', which includes a pathetic variation of the myth of Protheus.
Towards 1909 I read, with fascinated anguish, in the sunset of a large house that no longer exists, The First Men on the Moon, by Wells. By virtue of these Chronicles, of very diverse conception and execution, I have been given to relive, in the last days of Fall, 1954, those delectable horrors.
-Jorge Luis Borges"
Captain Wilder, Fourth Expedition
This is just too cool. Borges is brilliant, I guess I should have expected nothing less than this opinion of the Martian Chronicles, none the less, it is joy to read. Thank you for the translation and the post.
" What has this man from Illinois done, I ask myself when closing the pages of his book, that episodes from the conquest of another planet fill me with horror and loneliness?"
Thanks for the translation! Too bad the introduction wasn't included with any of the english versions. Borges was a great writer, I wish his body of work was larger.
My pleasure! I'm glad you and Jayne enjoyed it - I wish biplane or someone would forward it to Ray before the Argentinian Book Fair on April 27th. I also have it published on:
By the way, you should also find there a link to a pretty good Borges interview in English, by the Artful Dodger (Wooster, Ohio)...
Captain Wilder, Fourth Expedition
Thanks for the link Captain. I've never really read many Borges interviews, but this link did highlight something that I vaguely remembered, he thought of himself as more of a poet than a short story writer. His intellect was astounding.
Captain Wilder, although I do call Ray once in a while, I do not have a direct internet connection with him. However, Dandelion does have a contact who, as well as Patrick, I am sure, can print off the post and show it to Ray.
I am positive that he would very much enjoy reading the review.
This message has been edited. Last edited by: Captain Wilder,
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