Oh, day and night, but this is wondrous strange.
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5
To the memory of H. P. Lovecraft
—Jorge Luis Borges, dedication to “There Are More Things” (1975)
The picture painted by Barton Levi St. Armand in “Synchronistic Worlds: Lovecraft and Borges” is of a man both familiar with Lovecraft’s work and life, yet willing to disavow such knowledge; at once appreciative and critical. The great Argentinian writer of Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1945), which was translated and published as Labyrinths (1962) in English, was born nine years and a world apart from Lovecraft, yet like astronomical objects their orbits were destined for the occasional collision. Borges would afford Lovecraft space in his Introduction to American Literature (1971), for example, he wrote:
In his stories one meets beings from remote planets and from ancient or future epochs who dell in human bodies to study the universe, or, conversely, souls of our time who during sleep explore monstrous worlds, distant in time and space. Among his works we shall recall “The Color from Space,” [sic] “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Rats in the Wall.” [sic]
We don’t know when and where Borges first met Lovecraft, in a literary sense. Some translation in a Spanish or Argentinean magazine, perhaps; an inclusion in some anthology maybe, or a lonely Arkham House title that had made its way to Buenos Aires. The stories he mentioned were all included in The Outsider and Others (1939), so it is possible.
The details don’t really matter; Borges read Lovecraft. Borges wrote a story dedicated to Lovecraft. It first appeared in the magazine Crisis (May 1974), and then was published in his collection El libro de Arena (1975, “The Book of Sand”); appeared in The Atlantic Monthly the same year. In 1977, in New York City, the makers of the Simon Necronomicon took care to note:
In the July, 1975, issue of The Atlantic Monthly, there appeared a story entitled “There Are More Thing”, written by Jorge Luis Borges, “To the memory of H. P. Lovecraft”. this gesture by a man of the literary stature of Borges is certainly an indication that Lovecraft has finally ascended to his rightful place in the history of American literature, nearly forty years after his death. (xi)
Given his own love of literary hoaxes, one can only wonder what Borges would make of his own name being used to supplement one of the most prolific hoaxes ever published regarding Lovecraft’s most famous literary creation.
“There Are More Things” is set in Turdera, in Lomas de Zamora Partido in Buenos Aires; the narrator a doctor of philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. The details of the setting and the people are drawn from life; you could picture Borges walking those streets, talking to those people. Hinting rather than telling anything outright.
A house is the first focus of the story—the Red House, descended from Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher, from Lovecraft’s Shunned House and Exham Priory in “The Rats in the Walls.” Things are hinted at but not explained; as with many of Lovecraft’s works, it has the form of a detective story, the protagonist spiraling in toward the central mystery.
Like most Lovecraft stories, there is little of plot. The narrator follows compulsion rather than plan, is driven by events, none of the people who meet him tell him anything although they all clearly know or think they know something. It is a wonderful sentiment of taboo, the line that must not be crossed which is inevitably crossed. The reader follows him as enters the Red House. What he finds in there…maybe some meditation on “The Dunwich Horror” which no other author had thought to imagine:
[…] a second great siege of carpentry went on at the old house. It was all inside the sealed upper part, and from bits of discarded lumber people concluded that the youth and his grandfather had knocked out all the partitions and even removed the attic floor, leaving only one vast open void between the ground story and the peaked roof.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”
The dining room and library of my recollections were now (the dividing wall having been torn out) one large ruinous room, with pieces of furniture scattered here and there. I will not attempt to describe them, because in spite of the pitiless white light I am not certain I actually saw them. Let me explain: In order truly to see a thing, one must first understand it. An armchair implies the human body, its joints and members; scissors, teh act of cutting. What can be told from a lamp, or an automobile? The savage cannot really perceive the missionary’s Bible; the passenger does not see the same ship’s rigging as the crew. If we truly saw the universe, perhaps we would not understand it.
—Jorge Luis Borges, “There Are More Things”
Many of Lovecraft’s works have touched on the horror unseen, or sometimes literally unseeable—as in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Colour Out of Space.” A tradition that Lovecraft borrowed from Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” (1887), Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” (1893), Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” (1907), and other stories. Borges delighted in these questions of perception, the hypothetical infinities made manifest in his stories such as “The Book of Sand.” His tribute to the memory of Lovecraft is to sketch at the shadows such strangely-dimensioned monsters might cast, and to let the reader draw their own conclusions.
The final sentence is a sentiment that fans of Lovecraft may wish to meditate on:
Curiosity got the better of fear, and I did not close my eyes.
If you were the protagonist in a Lovecraftian story…if you had an opportunity to see Cthulhu rise from the depths, or to breach the forbidden upper story where the Dunwich Horror was imprisoned, to go down that stair in Red Hook, leaf through the brittle pages of the Necronomicon, or follow the carved steps beneath the altar in Exham Priory…would you?
As much as we may joke about how protagonists act in a horror story or film, descending into peril, touching the cursed idol, reading the forbidden book, etc., would our own curiosity overpower our fears? To be blasted like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, destroyed for our impertinence…or to experience for ourselves that awesome culminating revelation which we had only felt distant, shuddering echoes of in the italicized final sentences of a Lovecraft story?
Well, it’s something to think about.