Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Latin America

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In LA literature the fantastic did not follow the Neoclassic-Romantic-Gothic sequence that it did in France, England and Germany. Large parts of the Americas were still Spanish colonies in the 18th century, a time when the mother country was undergoing a period of obscurantism. Isolation kept Spain from exposure to the Enlightenment and, consequently, the flowering of Romanticism and of the Gothic novel (> Gothic Fantasy), a circumstance that was exported to its colonies. But at the beginning of the 19th century, when independence movements took root in South America, the situation changed. The educated liberal classes became interested in Myths – Indian (i.e., indigenous), black and creole – and invoked them to emphasize the difference between their lands and Spain. These myths were cast in the realistic and even naturalistic form inherited from the mother country. At the same time, a generation of LA intellectuals and liberals, many educated in France, were open to the elements of fantasy born of Romanticism. According to Spanish critic Rafael Llopis, LA fantasy is a synthesis of these two factors.

Argentina's Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892) was probably the first LA fantasy writer to be published in book form. Her Sueños y realidades ["Dreams and Realities"] (coll 1865 2 vols) feeds on native myths, on incidents of the Spanish conquest – when the existence of underground Indian cities concealing vast treasure was suspected – and on her interest in certain scientific discoveries also exploited by E T A Hoffman and Edgar Allan Poe. Another Argentine follower of these writers and of Jules Verne (1828-1905) and Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) was Eduardo Ladislao Holmberg (1852-1937), author of Viaje maravilloso del señor Nic-Nac ["Mr Nic-Nac's Marvelous Journey"] (1875); his interest in phrenology, psychopathy and spiritualism shows in his Cuentos fantásticos ["Fantasy Stories"] (coll 1957). A taste for the exotic, the morbid and the esoteric also appears in Cuentos malévolos ["Spiteful Tales"] (coll 1904) by Clemente Palma (1872-1946), Peru's first writer of fantasy; his novel XYZ (1931) is seen by some as a forerunner of Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel (1940).

A fondness for the occult, parapsychological states and scientific experiments culminates in Leopoldo Lugones (1874-1938), an Argentine Modernist poet and short-story writer who greatly influenced LA literature during the first three decades of this century. His remarkable Las fuerzas extrañas ["Strange Forces"] (coll 1906) includes "An Essay on a Cosmogony in Ten Lessons", in which he takes up some of the ideas in his stories, which foreshadow both sf and Magic Realism. Much in the same vein is the work of Uruguayan-born Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937), a master of the short story, who spent a good part of his life in Argentina, especially in the tropical regions of the northeast. A reader of Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and W H Hudson, Quiroga gave shape to his literary theories in a famous "Decalogue of the Perfect Storyteller" (1925). His fantasy stories, which often depict a lonely man fighting only to postpone his inevitable death, appear in Cuentos de la selva (coll 1918; trans Arthur Livingston 1922 US), Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte ["Tales of Love, Madness, and Death"] (coll 1917), and Más allá ["Beyond"] (coll 1935). The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories (trans Margaret Sayers Peden 1976 US) and The Exiles and Other Stories (trans J David Danielson 1987 US) are selections from various Spanish-language collections.

In the late 1930s LA fantasy, especially that written in the River Plate area, found a voice entirely its own. The publication in Sur magazine of the first stories by Jorge Luis Borges from 1939 and throughout the 1940s ushered in Spanish America's golden age of fantasy. Paradoxically, while Borges was admired by the avant-garde of Europe and the USA, he proclaimed himself decidedly old-fashioned; indeed, the writers who most influenced his fiction were Kipling, G K Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson and H G Wells. In the decade 1939-1949 Borges wrote some of the century's best fantasy stories. These are collected in his two most famous books, Ficciones (coll 1944; exp 1956; trans ed Anthony Kerrigan 1962 US) and El Aleph (coll 1949; exp 1952); the latter appears in English in two selections: Labyrinths (trans ed James E Irby and Donald Yates 1962 US) and The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969 (trans ed Norman Thomas di Giovanni and author 1970 US). Borges also compiled a fantastic bestiary, Manual de la zoología fantástica (1957; exp vt El libro de los seres imaginarios 1967; the latter trans di Giovanni and author as The Book of Imaginary Beings 1969 US). Some later fantasies are included in El libro de arena (coll 1975; trans di Giovanni as The Book of Sand 1977 US).

In 1940 Adolfo Bioy Casares published a now famous novel, La invención de Morel (1940; trans Ruth L C Simms in The Invention of Morel and Other Stories coll 1964 US, which includes also La trama celeste coll 1948); and edited with his wife Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993) and Borges Antología de la literatura fantástica (anth 1940; rev 1977; trans as The Book of Fantasy 1976 US; rev 1988 with intro by Ursula K Le Guin), which included the type of fantasy stories they were reading in other languages along with samples in Spanish, mostly by Argentine writers. Bioy Casares, who collaborated with Borges on five books and three screenplays, became an important fantasy writer in his own right with Plan de evasión (1945; trans Suzanne Jill Levine as A Plan for Escape 1975 US), El sueño de los héroes (1954; trans Diana Thorold as The Dream of the Heroes 1987 UK), Diario de la guerra del cerdo (1969; trans Gregory Woodruff and Donald Yates as Diary of the War of the Pigs 1969 US), Dormir al sol (1973; trans Suzanne Jill Levine as Asleep in the Sun 1978 US). His shorter fiction is found in Historia prodigiosa ["A Prodigious Story"] (coll 1956), El lado de la sombra ["The Shady Side"] (coll 1962), El gran serafín ["The Great Seraph"] (coll 1967), Historias fantásticas ["Fantasy Stories"] (coll 1972), Historias desaforadas ["Outrageous Stories"] (coll 1986) and Una muñeca rusa (coll 1991; trans Suzanne Jill Levine as A Russian Doll and Other Stories 1992 US).

During the 1930s-40s, on both sides of the River Plate, two men were writing stories that would become influential only decades later. Uruguayan Felisberto Hernández (1902-1964), a music teacher and pianist who performed in bars and cinemas, composed a handful of odd short pieces that years later would be highly regarded by Julio Cortázar and would lead Italo Calvino to say that Hernández "wrote like no one else". His first two slim books, for whose publication he paid himself, were Fulano de Tal ["Mr So-and-So"] (coll 1925) and Libro sin tapas ["Book without Covers"] (coll 1938). Only his third book, Nadie encendía las lámparas ["No One Had Lit a Lamp"] (coll 1946), managed to arouse interest. A translated selection, drawn mainly from the last, is Piano Stories (trans Luis Harss 1993 with intro by Calvino). Only in the 1960s did Hernández begin to get the attention he deserved, which led to translations into French and Italian. About the same time in Buenos Aires, well into his 50s, Macedonio Fernández (1874-1952), an eccentric thinker who used to preside over informal gatherings of writers in bars and was greatly admired by Borges, published his first two books, miscellanies of fantasy and philosophical writing: No toda es vigilia la de los ojos abiertos ["We're Not Always Awake when Our Eyes Are Open"] (coll 1928) and Papeles de Recienvenido ["Newcomer's Papers"] (coll 1929). He was discovered in the 1960s after the posthumous publication of his Museo de la novela de la eterna ["Museum of the Novel of the Eternal"] (coll 1967), a collection of 20 chapters prefaced by 56 different forewords.

In Mexico, Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) published in the 1940s the stories that later would appear in Varia invención ["Varied Invention"] (coll 1949) and Confabulario (coll 1952; trans George D Schade as Confabulario and Other Inventions 1962 US). His Kafkaesque "El guardagujas" ["The Switchman"] is one of the most anthologized stories in Latin-American literature.

Argentine Julio Cortázar wrote in the late 1940s and the 1950s most of the pieces that would make him one of the best-known writers in the Spanish language. Before the publication in 1963 of Rayuela (trans Gregory Rabassa as Hopscotch 1966 US) – which, along with work by Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-    ), Carlos Fuentes and others, initiated what would be called the "Latin-American literary boom" – Cortázar was already much admired for his fantasy short stories, the first of which, "Casa tomada" ["Taken House"], was published in 1946 by Borges when he was editor of Los Anales de Buenos Aires. Cortázar's fantasies can be found in Bestiario ["Bestiary"] (coll 1951), Final del juego ["End of the Game"] (coll 1956; exp 1964) and Las armas secretas ["The Secret Weapons"] (coll 1959). These last three have been assembled in English as End of the Game and Other Stories (trans Paul Blackburn 1967 US) and Blow-up and Other Stories (trans Blackburn 1967 US). JC's other fantasies are in Historias de cronopios y de famas (coll 1962; trans Blackburn as Cronopios and Famas 1969 US), Todos los fuegos el fuego (coll 1966; trans Suzanne Jill Levine as All Fires the Fire and Other Stories 1971 US), Octaedro ["Octahedron"] (coll 1974), Alguien que anda por ahí (coll 1977; trans Gregory Rabassa as A Change of Light and Other Stories 1980 US), Queremos tanto a Glenda (coll 1981; trans Gregory Rabassa as We Love Glenda so Much and Other Tales 1983 US) and Deshoras ["Unhours"] (coll 1982).

The term Magic Realism, first used in 1925 by German critic Franz Roh to describe the work of certain post-Expressionist painters, was picked up by Juan Ramón Jiménez in 1942 to refer to the poetry of Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). In 1947 Venezuelan writer Arturo Uslar Pietri (1906-2001) applied it for the first time to LA fiction. The term has also been used, differently, by Cuban Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980). "In order to give us an illusion of irreality," wrote Argentine writer and critic Enrique Anderson Imbert, "a magic-realistic narrator pretends to escape from nature and relates an action that, however inexplicable it may be, we find oddly disturbing ... Between the dissolution of reality (magic) and the copy of reality (realism), magic realism amazes itself as if it were attending the spectacle of a new Creation. Seen with new eyes by the light of a new morning, the world is, if not marvellous, at least disturbing." The expression "magic realism" has been used mostly in relation to the exuberant masterpieces of the Mexican Juan Rulfo (1918-1980), the Cuban Alejo Carpentier and Nobel-Prize winners Miguel Ángel Asturias and Gabriel García Márquez.

Other Authors

Argentina Santiago Dabove (1889-1951), La muerte y su traje ["Death and Its Dress"] (coll 1961; foreword by Borges). Enrique Anderson Imbert (1910-2000), El grimorio ["The Conjurer's Book"] (coll 1961), El gato de Cheshire ["The Cheshire Cat"] (coll 1965). Manuel Mujica Láinez (1910-1984), Crónicas reales ["Royal Chronicles"] (coll 1967), El brazalete y otros cuentos ["The Bracelet and Other Stories"] (coll 1978). Silvina Ocampo, La furia ["The Fury"] (coll 1959), Las invitadas ["The Guests"] (coll 1961), Los días de la noche ["The Days of Night"] (coll 1970); her best stories are in Leopoldina's Dream (trans Daniel Balderston 1988 UK, with a preface by Borges). Eduardo Stilman (1938-    ), Jugar a ciegas ["Blind Game"] (coll 1984), El samovar de plata ["The Silver Samovar"] (coll 1993). Angélica Gorodischer (1928-    ), Las pelucas ["The Wigs"] (coll 1968), Bajo las jubeas en flor ["Under the Flowering Jubeas"] (coll 1973), Kalpa imperial ["Imperial Kalpa"] (coll 1983-1984 2 vols). Vlady Kociancich (1941-    ), La octava maravilla ["The Eighth Wonder"] (1982), Todos los caminos ["All Roads"] (coll 1991). Elvio E Gandolfo (1947-    ), Dos mujeres ["Two Women"] (coll 1992), Ferrocarriles Argentinos ["Argentine Railroads"] (coll 1994). Ana María Shua (1951-    ), La sueñera ["Sleepiness"] (coll 1984), Viajando se conoce gente ["Travelling You Get to Know People"] (coll 1988). Carlos Gardini (1948-    ), Mi cerebro animal ["My Animal Brain"] (coll 1983), Sinfonía Cero ["Zero Symphony"] (coll 1984). Rogelio Ramos Signes (1949-    ), Las escamas del señor Crisolaras ["Mr Crisolaras' Scales"] (coll 1983). Spanish-born Marcial Souto, Para bajar a un pozo de estrellas ["Climbing Down into a Well of Stars"] (coll 1983), Trampas para pesadillas ["Traps for Nightmares"] (coll 1988). Cristina Siscar (1947-    ), Reescrito en la bruma ["Rewritten in the Mist"] (coll 1987), Lugar de todos los nombres ["The Place of All Names"] (coll 1988). Eduardo Abel Giménez (1954-    ), El fondo del pozo ["The Bottom of the Well"] (1985). Sergio Gaut vel Hartman (1947-    ), Cuerpos descartables ["Disposable Bodies"] (coll 1985). Luisa Axpe (1945-    ), Retoños ["Sprouts"] (coll 1986).

In an attempt to explain why Argentina produced so much fantasy, Julio Cortázar suggested: "A cultural polymorphism that arises out of the contributions of many different groups of immigrants; and a geographical immensity that acts as a factor of isolation, monotony and boredom, with a consequent appeal for the unusual, an anywhere cut out of the world."

Chile Juan Emar (real name Álvaro Yáñez; 1893-1964), Diez ["Ten"] (coll 1934; reprinted 1971 with foreword by Pablo Neruda). María Luisa Bombal (1910-1980), La última niebla ["The Last Fog"] (1934), La amortajada ["The Shrouded One"] (1941). Alejandro Jodorowsky (1927-    ), Cuentos pánicos ["Panic Stories"] (coll 1963), El loro de siete lenguas ["The Parrot with Seven Tongues"] (1991).

Cuba Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979), Cuentos fríos ["Cold Stories"] (coll 1956), El que vino a salvarme ["The One Who Came to Save Me"] (coll 1970). Germán Piniella (1935-    ), Polífagos ["Polyphagous"] (coll 1967).

Mexico Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), El plano oblicuo ["The Slanting Plane"] (coll 1920). Elena Garro (1920-1998), La semana de colores ["The Colored Week"] (coll 1964). Carlos Fuentes, Los días enmascarados ["The Masked Days"] (coll 1954; trans Margaret Sayers Peden, together with Agua quemada [see below], as Burnt Water 1980 US) Aura (1962; trans Lysander Kemp 1966 US), Cantar de ciegos ["Blind Men's Song"] (coll 1964), Terra nostra (1975; trans Peden 1976 US), La cabeza de la hidra (1978; trans Peden as The Hydra Head 1978 US), Agua quemada ["Burnt Water"] (coll 1981), Cristóbal nonato (1987; trans Alfred MacAdam and author as Christopher Unborn 1989 US). José Emilio Pachecho (1939-    ), El viento distante ["The Distant Wind"] (coll 1969). Mauricio-José Schwarz (1955-    ), Escenas de la realidad virtual ["Scenes from Virtual Reality"] (coll 1991).

Uruguay José Pedro Díaz (1921-2006), Tratados y ejercicios ["Treaties and Exercises"] (coll 1967). Mario Levrero (1940-    ), La ciudad ["The City"] (1970), La máquina de pensar en Gladys ["The Machine for Thinking About Gladys"] (coll 1970), París (1980), Todo el tiempo ["All the Time"] (coll 1982), Aguas salobres ["Salty Waters"] (coll 1983), Los muertos ["The Dead Ones"] (coll 1986), Espacios libres ["Free Spaces"] (coll 1987), El lugar ["The Place"] (1991). [MH/MS]

further reading: Historia natural de los cuentos de miedo (1974) by Rafael Llopis; El realismo mágico y otros ensayos (1976) by Enrique Anderson Imbert; Literatura fantástica de lengua española (1987) by Antonio Risco; El relato fantástico en España e Hispanoamérica (1991) ed E Morillas Ventura.


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.