In what ways did Jorge Luis Borges's short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" influence Gene Wolfe's short story "Useful Phrases," found in Strange Travelers: New Selected Stories?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We can see that Jorge Luis Borges's short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" influenced Gene Wolfe's own short story "Useful Phrases" in his book Strange Travelers: New Selected Stories through Borges's use of made-up books and places.

More specifically, Borges parodies real books by inventing new titles of books based on real books and titles. For example, Borges's book The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia is clearly a parody of the real Encyclopaedia Britannica. In addition, Borges clearly invented the title A First Encyclopedia of Tlön also based off of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Similarly, for his short story, Wolfe invented the title Tohish Ablar Sens-Orriyya Ert, which he translates as meaning "Useful Phrases for Piteous Visitors to Earth" (p. 240). Even the reference to "Visitors to Earth" can be seen as being influenced by Borges because the phrase implies that the phrase book was written for extraterrestrials whereas Borges invented an imaginary planet called Tlön, which contains the country of Uqbar. Hence, both Wolfe and Borges refer to peoples existing outside of planet Earth; however, Wolfe merely implies the existence of extraterrestrials, while Borges develops an entire imaginary planet.

We can further see how Borges influenced Wolfe through Borges's invention of an imaginary place. In Borges's short story, the narrator's friend Adolfo Bioy Casares reflects on an article he found in The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, a parody of Encyclopaedia Britannica, concerning the country Uqbar. Bioy soon realizes that only his copy of the encyclopedia contains the article about Uqbar. Similarly, years later, the narrator finds a volume called A First Encyclopedia of Tlön, which is described as a "vast methodical fragment of an unknown planet's entire history" (p. 241). Likewise, the unnamed narrator in Wolfe's short story discovers a phrase book from the country of Tcôvé that translated Tcôvese phrases into Portuguese, English, and French, but when the narrator "consulted atlases and encyclopedias," he was unable to find the country listed. The narrator speculates that Tcôvé was an earlier name of a country, but the reader can also deduce that the country Tcôvé was made up by the author, just as Borges made up his location names.

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Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

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