The Garden of Forking Paths

"The Garden of Forking Paths" (original Spanish title: "El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan") is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It is the title story in the collection El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941), which was republished in its entirety in Ficciones (Fictions) in 1944. It was the first of Borges's works to be translated into English by Anthony Boucher when it appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in August 1948.

The story's theme has been said to foreshadow the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.[1][2] It may have been inspired by work of the philosopher and science fiction author Olaf Stapledon.[1]

Borges's vision of "forking paths" has been cited as inspiration by numerous new media scholars, in particular within the field of hypertext fiction.[3][4][5] Other stories by Borges that express the idea of infinite texts include "The Library of Babel" and "The Book of Sand".[3]

"The Garden of Forking Paths"
Collection first edition
AuthorJorge Luis Borges
Original title"El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan"
TranslatorAnthony Boucher
Genre(s)Spy fiction, war fiction
Published inEl Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (1941)
Ficciones (1944)
PublisherEditorial Sur
Media typePrint
Publication date1941
Published in English1948

Plot summary

The story takes the form of a signed statement by a Chinese professor of English named Doctor Yu Tsun who is living in the United Kingdom during World War I. Tsun is a spy for the German Empire who has realized that an MI5 agent called Captain Richard Madden is pursuing him, has entered the apartment of his handler Viktor Runeberg, and has either captured or killed him. Doctor Tsun is certain that his own arrest is next. He has just discovered the location of a new British artillery park and wishes to convey that knowledge to his German handlers before he is captured. He at last hits upon a desperate plan in order to achieve this.

Doctor Tsun explains that his spying has never been for the sake of Imperial Germany, which he considers "a barbarous country". Rather, he says, he did it because he wanted to prove to his racist masters that an Asian is intelligent enough to obtain the information needed to save their soldiers' lives. Tsun suspects that Captain Madden, an Irishman in the employ of the British Empire, might be similarly motivated.

Taking his few possessions, Tsun boards a train to the village of Ashgrove. Narrowly avoiding the pursuing Captain Madden at the train station, he goes to the house of Doctor Stephen Albert, an eminent Sinologist. As he walks up the road to Doctor Albert's house, Tsun reflects on his great ancestor, Ts'ui Pên, a learned and famous man who renounced his job as governor of Yunnan in order to undertake two tasks: to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth, one "in which all men would lose their way". Ts'ui Pên was murdered before completing his novel, however, and what he did write was a "contradictory jumble of irresolute drafts" that made no sense to subsequent readers; nor was the labyrinth ever found.

Doctor Tsun arrives at the house of Doctor Albert, who is deeply excited to have met a descendant of Ts'ui Pên. Doctor Albert reveals that he has himself been engaged in a longtime study of Ts'ui Pên's novel. Albert explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved both mysteries—the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pên's unfinished book and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: the book is the labyrinth.

Basing his work on the strange legend that Ts'ui Pên had intended to construct an infinite labyrinth, as well as a cryptic letter from Ts'ui Pên himself stating, "I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths", Doctor Albert realized that the "garden of forking paths" was the novel, and that the forking took place in time, not in space. As compared to most fictions, where the character chooses one alternative at each decision point and thereby eliminates all the others, Ts'ui Pên's novel attempted to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur simultaneously, each one itself leading to further proliferations of possibilities. Albert further explains that these constantly diverging paths do sometimes converge again, though as the result of a different chain of causes; for example, he says, in one possible time-line Doctor Tsun has come to his house as an enemy, in another as a friend.

Though trembling with gratitude at Albert's revelation and in awe of his ancestor's literary genius, Tsun glances up the path to see Captain Madden approaching the house. He asks Albert to see Ts'ui Pên's letter again. As Albert turns to retrieve it, Tsun draws a revolver, and declares his friendship before murdering him in cold blood.

Doctor Tsun is arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. However, he has "most abhorrently triumphed", as he has revealed to Berlin the location of the artillery park. Indeed, the park is bombed as Tsun goes on trial. The location of the artillery park was in Albert. Doctor Tsun had realized that the only way to convey that information was to murder a person of that name, so that the news of the murder would appear in British newspapers connected with his name.

In modern culture

  • In 1987 Stuart Moulthrop created a hypertextual version of "The Garden of Forking Paths". This title was given to relate the Gulf War setting of his novel and Borges' Victory Garden. The work has been published as a hypertext by Eastgate[6] and has been discussed in academic literature.[3]
  • In homage to the story, the TV series FlashForward made an episode entitled "The Garden of Forking Paths". In the episode, the character Dyson Frost refers to a map of the possible futures as his "Garden of Forking Paths".
  • Parallels have been drawn between the concepts in the story and the many-worlds interpretation in physics by Bryce DeWitt[7] in his preface to "The Many World Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics".[2]
  • Andrew Gelman references "The Garden of Forking Paths" to describe how scientists can make false discoveries when they do not pre-specify a data analysis plan and instead choose "one analysis for the particular data they saw."[8] The "Garden of Forking Paths" refers to the near-infinite number of choices facing researchers in cleaning and analyzing data, and emphasizes the need for pre-analysis planning and independent replication, an especially relevant consideration in social psychology's recent replication crisis.
  • Inspired a series of installation (2010 -2017) by Singapore-based art collective vertical submarine.

See also


  1. ^ a b Moran, Dominic (2012). "Borges and the Multiverse: Some Further Thoughts". Bulletin of Spanish Studies. 89 (6): 925–942. doi:10.1080/14753820.2012.712326. ISSN 1475-3820.
  2. ^ a b The Many World Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, N. Graham and B. DeWitt eds., Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1973. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-25. Retrieved 2013-08-25.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b c Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
  4. ^ Bolter, Jay David; Joyce, Michael (1987). "Hypertext and Creative Writing". Hypertext '87 Papers. ACM. pp. 41–50.
  5. ^ Moulthrop, Stuart (1991). "Reading From the Map: Metonymy and Metaphor in the Fiction of 'Forking Paths'". In Delany, Paul; Landow, George P. Hypermedia and Literary Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press.
  6. ^ "Eastgate: Victory Garden".
  7. ^ Biographical Sketch of Hugh Everett, III, Eugene Shikhovtsev
  8. ^ The garden of forking paths: Why multiple comparisons can be a problem, even when there is no “fishing expedition” or “p-hacking” and the research hypothesis was posited ahead of time, Andrew Gelman and Eric Loken

External links

An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain

"An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain" (original Spanish title: "Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain") is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. It was included in the anthology Ficciones, part one (The Garden of Forking Paths). The title has also been translated as A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain.

Black Angel (1978 film)

Black Angel (Spanish:Ángel negro) is a 1978 action-thriller film directed by Tulio Demicheli. It was a co-production between Mexico and Spain. A man seeks revenge for the assassination of his father.


Fictions (Spanish: Ficciones) is the most popular collection of short stories by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, produced between 1941 and 1956. The English translation of Fictions was published in 1962, the same year as Labyrinths, a separate compilation of Borges's translated works. The two volumes lifted Borges to worldwide literary fame in the 1960s and several stories feature in both. "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" originally appeared published in History of Eternity (1936).

Hanna Tuulikki

Hanna Tuulikki is a Finnish-English vocalist, musician and artist, born in Sussex, who is involved in the Nalle (Finnish for "teddy bear") and Scatter musical projects, and has also contributed to the One Ensemble of Daniel Padden. Her vocals have been compared to those of Joanna Newsom and Björk on occasion, also attracting comparisons to Yoko Ono and Lau Nau. As well as singing, she plays the kantele, a traditional Finnish stringed instrument, and the flute. As an artist Hanna has created the artwork for both the James Blackshaw curated compilation record The Garden of Forking Paths, and the Arborea curated compilation record Leaves of Life.She studied Environmental Art at the Glasgow School of Art and had a residency in Cromarty, where she recorded people imitating the sea on the CD 100 Breaths, 100 Waves, and a replication of a dawn chorus on Salutations To The Sun. Further releases followed on Tuulikki's own Gleaners record label.In 2007, Tuulikki used sound and light to transform boarded-up, condemned row-houses in Dunfermline's Duncan Crescent, installing "dream machines" - magic lanterns featuring silhouettes of flora and fauna.In 2008 she contributed to Schlachtfest Session II, an album also featuring John Tchicai, Hans Joachim Irmler, Jan Fride, Roman Bunka, Aby Vulliamy, Chris Hladowski, and George Murray.She later formed Two Wings, a band centred on her songwriting partnership with Trembling Bells guitarist Ben Reynolds. The band released their debut album Love's Spring in 2012.

Hypertext fiction

Hypertext fiction is a genre of electronic literature, characterized by the use of hypertext links that provide a new context for non-linearity in literature and reader interaction. The reader typically chooses links to move from one node of text to the next, and in this fashion arranges a story from a deeper pool of potential stories. Its spirit can also be seen in interactive fiction.

The term can also be used to describe traditionally-published books in which a nonlinear narrative and interactive narrative is achieved through internal references. James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), Enrique Jardiel Poncela's La Tournée de Dios (1932), Jorge Luis Borges' The Garden of Forking Paths (1941), Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire (1962), Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (1963; translated as Hopscotch), and Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1973) are early examples predating the word "hypertext", while a common pop-culture example is the Choose Your Own Adventure series in young adult fiction and other similar gamebooks. The Garden of Forking Paths (1941) is both a hypertext story and is sometimes used as a description of having different possible paths.

Jorge Luis Borges and mathematics

Jorge Luis Borges and mathematics concerns several modern mathematical concepts found in certain essays and short stories of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), including concepts such as set theory, recursion, chaos theory, and infinite sequences, although Borges' strongest links to mathematics are through Georg Cantor's theory of infinite sets, outlined in "The Doctrine of Cycles" (La doctrina de los ciclos). Some of Borges' most popular works such as "The Library of Babel" (La Biblioteca de Babel), "The Garden of Forking Paths" (El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan), "The Aleph" (El Aleph), an allusion to Cantor's use of the Hebrew letter aleph () to denote cardinality of transfinite sets, and "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" (El acercamiento a Almotásim) illustrate his use of mathematics.

According to Argentinian mathematician Guillermo Martínez, Borges at least had a knowledge of mathematics at the level of first courses in algebra and analysis at a university – covering logic, paradoxes, infinity, topology and probability theory. He was also aware of the contemporary debates on the foundations of mathematics.

La Casa del recuerdo

La Casa del recuerdo (The House of Memory) is a 1940 Argentine film by Luis Saslavsky.


Labyrinths (1962, 1964, 1970, 1983) is an award-winning collection of short stories and essays by Jorge Luis Borges translated into the English language, published soon after Borges won the International Publishers' Prize with Samuel Beckett.It includes, among other stories, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "The Garden of Forking Paths", and "The Library of Babel", three of Borges' most famous stories. Many of the stories are from the collections Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949). The edition, published only in English, was edited by James E. Irby and Donald A. Yates, with a Preface by André Maurois of the Académie française and an Introduction by Professor Irby.

Lisa Zwerling

Lisa Zwerling is an American physician (member of the American Medical Association), television writer and producer (member of the Writers Guild of America & the Producers Guild of America). She has worked on the medical drama series Presidio Med and ER and science fiction series FlashForward.

Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote

"Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" (original Spanish title: "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote") is a short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

It originally appeared in Spanish in the Argentine journal Sur in May 1939. The Spanish-language original was first published in book form in Borges's 1941 collection El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths), which was included in his much-reprinted Ficciones (1944).

The Book of Sand (short story collection)

The Book of Sand (original Spanish title: "El libro de arena") is a 1975 short story collection by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). In the author's opinion, the collection, written in his last days — and while blind — is his best book. This opinion is not shared by most critics, many of whom prefer his other works such as those in Ficciones (1944).

Referring to the collection, Borges said:

I have wanted to be loyal, in these exercises of a blind man, to the example of Wells: the conjunction of a plain style, sometimes almost oral, and an impossible argument.

The first edition, published in Buenos Aires by Emecé, contained 181 pages. In Madrid it was edited that year by Ultramar.

Borges opts for an epilogue to this short story collection, different from the cases of his previous collections The Garden of Forking Paths (1941) and Artifices (1944) (later republished together in Ficciones), which had a prologue. Regarding this, Borges begins The Book of Sand's epilogue by saying: "To prologue unread stories is an almost impossible work, as it demands the analysis of plots one should not anticipate. I prefer, thus, an epilogue."

The Chosen Ones (1964 film)

The Chosen Ones (Spanish:Los elegidos) is a 1964 Spanish film directed by Tulio Demicheli and starring Rafael Guerrero, Mayra Rey and Félix Lumbreras.The film's sets were designed by the art director Enrique Alarcon.

The Circular Ruins

"The Circular Ruins" (Spanish: "Las ruinas circulares") is a short story by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. First published in the literary journal Sur in December 1940, it was included in the 1941 collection The Garden of Forking Paths (Spanish: El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan) and the 1944 collection Ficciones. It was first published in English in View (Series V, No. 6 1946), translated by Paul Bowles.

The First Adventure

The First Adventure (Spanish:La primera aventura) is a 1965 Mexican-Spanish adventure film directed by Tulio Demicheli and starring José Calvo, Nino Del Arco and Pedro Mari Sánchez.

The Gang of Eight

The Gang of Eight (Spanish:La banda de los ocho) is a 1962 Mexican-Spanish comedy film directed by Tulio Demicheli.

The Garden of Forking Paths (Once Upon a Time)

"The Garden of Forking Paths" is the third episode of the seventh season and the 136th episode overall of the American fantasy-drama series Once Upon a Time. Written by David H. Goodman and Brigitte Hales and directed by Ron Underwood, it premiered on ABC in the United States on October 20, 2017.

In the episode, Cinderella befriends Tiana and an offer by Lady Tremaine to lure Henry into a trap is detailed, while Victoria's plot to destroy a community garden that Jacinda is trying to stop and Lucy believes that a secret reason for it that draws Henry into the mystery is displayed in the present day, along with another secret about Victoria that she has kept hidden.

The Library of Babel

"The Library of Babel" (Spanish: La biblioteca de Babel) is a short story by Argentine author and librarian Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), conceiving of a universe in the form of a vast library containing all possible 410-page books of a certain format and character set.

The story was originally published in Spanish in Borges' 1941 collection of stories El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths). That entire book was, in turn, included within his much-reprinted Ficciones (1944). Two English-language translations appeared approximately simultaneously in 1962, one by James E. Irby in a diverse collection of Borges's works titled Labyrinths and the other by Anthony Kerrigan as part of a collaborative translation of the entirety of Ficciones.

The Lottery in Babylon

"The Lottery in Babylon" (or "The Babylon Lottery"; original Spanish "La lotería en Babilonia") is a fantasy short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. It first appeared in 1941 in the literary magazine Sur, and was then included in the 1941 collection The Garden of Forking Paths (El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan), which in turn became the part one of Ficciones (1944).

Timeline of hypertext technology

This article presents a timeline of hypertext technology, including "hypermedia" and related human–computer interaction projects and developments from 1945 on. The term hypertext is credited to the author and philosopher Ted Nelson.

See also Graphical user interface, Multimedia; also

Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine's Mundaneum, a massively cross-referenced card index system established in 1910.

Other works

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.