Two More Stories by Horacio Quiroga

I’ve put two more Horacio Quiroga translations up on the Ephemera blog:

  • The Spectre (El espectro): Every night, two lovers go to the movies. Even though they’re dead.
  • Juan Darién: A rescued orphan jaguar cub magically turns into a human, and tries to live among other humans.
Detail from magazine article on The Money Corral
Detail of an ad in Moving Picture World, May 1919 for the film The Money Corral (1919), starring William S. Hart. Source: Wikimedia

This brings the total number of stories I’ve translated so far up to six, and I hope to keep going.

“The Spectre” is the only true ghost story by Quiroga that I’ve come across so far. “The Artificial Hell” reads like a ghost story, too, but I think of it more as an allegory about addiction. “The Spectre,” to me, is really about the ghosts. It’s one of my favorites of the stories I’ve translated so far (my other favorite is “The Solitaire”).

“Juan Darién” reads like a fairy tale, and Quiroga even addresses the children among his readers directly a few times. But it’s also a dark, brutal, adult commentary on the uglier side of human nature and commmunities.

The topic of xenophobia and “the other” is one I keep running into in my reading of late: “Amy Foster” by Joseph Conrad (in Tales of Terror), “The Black Godmother” by John Galsworthy (in And the Darkness Falls), and now “Juan Darién.” The first two stories are over a century old, and “Juan Darién” nearly so; how sad the stories still seem somewhat topical today.

Conrad’s story is about fear of foreigners and its consequences; Galsworthy’s tale is about fear of strangers and its consequences. Quiroga’s story is about these things, and also about what’s been called the banality of evil: terrible things can be done by absolutely normal people.

The inspector was not a bad man; but like all people who live very near the jungle, he hated jaguars blindly…

Note that this “not bad man” just tricked a harmless young boy into revealing a secret about his origin that he himself didn’t realize, and now wants to kill the child because of it. And the other people of the village (who have lived with this boy almost his entire life) don’t behave any better.

I can’t help contrasting “Juan Darién” with Quiroga’s other animal tales, from Cuentos de la Selva (Tales from the Jungle), stories that really are written for children. Those stories contain death and hunting, predators and prey, but all the animals and most humans in Cuentos de la Selva live together relatively harmoniously, despite the fact that they hunt and eat each other. The animals in “Juan Darién” also acquit themselves much better than the humans. Reading this story sheds possible light on Quiroga’s decision to leave Buenos Aires to go live in the remote wilderness. One wonders how much he really liked people.

Standing jaguar
Source: Wikipedia

A note on the translation: The word used in the story to describe the jungle cat is tigre; the other translation of this story that I read translated tigre as tiger, and the story several places talks about “the stripes” of the tigre. But the only native member of genus Panthera in the Americas is called a jaguar in English, and that’s the word Arthur Livingston used to refer to them in South American Jungle Tales, his 1922 translation of Cuentos de la Selva. And jaguars, like leopards, have spots, so that how I decided to translate las rayas del tigre: as the jaguar’s spots.

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