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Many times during my long lifetime of reading imaginative literature, I wondered why Tolkien spawned so many imitators in English, but not in other languages into which The Lord Of The Rings had been translated. Now, anybody even cursorily familiar with The Lord of The Rings can see that would be a difficult work to translate, but that didn’t keep people from trying. The first Dutch translation came out only a year after the final volume was published in the UK. It is considered to be an adequate translation, and has been retained despite a revision by Tolkien’s publisher. Since then, The Lord Of The Rings has been translated into more than thirty languages, and the difficulties were such that Tolkien himself before his death published a guide for prospective translators.
Indeed, the conceit behind The Lord Of The Rings is that it is supposed to be a translation itself, from the invented Westron, to modern English. Tolkien excelled in finding, or creating, place-names that were redolent of an older world, such as ‘Rivendell’ for the Sindarin Imladris, “Valley of the Cleft”, and, of course, his wonderfully evocative Hobbit family names; Baggins [Bolsón in the Spanish], or Brandybuck, or Took [Berkova in Slovak]. Tolkien the linguists made certain that his place-names and his family names had an etymological depth to them which is not matched in the works of his imitators and followers, although I think George R R Martin’s “Winterfell” ( along with the felicitous Spanish translation Invernalia ) and Joe Abercrombie’s “Adua” come very close indeed.
Now, it may be that there are a multitude of derivative works in other languages, just that I am not familiar with popular literature in all the other languages of the world. Usually, genre literature does not attract much attention, and the only works that are likely to become well-known outside their own speech communities are the works of major writers such as Solzhenitsyn, Garcia Marques, or Nakagami Kenji. When I googled for obras literarias de fantasia en español [literary works of fantasy in Spanish], I was surprised that so little material turned up. Of course, even mainstream Latin-American literature has a strong undercurrent of the fantastic, as anyone familiar with Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa or Jorge Amado would know. However, the only reason that Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer’s little volume La Kalpa Imperial seemed to come up was not because of its own considerable merits, but because it had been recently translated into English by a great fantasist who writes in English, Ursula LeGuin.
I was delighted to find that La Kalpa Imperial was available to me in its original Spanish through interlibrary loan. Having worked my way halfway through, I find this little gem equal to anything produced since Tolkien in English, and better than most. Most of all, I wanted to see how a non-English speaker would handle the issue of “fantasy names”. There is a lot of faux-Elvish out there. That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but you can get seriously tired of Elves named Eldemar , Dwarves named Darmûk, and Orcs named Yog-Ar-Ghazh. There are no non-human races (yet) in Sra. Gorodischer’s La Kalpa Imperial,but the names of her humans are delightful – the trickster Loo Löo, the tragic Hehrehvontes dynasty. Indeed, the silent Spanish ‘h’ does yeoman’s work for fantastic names in this story. In this, she learned well from her great predecessor and, I suspect, ascended spiritual master Jorge Luis Borges, whose imaginary lands Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius have tantalized me ever since I first heard of them.
Borges’ fingerprints are all over this slender volume. I would have been more surprised it they weren’t. Gorodischer isn’t as coy as Borges, nor is she as metaphysically deft. Knowing something of the recent history of Argentina, I expected La Kalpa Imperial to be more political than it is. That is not surprising. Tolkien abhorred allegory, and it doesn’t actually play well in fantasy literature unless the readers are far enough removed from the situation being allegorized to disregard it. Sra. Gorodischer’s poetic parables, for that is how the story of the fabulous Empire of Kalba, the “greatest empire that never existed” is narrated, is more mythopoetic, and say as much about the power wielded by the storyteller as about that wielded by an Emperor. The history of Kalba is recognizably the history of our own world, but ever so much more so. I haven’t seen LeGuin’s translation, so I don’t know how the story of Kalpa plays out in English, but if the Spanish is any indication, it is worthy of wide acceptation.
The first fifteen days of August the Orthodox Church dedicates to Mary, the Mother of God. There is a fast, the Dormition fast, that lasts from the first of the month to the fifteenth, which is the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God. Even though the fast is not as extended or as severe as Great Lent, it is a beautiful and restful season in the time of the Church, and it comes at a time when there isn’t much else going on in the secular calendar. Summer is winding down to a conclusion, and schoolchildren are preparing to return to their studies, so there is little to distract from the precious person of the Mother of God.
As a former Protestant, and especially as a former Calvinist, it hasn’t been easy for me to appreciate or properly honor Jesus’ mother, from whom He acquired our nature and united it to His Divine nature. There is always the memory of the bearded jealous fiend who rent Jesus on the cross to satisfy his inflated sense of honor, and who, having by creating created an ontological abyss even He cannot bridge, flies into paroxysms of rage if one iota of that honor is appropriated by another. Nevertheless, most of this disappeared like a morning fog at midday when I began to learn something of the Orthodox tradition of the Mother of God, who in her own person recapitulated Israel and became the tabernacle of God, the dwelling place of His glory.
The story that convinced me was the beautiful story of when St Joachim and St Anna took her to the Temple when she was three years old. The Protoevangelium of James reports that “he [St. Joachim her father, I imagine] made her to sit upon the third step of the altar. And the Lord put grace upon her and she danced with her feet and all the house of Israel loved her.” Upon reading that, the image of a tiny dark-haired girl dancing for joy before a row of solemn, bearded priests lept unbidden to my mind and I too loved her. I loved not the concept of the Mother of God, which title really speaks more about Her great Son, but I loved her, the tiny joy-filled girl she was, the obedient mother she became, the church matron beyond and behind all church matrons for whom she served as the first and greatest; the archtype of all the yiayias, matushkas, abuelitas, and grannies who pray so ardently for the salvation of their children and grandchildren.
So, enjoy the Lady Days, as I have come to call them for myself. Give your hearts and your stomachs a rest, and rejoice in her whose obedience reversed the disobedience of Eve, whose candor brought to completion the deception of Tamar, whose perseverance crowned the loyalty and patience of Ruth.
Thou who art truly the Mother of God, we magnify you