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A Brief Introduction of The Garden of Forking Paths by Argentine and Jorge Luis Borges


The Garden of Forking Paths, written by Argentine and Jorge Luis Borges in 1941 is a short story which is the title story in the collection ‘El jardin de senderos que se bifurca’ which published in 1941. It is one of the first works of Borges that was translated into English language by Anthony Boucher after its appearance in August 1948 in ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’. The theme of the story has foreshadowed the interpretation of many worlds of quantum mechanics. The Garden of Forking Path is said to be inspired by Olaf Stapledon, the science fiction author and philosopher (Blanchard, Fröhlich and Schubnel 2016).

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Story of The Garden of Forking Paths


With the beginning of the story we see that Doctor Yu Tsun, a Chinese professor who taught English and resided in the United Kingdom during the World War I is also a spy for Abetilung IIIB, which is the military intelligence service of Imperial Germany. An M15 agent, Captain Richard Madden is supposedly pursuing Doctor Tsun. Doctor Tsun has realized that the M15 agent entered Viktor Runeberg, Doctor Tsun’s handler and had either captured or killed him. Being certain that he would be arrested soon, Doctor Tsun wants to convey the information to Berlin before his capture. To do so Doctor Tsun prepares a plan (Borges 1962).


Doctor Tsun was a spy not for Germany’s sake. He considered Germany to be a barbarous country. The intelligence chief of Germany, Lieutenant Colonet Walter Nicolai was of the opinion that people of China are racially inferior. This statement made by the intelligence chief motivated Doctor Tsun which made him more determined than any other White Spy to obtain information that was needed by Nicolai to save the live of German soldiers. It was suspcected by Doctor Tsun that an Irish catholic, Captain Madden who was employed by the British empire was also motivated in a similar manner (Borges 1962).


Along with his few possessions, Doctor Tsun boards a train to the Ashgrove village. He finds Captain Madden too at the railway station, but avoids him and reaches the house of Doctor Stephen Albert. Stephen Albert. Was a sinologist. Upon reaching the house of Doctor Albert, Doctor Tsun reflects upon his ancestor, Tsui Pen. Tsui Pen was a famous and a learned civil servant who gave up his post as the Yunnan province’s governor. He did so in order to be able to perform tasks of writing an intricate and a vast novel and to intricate and contrast a similarly vast labyrinth where men would lose their way. Before Tsui Pen could complete his novel, he was murdered. His drafts were not comprehended by the readers and the existence of the labyrinth was never discovered (Borges 1962).


After arrival of Doctor Tsun at Doctor Albert’s house it was revealed to Doctor Tsun that Doctor Albert was himself involved in translating Tsui Pen’s novel. Doctor Albert claimed that he was able to solve the mysteries associated with both the book as well as the labyrinth. He revealed to Doctor Tsun that the solution to the jumbled and chaotic unfinished novel of Tsui Pen and his lost labyrinth was that they were not two entities but the same, meaning that the novel was itself the labyrinth (Borges 1962).


Doctor Albert based his work on the construction of an infinite labyrinth and on a letter that where Tsui Pen had himself stated that “I leave to several futures (not to all) my garden of forking paths”. It was from this statement that Doctor Albert realized that the novel was the garden of forking paths’ and that forking occurs in time than in space. Normally in fiction novels the an alternative is chosen by the character at the point of decision and all other alternatives are eliminated. However, in the novel of Tsui Pen all events that could possibly occur do occur at the same time and each event results in other possibilities. Albert has further explained in the story that paths that diverged constantly could also converge however, the result would be due to a different cause. In the story Doctor Albert mentions that many timelines can exist where results differ such as in one timeline Doctor Tsun could come to his house as a friend whereas in the other he could approach as an enemy (Borges 1962).


The revelation made by Doctor Albert made Doctor Tsun tremble at the genius of his ancestor. When Doctor Tsun glanced up, he noticed that Captain Madden was rushing towards the door. Since time was less, Doctor Tsun asked to look at the letter of Tsui Pen and when Doctor Albert turned to get it, Doctor Tsun used a revolver to murder Dcotor Albert cold bloodedly (Borges 1962).



The story ends with Doctor Tsun being arrested for first- degree murder and was sentenced to death. However, Doctor Tsun was content because he had revealed the location of the artillery park to Nicolai. During the trial of Tsun, the artillery park was bombed by the Imperial German Air Service. The artillery park was located in Albert. It was known to Doctor Tsun that the only way by which he could have been able to pass the information to Berlin was if her murdered a person of the same name (Doctor Albert) which would then make it to the news and Nicolai could then have linked the information with the victim’s name (Borges 1962).



In the story, The Garden of Forking Paths the forking paths of the garden themselves are a metaphor for the diverging narratives of the novel of Tsui Pen. It is in itself an allegory of time. This story is highly intelligent and comprises of a lot of postmodern twists. It switches effectively between fiction and reality, thereby producing a magical realm through the hints and the circumstances that are weaved into the story. A connection was formed in the story between clues that were unrelated through a different time concept. This story has therefore been styled as ‘magical realism’. The main theme of this story was time and the various possibilities that are offered by time (Liang et al. 2020).

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