Blue Tigers

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"Blue Tigers"
Author Jorge Luis Borges
Original title "Tigres azules"
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) Fantasy, short story
Published in Rosa y Azul
Publication date 1977

"Blue Tigers" (Spanish: Tigres azules) is a short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It was first published in the book Rosa y Azul, in 1977. In 1983, it was collected in the book Shakespeare's Memory.

Plot[edit]

The narrator of the story, Alexander Craigie, is a professor of logic who teaches at the University of Lahore in India, although he himself is of Scottish descent. He states that, since childhood, he has been fascinated by tigers, and when he hears of reports that a brilliantly colored blue tiger has been seen in the Ganges delta, he sets out to investigate.

The narrator arrives at a village in rural India where the reports seem to have originated. The village elders are at first suspicious of his presence, but when he explains that the purpose of his visit is to capture the blue tiger, they are relieved. That night, he is awakened by the villagers who claim to have spotted the tiger, but when they take him to the scene, it is gone. After this happens several nights in a row, the narrator realizes that the people of the village are inventing these stories of sightings for his benefit, and begins to wonder if the tiger even exists. He begins to sense that these people have some other secret which they are keeping from him.

One afternoon, the narrator suggests exploring the jungle-clad hill at whose foot the village is built. The villagers, in consternation, exclaim that the hill is sacred and terrible things will happen to anyone who sets foot on it. Craigie does not argue, but late that night, he leaves his hut and goes to climb the hill for himself.

By the time he reaches the summit of the hill, it is close to dawn, and although the sky is beginning to brighten, not a single bird is singing. Although by this point he doubts whether the blue tiger exists, he instinctively looks down at the ground for tracks.

In a crevice in the ground, he catches sight of a color: a brilliant blue color, the same one as the tiger of his dreams. Amazed, he looks more closely and finds that it is filled with small stones, all alike, so smooth and circular they seem more like buttons or coins than something natural. He puts a handful of the stones in his pocket and returns to the village.

Back in his hut the next morning, the narrator takes the stones out of his pocket, only to find that there are between thirty and forty of them, far more than he picked up initially. He piles them up on the table and tries to count them, but finds to his astonishment that this is impossible. The disks seem to multiply, so that when he tries to separate one from all the rest, it becomes many. No matter how many times he repeats this experiment, the "obscene miracle" keeps recurring; and finding himself seized by a sort of terror, he scoops them all up at once and throws them out the window, somehow realizing in the process that their number has dwindled again.

The villagers soon discover the stones, of whose existence they were aware (they call them "the stones that spawn"), and realize where Craigie has been. Some of them are superstitiously terrified, but others are curious, and for a time he shows them off, demonstrating how their numbers mysteriously multiply and dwindle. Soon, however, he too feels a sort of revulsion and ceases the demonstration, returning to his hut. The more time passes, the more he becomes obsessed, consumed with what he describes as the monstrousness of these stones that cannot be counted. He begins to wish that he was mad, since he feels that would be preferable to the discovery that the universe itself can tolerate this sort of irrationality.

Becoming fearful that the villagers may try to murder him for having profaned their secret, Craigie returns to Lahore, but finds no relief from his growing obsession with the blue stones, which begin to haunt his dreams as well as his days. He performs experiments that involve marking the stones by cutting holes or lines in them; the marked stones vanish when the quantity changes, sometimes reappearing later, sometimes disappearing forever. He performs countless experiments, dividing the stones into groups and trying to determine some pattern in the way their numbers vary, but his efforts are fruitless; there is no order to them that he can determine.

After a month he abandons his efforts, and during a sleepless night and dawn he walks through the gates of a mosque. Not knowing why, he dips his hands in the fountain and prays to be freed from his burden. He hears no footsteps, but suddenly a beggar is there, a blind man who asks for alms. Craigie says that he has no coins, but the beggar insists that he has many. Understanding, Craigie gives him the stones, and the beggar says that he will give him a gift in return: "You may keep your days and nights, and keep wisdom, habits, the world."

As silently as he appeared, the beggar vanishes into the dawn, taking the stones with him.

Themes[edit]

The story reiterates themes found elsewhere in Borges's writings. In particular, "The Zahir", "The Book of Sand", and "The Library of Babel" similarly deal with revulsion in the face of contemplating the infinite.