Both the Circular Ruins and An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain play with the idea of our perception of reality. They are similar stories in that they both deal with the creation of a character. The interconnectedness of the two stories remind the reader of the importance of imagination and the fickle nature of our perception of reality.
Jorge Borges asserts that one’s perception of reality could be an elaborate illusion. One’s consciousness could just be another being’s imagination. He is not the first person to allude to this idea. Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass makes this argument when Tweedledee tells Alice that by waking the Red King she would end her life in a sense. Supposedly Alice is just a character in the King’s dream and imagination. Alice is effectively a figment of another creature’s imagination and yet she is entirely unaware of her connection to this person. The Circular Ruins is a story built around this concept. At the end of the story the Sorcerer, “with relief, with humiliation and terror, understood that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him “(100). Borges states that The Circular Ruins is based largely if not entirely on Herbert Quain’s fictional collection of stories Statements. In his review of this fictional piece he writes that the reader is “blinded by vanity” and that he is convinced that “he himself has come up with [his son]” (111). The Sorcerer is stunned to learn that his existence is merely the extension of another being’s existence. He believed it he was he that was creating the man. He thought of the man as so perfect and educated that he remained ‘blind’ to the fact that he was in fact much like his own creation. Just like as his creation discovers its true nature he too discovers that he is really just an idea in the mind of another.
Herbert Quain is Borges fictional creation and he crafts him in a similar way that the Sorceror crafts his son. He gives him a definite personality through his writing. He praises his writing ability highly and compliments him on his own modesty. The ironic part is that the story which he claims this fictional writer wrote mimics his own creation of Herbert Quain. Borges is stating that he created Quain from his own imagination, yet he may just as easily be the fake character in the real Herbert Quain’s fictional story. Borges is trying to illustrate the concept of perception’s fragility with fiction and fantasy. According to Borges there is one goal of the author and that is to exercise a reader’s imagination: “Of the many kinds of pleasure literature can minister, the highest is the pleasure of the imagination” (111). The idea of fantasy and the imagination are important to both Borges and Herbert Quain. Borges states that the best work Quain ever did was a fantasy story. In the fantastical story The Circular Ruins the boy that is created through imagination is said to be perfect because he is a fantasy. When the sorcerer tried making a boy with a model he failed to keep his heart beating. Finally he had to craft his son, “with painstaking love, for fourteen brilliant nights. Each night he perceived it with greater clarity, greater certainty. He did not touch it: he only witnessed it, observed it, corrected it, perhaps, with his eyes” (98). In much the same way Borges values the imaginary Quain as a writer.
By making himself much like the sorcerer in his own story Borges makes the fantastical elements of that story more palpable. We are able to see an actual person creating another in our own physical world. In this way the theme of the story becomes more apparent and believable. We are questioning the tangible nature of Borges the man rather than the sorcerer the character. We are also reminded of the importance of imagination as this opens our minds to this kind of thought.