The Palace of Wonders

A Borgesian fable about the Caliph and the Koran.
2011-05-232019-02-24 finished certainty: fiction importance: 0

Like , “The Palace of Won­ders” is both a short story and part of a larger sto­ry, . “Acre” was based on a visual dream loosely inspired by a LeGuin sto­ry, but “Won­ders” instead stemmed from a mis­re­mem­ber­ing of lines in sto­ry, .

In the year 454 after the Hegira of the Prophet Muham­mad (peace be upon him), the Blessed Calif Rashid-ad-D­in, Lion of the Faith­ful, Com­man­der of the Guardians of the Flock, Pro­tec­tor of the Down­trod­den, Expeller of Djinns, Expos­i­tor of the Dhar­ma, Vicar of God and hum­ble ser­vant of Allah, whose glory he reflects like the Moon the Sun in the sky above:

Com­mis­sioned the schol­ars of renown, the sages of wis­dom, the fakirs of faith, the ulama of rec­ti­tude, to:

Cat­a­logue all the forms of the Cre­at­ed.

This endeav­our was sug­gested to his Awe­some­ness by his Exalted Wor­thi­ness the Vizier. This Vizier whis­pered in the ear of the Caliph, whis­pered that Alla in the full­ness of time had writ­ten two books:

“The first Book was the Mother of the Lumi­nous Koran, which resides in Heaven and glimpses of which were vouch­safed to the Prophet when he was com­manded by the Angel Gabriel ‘Recite!’”

“The sec­ond Book was the Book which lays unfolded all about; it was the Book of Cre­ation. Just as Omar gained immor­tal­ity and the eter­nal praise of the Faith­ful by col­lect­ing and bind­ing the palm leaves of the one Book of the Holy Inerrant Quran, how much more so could a too mor­tal Kalif sim­i­larly gain merit by com­pil­ing all the Earth? A blessed mis­sion—Was it not writ­ten ‘Surely We revealed the Reminder and We will most surely be its guardian.’”

And it was done thus, and thus­ly:

Entre­pid schol­ars were despatched to the Four Cor­ners, traders received rich rewards and were bribed with bulging bags of bahts to pro­cure and bring forth curiosi­ties, and extrav­a­gant mer­cies, immu­ni­ties & rewards tempted those with unique arti­facts and ani­mals to exhibit them to the scribes and so the ten thou­sand under the heav­ens were all gath­ered in the House of Wis­dom.

But one ill-s­tarred day a trav­eler approached out of the moun­tains to the East and sought admis­sion to the pres­ence of the Emir and his scribes. Brought before them and abjured to dis­play his pos­ses­sion, he bowed deeply and saith: “I have heard it said that you seek to encap­su­late all which Allāh hath made. This shows many things; per­haps it will show you the error of your ways.”

Bow­ing his shaved head, he placed a large & per­fectly round clear glass down onto the mar­ble and left, the scribes in con­ster­na­tion. Look how it shifts, faster even than a man’s heart or quick­sil­ver! said one. Now it shows the ceil­ing, now the throne, now me! Spoke anoth­er. What shall it be listed as? It is a Khal­if, a Noble, a rose, a zahir. Their lead­er, a snowy-haired man approached the Throne.

“It is clear to me that this abom­i­na­tion must be destroyed, that it vio­lates not only the Qur’an (did not Al-ʾilāh say ‘Thou shalt not make graven images’? And is it not writ­ten that He shall judge the arti­fi­cers, com­mand­ing them to give life to their mock­eries of the liv­ing, and fail­ing, they shall abide with the flame?) but also all san­i­ty, for some­thing which will be any­thing must per­force become every­thing, and how could we exist apart from what is every­thing? It must be destroyed!”

And so it was done.

The coda to this is not known, for it was in those days that the Turks (or the Hsni­ung-nu, as the Chi­nese knew them), under the cap­taincy of the dire Tam­bur the Lame fell upon the world of light and Faith, in a holo­caust never to be equaled until al-Lāh him­self should stretch forth His arm on Judg­ment Day.

But there are texts, pos­si­bly apoc­ryphal. The first end­ing holds that the monk actu­ally left two mir­rors. The Caliphe idly opposed them and was dri­ven mad by his brief glimpse into the mind of the Most Mer­ci­ful. And in the oth­er, per­haps as recorded by the Soofees, he real­izes the futil­ity of his reign and his project and his books, and as the hoof beats echo in the dis­tance, despair­ingly cries:

“Words! The Word of God!”