“Chac Mool” is a tale written by Carlos Fuentes in Mexico in 1954, and is part of the literary movement known as “El Boom Latinamericano”, which is known for works that blur the line between the real and the imaginary.
This story tells the tale of Filiberto through the eyes of his friend, who is tasked with going through Filiberto's possessions since our protagonist is dead. Filiberto's friend pieces together the events that led up to his death by reading through his journal. Filiberto is a lonely man with no family or close friends, but he does collect indigenous objects as a hobby. One day, Filiberto's friend Pepe tells him where he can find a statue of Chac Mool, the Mayan god of rain, and assures him that the statue is legit. Filiberto buys the statue and puts it in the basement of his house, but then immediately starts having problems with the water in his house.
Chacmool; Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
A few days later, the statue starts acting like a human and annoys Filiberto as it gains more human traits. Filiberto's diary starts looking very strange at this point in time, showing the decline in his mental state as the Chac Mool starts to exert more and more power over him. The statue starts ordering Filiberto around and threatens his life if he doesn't follow them. The last line in Filiberto's diary, as read by his friend, says that Filiberto wants to escape.
His journal gets progressively harder to understand through this portion as he claims the statue comes to life and torments him, leading to the odd behavior his friend had been curious about.
The narrator (Filiberto's friend) thinks that Filiberto is crazy, but when he arrives at Filiberto's house, the person who opens the door matches Chac Mool's description.
Carlos Fuentes is a novelist, short story writer, researcher, and essayist. He was educated internationally as a child, accompanying his father, a Mexican diplomat, to many places, and became very interested in cultures as a result. In "Chac Mool", Fuentes deals with two of his most lasting interests: fantasy and myths. 🔮
During El Boom Latinamericano, there were many political, economic, and social events in Latin America that created a sense of instability in the region. Realismo magico emerged as a way for writers to cope with the sad reality around them by imagining an ideal world through their story, full of fantastical and unreal things.
This story is a key example of the use of realismo magico during El Boom Latinamericano—it blurs the line between real and imaginary and plays with the organization of time within the story through its use of circular storytelling.
There are 3 main characters (personajes) in this story—Filiberto (our protagonist), Chac Mool (the antagonist), and Filiberto’s friend (our narrator).
🪦 Filiberto: Our protagonist, who is dead, was a lonely 40-year-old man. He thinks that no one cares about him, and his main interest is in indigenous status and art, and collecting trinkets. He is stable at the beginning of the story when he first purchases the Chac Mool, but over time he starts to go insane as the statue starts to possess him. This is evident as his diary gets harder and harder to read for his friend, signaling Filiberto’s declining mental state.
🗿 Chac Mool: Chac Mool is a representation of the Mayan god of rain, who Filiberto acquires a statue of. He seemed like a regular statue to Filiberto when he first purchased him, but over time began to behave like a human. He started to order Filiberto around, and began to take over Filiberto in order to live in a human body.
🕵️ Filiberto’s Friend: Filiberto’s friend is the one tasked with going through Filiberto’s belongings after his death. While he originally believes that Filiberto dies of natural causes, he begins to think otherwise after coming across Filiberto’s diary and reading about the events that took place near the end of his life. After reading through it, he originally just thinks Filiberto was crazy, but then he goes to Filiberto’s house and encounters a man who looks just like the Chac Mool described in Filiberto’s journal.
🗣️ El Narrador: The story is narrated through Filiberto’s friend, who is tasked with collecting Filiberto’s body and possessions after his death. The story switches from the present to the past as this friend reads through Filiberto’s journal as he attempts to understand what happened. This method of storytelling also makes Filiberto’s story a narrativa epistolar.
🎭 Tono - Dramatico: A dramatic and suspenseful tone is used throughout the story, as the Chac Mool transforms into something unrecognizable and Filiberto is helpless to stop it.
Some literary devices you should be familiar with are:
Realismo magico: This is a genre in which elements of fantasy or myth are blended with everyday reality, creating a surreal or dream-like atmosphere. In "Chac Mool," the statue of the god coming to life and speaking to the protagonist is an example of magic realism.
Stream of consciousness: This technique is used to show the protagonist's inner thoughts and feelings as he experiences the events of the story. This allows the reader to understand the protagonist's psychological state and his connection to his cultural heritage.
Symbolism: The statue of Chac Mool serves as a symbol for Mexican cultural heritage, and the idea that this heritage is still alive and relevant to contemporary society.
Irony: The irony in the story is that the protagonist, who has been searching for meaning and purpose in his life, finds it through his encounter with the statue of Chac Mool, which is a symbol of the ancient culture that he has been trying to reconnect with.
These techniques are used to create a rich and evocative exploration of Mexican identity, cultural heritage, and the search for meaning.
The general theme of transformation is visible as the story progresses: Over the course of time, Filiberto declines mentally as Chac Mool starts to exhibit more human traits and exerts power over Filiberto.
However, it is most evident in Chac Mool’s physical attributes and personality. In the beginning, he exhibited more animistic traits—he would make loud noises at night, show physical anger, and hunt for animals. As he slowly took over Filiberto, he began to exhibit more human traits. He insisted on having his food delivered, rather than hunting for it, and he began to care more about appearance and went through mood swings. In this manner, the spirit of Chac Mool slowly took over Filiberto’s body by the end of the story.
Similarly, Chac Mool is originally described as a stone statue, with red sauce smeared over the belly. However, as the story continues, his physical appearance begins to change, becoming more and more human-like. He loses the stone exterior, and begins to develop the yellow skin of a native and wrinkles on his face. At the very end of the story, when Filiberto’s friend visits Filiberto’s house, the door to the house is opened by a man described as: “A yellow Indian… in a house robe, with a scarf. His appearance couldn’t have been more repulsive; he gave forth an odor of cheap lotion; his face, powdered, trying to cover the wrinkles; he had his lips smeared with badly-applied lipstick, and his hair gave the impression of being dyed“. This description eerily matched that of the original Chac Mool statue, which Filiberto had written about in his diary before his passing.
Many of Carlos Fuentes’ works had underlying themes of Mexican heritage and culture, and this one is no different: The story explores Filiberto’s connection to his country's past, and the influence of indigenous cultures on contemporary Mexican society.
There are many motifs throughout the story that evoke Mexican culture of the past, such as the idea of the ancient gods coming back to life and the relationship between the present and the past. The statue of Chac Mool also serves as a metaphor for Mexico's cultural heritage, and the idea that this heritage is still alive and relevant to contemporary society.
This story blurs the lines between the real and imaginary by telling the tale of a statue come to life through the eyes of a possessed Filiberto. It is part of a larger group of stories written during El Boom Latinamericano, that are products of the instability present in Latin America at the time. The story also had a significant impact on the magic realist genre, as it was one of the first works to use elements of magic realism to explore themes of cultural identity and heritage.