“Hartza Salazar” is a Basque living outside the borders of our country who read, as he tells us, a few days ago, our article about the possible relationship between the works of Tolkien and the Basques. His response was to send us an interesting number of references of the presences of Basques people or things that he’s been finding in different books. Now we’ve asked him to contribute those collaborations with us in an article, and this is the magnificent result.
As we say, it’s an open, incomplete list, perhaps even a little shameless, but it’s a list that’s full of interesting references. He’s asking for the collaboration of our readers, and he’s also committed himself to expanding it.
Kindly requested as a follow-up to “The relationship between Shakespeare, Tolkien, the Hobbit, and Bilbao” by the administrators of this page, this article aims at presenting an starting point for an inventory of modern non-Basque popular works set in the Basque Country or that mention or otherwise discuss the Basque country, the Basque language, Basque people or, at the very least, characters with Basque or Basque sounding names.
This reference list is neither comprehensive nor inviolable, but it’s a work in progress toward someday establishing a more complete picture, and not only a catalogue, of how our country and our culture appears reflected in foreign popular media. It will not mention either some already well-known and discussed cases, like the infamous MacGyver’s episode “Trumbo’s World” (s01e06) or the representation of Basque immigration in American cinema. A list of (Basque and non-Basque) films set in the Basque Country or films that depict Basque people also already exists in IMDb.
In conclusion: this is an ever-evolving project that readers are requested to complete and I will do my best to check back in on every three or four months. All that said, let’s get started… more or less chronologically, with several examples by famous writers:
H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction like «The Call of Cthulhu» and «The Shadow over Innsmouth», both part of the Cthulhu Mythos, also wrote a story, «The Very Old Folk» (1927), where the protagonist is a Roman military official in the Basque country near Pompelo (Iruñea). The countryside is, every year, ravaged by terrible hill people who kidnap citizens and perform cruel rituals at a Sabbath. The narrator wishes to lead a military expedition to crush these hill folk, as a feeling of approaching evil has enveloped the countryside, due to a riot between the citizens and the hill people. The incursion is guided by a local-born son of Roman parents and, as the Romans approach the seat of the Sabbath rituals, horrible things come to pass.
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), another American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres and is well known for his character Conan the Barbarian – as well as regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre, didn´t neglect mentioning Basques either. By 1930, Howard had begun his voluminous correspondence with Lovecraft and very early on the conversation turned to the racial makeup of the Neolithic Europeans and their relationship to the “Little People” stories, sounding much like the exchanges of the proponents of racist anthropological theory from the previous century. Lovecraft agreed that the pre-Celtic people of Europe whose modern descendants survived as Lapps, Basques, and Picts were Mediterranean. He argued, however, that they were preceded by a diminutive and malevolent Turanian/Mongoloid race and that it was the latter that gave rise to the tales of fairies, dwarves, and elves, not the former.
In one of the stories where Howard treated the subject of the “Little People” and their never-ending conflict with humanity in general and the pre-Celtic peoples in particular, “Worms of the Earth”, the protagonist, Bran Mak Morn, a Pict prince, broods about
“… only in Caledonia had his people resisted the flood of Aryan conquest. He had heard of a Pictish people called Basques, who in the crags of the Pyrenees called themselves an unconquered race… “
John Holbrook «Jack» Vance (1916-2013) was another American mystery, fantasy, and science fiction writer. In his Lyonesse trilogy of fantasy novels he describes the mythical Elder Isles west of France and southwest of the British Isles, a generation or two before the birth of King Arthur. When discussing how they were populated, he refers to
“… pre-glacial folk with identities lost to history; what indigenes they discovered can only be a matter of speculation. Later came Kornutians, Bythinians, a remarkable folk known as the Golden Khaz, and presently contingents of Escquahar (precursors elsewhere to the Basques, the Berbers of Morocco, the Guanches of the Canary Islands, and the Blue Men of Mauretania.”
Rodney William Whitaker (1931-2005) was an American film scholar and writer who wrote several successful novels under the pen name Trevanian. He lived for some years in the countryside of the Pays Basque (Iparralde). At least two of his novels, Shibumi (1979) and The Summer of Katya (1983) take place in that setting and borrow heavily names, places and situations from Basque history and culture. In the Spanish version of Shibumi, the translator, more acquainted with English that with the Basque language or tradition, didn´t fail to translate “the Zazpiak-Bat cave” as “the cave of the bat Zazpiak” (la Cueva del murciélago Zazpiak), something that speaks volumes about the degree of knowledge about Basque culture in Spain.
Harry Turtledove (1949) is an American novelist, best known for his work in the genres of alternate history and historical fiction. In his trilogy Atlantis describes a world where the American eastern coast from the tip of Florida to Nova Scotia breaks away from the mainland around 85 million years ago and has an island biota similar to New Zealand’s. It was discovered in 1452 by Breton fishermen, but Basque fishermen, sailing “under the flag of the tree”, have established the settlement of Gernika in the extreme south of the continent in the 1460s and were the first Europeans to visit Terranova.
Another of his novels, In High Places (2006) takes place in an alternate history where Ancient Rome lost the Samnite Wars and never created an empire – and where, therefore, the Latin language and its derivatives were never introduced to the Iberian Peninsula – much of that peninsula’s interior was inhabited by speakers of a language similar to Basque, while around the coasts lived Semitic-speaking peoples descended from Carthaginian settlers.
Yet another American science fiction writer, Kim Stanley Robinson (1952) in yet another trilogy, his famous Mars series, explains how the example of the Mondragon cooperatives is paramount for the Martian colonists when establishing their economic system.
Stephen Baxter (1957) is a British science fiction author, who in his Northland Trilogy about a Doggerland never submerged under the North Sea waves, has chosen “Etxelur” (Earth home) to name that territory.
In the novels about The Expanse by James S.A. Corey, the pen name used by collaborators Daniel Abraham (1969) and Ty Franck (1969), there appears a minor character, a reckless space pilot ironically named Bizi Betiko (Basque for “live forever”). He is quite speedily dispatched when trying «to hit a bull’s-eye smaller than a mosquito’s asshole» with his racing spaceship.
To conclude for today, Eneko Itziar has mentioned two further examples: the American R.A. Salvatore (1959), author of The Dark Elf among many other stories, and creator of the world of Kingdoms of Amalur (Basque for Earth mother); and Andrzej Sapkowski (1948) the Polish fantasy writer creator of The Witcher, one of whose minor characters uses the very Basque sounding family name of Dorregaray.