Twelve Pilgrim Tales: Summary, Analysis, Plot, And More

As the name Twelve Pilgrim’s Tales suggests, these are 12 stories written by Gabriel García Márquez, which he developed over a period of eighteen years, as he stopped writing and then started again, read more below.

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Plot of Twelve Pilgrim Tales

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This book is a collection of 12 short stories. Sometimes they are stories lived or told as such, sometimes they are nostalgic stories. They are stories of unforeseen events, of those small moments which, however harmless they may seem, leave their mark on the person who suffers them.

The term “Twelve Tales” refers to the fact that these 12 stories are related to fairy tales, because in most of them there is a bit of unusual magic, even supernatural. This technique is part of García Márquez’s style, which has often been described as magical realism. When we talk about The Publisher of Twelve Pilgrim Tales, it is a little complicated to mention just one, because it depends on the year of publication and the country in which the novel was published.

The term “pilgrim” refers to the fact that each of the stories is set in a different European city, including Geneva, Rome, Barcelona and Paris. Love in the Time of Cholera is also a story by Gabriel García Márquez, get to know it. I leave you with a video of one of the twelve pilgrim stories, do not miss it.

These stories are happy, sad and strange. The Twelve Pilgrim Stories also give us an insight into Márquez’s style, through the time he spent in Europe and through the author’s rich imagination. Written over a period of some 18 years, they were finally published in 1992, revised several times and based on notes taken by the author during his stays in various European cities.

A curious fact about these stories is that the date at the end of each one is the date on which the author began writing it. If we talk about the common features of the Twelve Pilgrims’ Tales, we find that the hero of the story is often a character who comes from Colombia and travels to Europe, usually over several years of the narrator’s life.

Characters of the Twelve Pilgrim Tales

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If there is one theme that links the Twelve Pilgrim Stories, it is the fact that they all seem to have a Latin American protagonist who, for one reason or another, travels to Europe. Each of the stories touches on the theme of dislocation and the strangeness of living in a foreign land, although the meaning of “foreign” is one of García Márquez’s central questions in this book.

In other words, the protagonists of the Twelve Pilgrim Tales are all Latin Americans living abroad, but they fall prey to the same demons, natural and supernatural, that tormented them at home. In Twelve Pilgrim Tales we meet a beautiful young woman who spends a night on a plane without once speaking to her neighbour, a fallen president who gets a taste of life and power.

There is also the character of a woman who will lose all her blood after being stung by a rose at her wedding, a woman who will be locked up in an asylum while looking for a phone to call after her car breaks down. She knows Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a book also written by this author.

In addition, the political tyrants and careless bureaucrats of Latin America take their place alongside apparitions, spectres and ghosts in this strange world set in Europe, where everything is larger than life and there is no real distinction between the real and the magical. In this book, García Márquez shows his Latin American characters doing their best to survive on European soil.

Summary of Twelve Stories of a Pilgrim

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In Doce Cuentos Peregrinos, Márquez tells the stories of a number of ordinary Latin Americans travelling through Europe, most of the time transforming his characters into strange creatures. Here, in this extract from the article, is a summary of some of the stories in Twelve Pilgrims’ Tales.

The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow

The main themes of this story are death, exile, strange events and crises. This story in the Twelve Pilgrim Tales represents the opposite end of the social spectrum. Billy Sánchez, the spoiled son of a wealthy Colombian, is on his honeymoon in Europe with his girlfriend, Nena Daconte, when the young woman inexplicably pricks herself with a thorn and bleeds to death.

When the injury first occurs, Billy is too self-absorbed to pay much attention, but he eventually realises that something is very wrong and drops his young wife off at a Paris hospital. I invite you to discover the book Diles que no me maten by Juan Rulfo, I am sure you will like it.

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Far from his own world, where the extraordinary and irrational are commonplace, but where he feels perfectly in control, Billy is now immersed in the absurdities of the highly rational. (For example, Parisians park on the side of the street with the even numbered houses on even days and on the other side on odd days, and hospital visits are only allowed on Tuesdays).

Billy is so confused and disoriented when Nena dies that he wanders around Paris in a daze while doctors, ambassadors, authorities and relatives try to locate him. Billy’s search for direction is a step towards maturity. But Billy is more than an individual; he is an archetype of the rich, the Latin for upper class.

Billy missed the one significant event in his life because he was out of touch, just as the class he represents misses changes in society because it is out of touch with ordinary people and the things that really matter.

Sleeping Beauty’s aeroplane

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In the Twelve Tales of the Pilgrims, The Plane of Sleeping Beauty, we find that the main themes are strange creatures and the shame of language. Not all of these stories have such obvious political or sociological connotations. Many capture the magic of everyday life: the charm of summer, the mystery of a suggestive look, the beauty of a sleeping woman.

In “El Avion De La Bella Durmiente”, a Latin traveller is captivated by an exquisite and indefinable young woman who could be as Indonesian as she is Andean. The flight is delayed by a snowstorm, and after spending hours in the lounge gazing at the beauty, the traveller is delighted to discover, when the passengers finally board, that he is sitting next to her. Listen to the audio book of this play in the video below and don’t miss it.

But just as she settles in, the young woman takes two golden pills and falls into a deep sleep, from which she does not awaken until the plane lands. Foiled in his plans, the traveller resigns himself to looking after her and pondering her enigmatic charm. Platero y Yo is a beautiful story that you are sure to enjoy.

Seventeen poisoned Englishmen

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The main themes of this story are death, old age and strange events. García Márquez’s penchant for the grotesque is evident in “Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen”. Prudencia Linero arrives in Naples on a ship full of Italian-born Argentines returning to their homeland for a visit.

On her way to Rome to see the Pope, Mrs Linero encounters a gruesome sight when she arrives on Italian soil: a smartly dressed corpse floating face up in the water, a sight commented on with chilling indifference by one of the ship’s officers. Much of the humour of the story comes from García Márquez’s juxtaposition of extremes, such as the satisfaction on the corpse’s face and the splendour of its attire with the fact that it is dead, floating cold and abandoned in the sea.

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The jubilation of the relatives awaiting the arrival of their loved ones with the stench of rotting crabs; the extreme religious devotion of Mrs Linero with the utter cynicism of the ship’s officers. Although Mrs Linero’s eldest son had arranged for her to be received by the consul, she is abandoned in the port, as one of the sailors informs her, and even God goes on holiday in August. She goes to a small hotel, the lift stops on a floor where seventeen English tourists are sitting in armchairs.

They are sitting in symmetrical order, as if they were one man repeated many times in a hall of mirrors. Mrs Linero is embarrassed and asks to be moved to another floor. While she waits for the opportunity to leave for Rome, the omens accumulate and the carnivalesque atmosphere outside her window intensifies. Finally, he is mortified again to see the seventeen Englishmen, only this time they are dead, poisoned by the oyster soup they were served for dinner.

Mrs Forbes’ happy summer

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In The Happy Summer of Mrs. Forbes, two Colombian children spend an enchanted summer in Sicily, where the folk tales and superstitions of the locals fire their imaginations and fill their heads with mischief. Their freedom comes to an end, however, when a strict German nanny named Miss Forbes arrives to supervise their activities. Obsessive and militaristic, Miss Forbes strives to turn every experience into a lesson.

But beneath her tough exterior lies a passionate nature that the boys never suspect. Eventually they discover that she has been carrying on a torrid love affair all along. Another excellent story written by this author is The Colonel Has No One to Write To, I invite you to read it.

Bon Voyage, Mr President

In this story, found in the Twelve Pilgrim Tales, Good Journey, Mr President, in its summary we find strange creatures, exile, death, illness, old age, the corruption of Latin American rulers contrasted with the good heart of the poor as the main themes. In “Buen Viaje, Señor Presidente”, Homero and Lazara, a poor Caribbean couple living in Switzerland, befriend a sick political patient from their country who is in Geneva for medical treatment.

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Homer is an ambulance driver at the hospital where the ailing ousted president is receiving medical treatment. He has made an arrangement with a funeral parlour that offers its services to the terminally ill, and plans to sell him a complete package, including embalming and repatriation. However, it soon transpires that the president is not only short-lived, but also very poor.

Homer easily succumbs to the President’s charisma and finesse, but his hard-nosed, practical wife is sceptical. If you want to listen to the play on audio, watch the video below; if you don’t have time to read the story, this is an excellent option.

Lazara is a Yoruba princess of Puerto Rican descent with a strong belief in the stars. She has a mysterious vision at a dinner the couple are hosting for the President. In the vision, Lazara sees the politician despise her for her power. But she has a good heart and knows that the old man’s days are numbered. In the end, she nurses the president through his illness, even using his meagre savings to meet his needs.

Finally, when the President’s death seems imminent, they arrange for him to make one last trip home. The irony is that instead of dying, the president recovers enough to try to return to politics, crediting his life-saving stay in Geneva with giving him a chance at a second life.

Story I rent to dream

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In twelve pilgrim tales, I rent myself to dream, the main themes are death, but also strange beings and exile. Soothsayers, oracles, clairvoyants and mystics abound in García Márquez’s writings. In “Me Alquilo Para Soñar”, Frau Frieda is a Colombian woman raised in Austria whose ability to predict the future through dreams is her most marketable skill.

During the Second World War, she earns her living by dreaming at night about her employer’s family and determining the daily activities of its members according to her findings. After the war, he has other jobs where his only duty is to dream. The charm of the story lies in the absolute naturalness with which Frieda and all the others accept their gift, and in Frieda’s combination of financial toughness and psychic powers in this tale of twelve pilgrims.

I only came to make a phone call

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The bizarre turns grotesque in “Solo Vine A Hablar Por Teléfono”, the eerie story of a young Mexican woman named María de la Luz Cervantes whose car breaks down in the desert on her way to Barcelona. After taking a rickety bus full of women, she makes her way to a gloomy building where she asks to use the phone to call for help. The building turns out to be a hospital for the mentally ill, and once inside, Maria and the other women are taken away by an Amazonian guard who silences them with a blow.

The realism with which García Márquez describes the prison, the guards, the doctors and the young Mexican woman reinforces the nightmarish quality of this story and makes Maria’s endless experiences seem entirely plausible. Sometimes psychics make mistakes. Maria dos Prazeres, the protagonist of the story that bears her name, is another of García Márquez’s earthy, energetic and sensitive women.

Story Light is like water

According to popular belief, children are particularly susceptible to magic, so it is not surprising that several of García Márquez’s stories revolve around young people. In “La luz es como el agua”, two Colombian children living in Madrid ask for a rowboat so that they can row and dive as they did in their native Cartagena. Listen to the audio book of this story below.

As there are no navigable waters nearby, the parents are reluctant at first, but in the end they buy the boat, complete with sextant and compass. The parents assume that the children will keep the gift for when they return home, but the children soon discover that by filling it with electric light they can actually float, because “light is like water”.

The story of August Frights

The main themes of Espantos de Agosto in the book Twelve Pilgrim Tales are strange occurrences, ghosts, apparitions, death and children. While García Márquez’s adult protagonists sometimes strive to be rational, the children are often cheerfully intuitive and open-minded. In “Espantos De Agosto”, a Latin American couple and their children visit a Renaissance castle in Tuscany owned by the Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva. (See: When I want to cry, I don’t cry)


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The couple scoff at the idea that the place is haunted, but their two young children are thrilled at the thought of meeting some real ghosts. According to local legend, Ludovico, a great art teacher and former resident of the castle, stabbed his lover to death in one of the bedrooms, then turned on his dogs and was torn to pieces. After midnight, Ludovico’s ghost wanders the corridors trying to find peace.

When the foreign couple visit the bedroom where Ludovico is said to have committed his crime of passion, the husband is struck by the scent of fresh strawberries that seems to hang in the air. After a sumptuous lunch and dinner, the children perversely suggest that they spend the night in the castle. This story is also the subject of an audio book, which I am sure you will enjoy.

Despite their fears, the adults sleep well. “How foolish,” the father thinks as he wakes up, “to still believe in ghosts in this day and age. But then he is jolted awake by the smell of strawberries and the realisation that they are not in the bedroom on the first floor, where they had retired the night before, but in Ludovico’s room, where the sheets are still soaked with the blood of his lover.

The story of the saint

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Among the main themes in this account of the Twelve Tales of the Pilgrims are magical events, death, the theme of exile, criticism of the Roman Church and the good heart of the poor. In this volume, as in many of his early stories, García Márquez often focuses on the innate goodness of the poor and the cynicism of the elite. Margarito Duarte, the protagonist of “El Santo”, is a native of the Colombian Andes who loses his seven-year-old daughter to a fever.

Miraculously, the body does not decompose and when the girl is exhumed, she is completely light and the coffin still smells of the roses with which she was buried. Convinced that his daughter is a saint, Margarito takes the coffin to Rome, where he spends the rest of his life trying to persuade the Vatican’s bureaucratic censors to consider canonising the girl.

García Márquez draws a sharp contrast between the pious and steadfast Colombian peasant, whose deep faith allows him to accept miracles without question, and the sceptical and dismissive bureaucrats who refuse to listen to him. In the end, the narrator concludes that the saint is really Margarito, whose perseverance, patience and eternal hope make him a model of Christian virtue.

Story of Tramontana

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In the twelve stories of the Tramontana pilgrimage, the main themes are death, strange events and crisis. In “Tramontana”, García Márquez builds up a sense of impending tragedy by repeatedly announcing the arrival of the tramontana, “a harsh and persistent wind” that blows near Barcelona and “carries the seeds of madness”.

The characters in the story are defined by their attitudes towards the tramontana. The loud, vulgar and rationally innocent Swedish tourists scoff at the city’s terror of the wind, while the young Caribbean man who once made his living singing West Indian songs in a trendy bar is paralysed by fear. Having survived the Tramontana once, the young man is convinced that the next time he is caught in it, he will die.

As a Caribbean man who has witnessed raging hurricanes, he knows the power of nature and other forces beyond human control, but the Swedish scientists are determined to cure this man suffering from the power of his African superstition by taking him to Cadaqués, where the storm is about to hit. As is often the case in García Márquez’s novels, faith is stronger than reason. The Tramontana comes to a deadly end, albeit unexpectedly.

Analysis of the Twelve Tales of the Pilgrims

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They are inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s own life as a young man and as an exile in Europe. All the stories are novels about transplanted South Americans or people from the Caribbean. This dislocation brings with it a peculiarly haunting atmosphere of transience and strangeness, of nostalgia and remorse, which pervades even the smallest stories. In addition, the Twelve Tales of the Pilgrims are rich in significant phrases.

They are set in Geneva and Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Naples and Vienna, cosmopolitan cities full of passers-by and tourists, where the characters live in cheap hotels or shabby lodgings and meet their compatriots in bars to discuss and converse. Most of these wonderfully creepy stories revolve around death: two children get their wish when their martinet German governess is murdered; a new bride dies from a severed finger after a long car journey.

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We also meet an ageing prostitute planning her funeral after a prophetic dream. The stories explore the idea that death is the true home. Throughout Twelve Pilgrim Tales, Garcia Marquez presents many images that are beautiful or disturbing, but often unforgettable. “Twelve Pilgrim Tales is a varied collection of surprises from a master storyteller. These 12 stories perfectly define the genre of magical realism.

They combine the storyteller’s natural talent with his highly tuned radar for images that merge the world of reality and the world of dreams. Such strange and hallucinatory scenes in The Twelve Pilgrims will remind the reader of the plague of insomnia and the rain of yellow flowers in 100 Years of Solitude. García Márquez’s great ability to sustain and captivate, together with the unifying theme of exile and the shifting atmosphere of the stranger that characterises this book, make it a fascinating work of magical realism.

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