The War of the End of the World

Vargas Llosa, Mario

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

  • Date of entry: Dec-30-1996


A man called "The Counselor" is wandering the deserts, plains, and villages. He teaches scripture and rebuilds churches, like a monk, eating and sleeping very little. He attracts an odd group of followers--cripples, murderers, fanatical boys--and leads them to Canudos where they build a town and a glorious cathedral. The town is designed in imitation of Jerusalem. Many people flock to the site to see The Counselor; he heals them with a touch and washes them clean of sin.

The newly-installed conservative government is suspicious of Canudos, seeing it as a bastion of progressive sentiment. They resolve to attack the town and wipe it out. The Counselor, however, has long warned his followers that the Dog and his forces of evil will try to ruin their sanctuary.

When the small branch of the army sent to destroy what they think is a band of cripples and madmen arrives, they are slaughtered with all the vengeance of a holy war. The angered government sends a larger force and the town is eventually destroyed, but the few survivors insist that they saw The Counselor ascend to heaven, and so his reign lives on.


The novel’s focus is the distinction between fact and fiction, history and narrative. This is true most apparently because the novelist employs the tropes most customarily associated with historical novels--novels that at least claim to have some relation to real historical events. Dates are noted and an objective, journalistic tone sometimes dominates the narrative. Nevertheless, it is clear that most of the details of the novel are pure fiction.

Characters also discuss the nature of fact. Canudos is called "a tree of stories," it is built of words and faith. Nevertheless, it is as real as any less prosaic town. It remains unclear whether The Counselor is truly (factually) a prophet or a madman and by the end of the novel it doesn’t seem to matter what the truth of the situation is. What matters is what people say and believe. In these ways, the novel challenges a common-sense notion that facts are what matter. In this story, culture, beliefs, or pre-suppositions clearly have more relevance than truth.


Translated by Helen R. Lane.



Place Published

New York