(8/4/04 3:17 pm)
I'm looking for some help with this. A writer on another board wanted to know "how to tell" when something moves away from "pure" fantasy into magical realism. Well, this is something I *feel,* but can't really explain. I can come up with half a dozen examples of magical realism, but I'm not sure precisely how to quantify the elements that make them MR and not just fantasy-set-in-the-"real"-world.
Anyone want to take a stab at it?
(8/4/04 6:26 pm)
Re: Magical Realism|
My feeling is that magical realism is almost a style of writing
rather than its own genre. A main difference I find is that in "urban
fantasy" or "mythic fiction," fantastical elements are seen as just
that -- something fantastical and out of the ordinary, that catalyzes
a change in perception or causes some kind of revelation. I think
in particular of Charles
de Lint's Newford stories, or any other non-otherworld books
-- I'd class the latter as firmly fantasy -- where characters are
surprised to find faeries behind trash cans or people who can turn
On the other hand, I'd consider Alice Hoffman and Gina B. Nahai
to be writers of magical realism. Thinking of "Practical
Magic" and "Green
Angel" on the one hand, and "Moonlight
on the Avenue of Faith" on the other, I find that the fantastical
qualities are woven into the narrative style, and almost taken for
granted by the characters, who live lives in the real world with
a differently slanted perception. For instance, in "Moonlight
on the Avenue of Faith," a girl goes to sleep and dreams of
flying; she wakes surrounded by feathers. The feathers aren't what
disturb her family; it's the fact that she dreamt of flying, which
marks her as the cursed girl of her generation.
Am I making sense yet? It's a pretty narrow example, and doesn't quite convey what I mean -- I fully agree that it's a complex question -- but I hope this somewhat helps.
(8/4/04 10:29 pm)
Magical realism-- Marquez's take?|
Amal, I haven't read either of the two authors you mention, but I think you're right. I haven't read a great deal of magical realism, but it seems that the magic is more a means to explore a certain facet of human behavior than a point in itself of interest and reaction.
In one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short stories, "An
Old Man with Enormous Wings," no one is particularly interested
in the implications of what an old man is doing with wings--because
they're so shortsighted that they can only see his commercial value.
The people whose yard he lands in exploit him as a tourist attraction,
and the tourists who come to see him are just as callow. He is,
in a way a catalyst, but he doesn't change the people who see him
so much as allow them to expose themselves as shallow, almost tragically
It's been awhile since I read Marquez's story, but I think a lot of his stories use fantastic elements to make some sort of social commentary. I don't know how applicable that is to magical realism in general-- just a thought!
(8/5/04 9:29 am)
Re: Magical realism-- Marquez's take?|
Oh, by all means read Alice Hoffman! Those two titles I mentioned
are my favourites. Even if you've seen the film
based on "Practical
Magic," (with Sandra
Bullock and Nicole Kidman) by all means read it anyway! It's
very different, much as I loved the movie's cute comfiness. Also,
all the author's proceeds from "Green Angel" go to a post 9/11 New
York women's fund. It's a beautiful, fable-like read.
I've only read Nahai's "Moonlight
on the Avenue of Faith," but I recommend it for the genius of
her style, and the author's ability to sketch deep and fascinating
characters within a paragraph or two, stepping on stage just long
enough to completely captivate before disappearing.
I've been meaning to read Marquez for a while -- is there any one book you'd recommend over another?
(8/7/04 9:00 pm)
I'd recommend starting with one of Marquez's
short stories-- you can sort of ease into his style and then
see if you want to attempt one of his longer works. The story I
mentioned, I think the title in Spanish is "Un Senor Muy Viejo
con las Alas Enormes" (the English translation should be something
like "An Old Man with the Enormous Wings" but might vary
a bit depending on the translation). It's pretty short. I'm sorry
I've already given away the plot! If you want a different one, you
could try "La Santa," but I really don't like it as much.
My favorite work by Marquez is one of his novellas-- "No
one Writes the Colonel." I think it's about eighty or so
pages long, and the longer length makes it less-- hmm, virulent
in its social commentary, but with fuller and more sympathetic characters.
(8/9/04 7:46 am)
My favorites are "Love
in the Time of Cholera" and "Love
and Other Demons". There are several essays about magic
realism on the Marquez website: www.themodernword.com/gabo/index.html
(8/9/04 10:53 am)
magical realism, etc.|
While we're on the subject of flying, people with wings, etc. may
I mention another good novel with this motif, namely NIGHT
FLYING by Rita Murphy. It is marketted as Young Adult, I believe-as
are many good books. If a Magical Realist novel is one in which
extraordinary things happen almost as a matter of course, and come
as no surprise to the characters, then this is a Magical Realist
novel. I recommend it-good powerful characters, an interesting premise-that
flying may run, as it were, in particular families-and, when all
is said and done, simply good writing.
(8/10/04 5:19 am)
Re: magical realism, etc.|
How nice to see Rita's book mentioned here - she lives in the next town over and we see each other from time to time.
She also has two other books, BLACK
ANGELS and HARMONY.
I think her new one is coming out this fall, but I don't know the
(8/12/04 7:02 am)
Magical realism is known for re-envisioning the way we look at the nature of human experience and existence; magic itself (as seen in fantasy novels) often refigures the way we view the world.
Fantasy and science fiction are easier to explain, I think. While they incorporate fantastic elements, fantasy and science fiction still follow certain accepted ways of looking at life and living. Characters experience the world in familiar ways. Gravity, for example, almost always exists. Even though Harry Potter can fly, Neville is liable to fall off his broom and break his arm. Also, in sci-fi, science and the laws of physics play a major part, even though characters do amazing, "magical" things. The Millenium Falcon can go the speed of light! But only if the engines are running properly. Fantasy and science fiction place characters in a wonderous new world -- a world of space, a world of magic, a world where dragons and unicorns exist -- but those characters still face many of the same limitations that we know from our own lives. Pierce's Alanna may have the potential to do certain types of magic and to speak with the Goddess, but she struggles with the limitations of a human body, specifically a woman's body. That body can be misread by others, it can be wounded, it can age; she must strengthen and train her body in order to use it to its best advantage.
Compare this with one of my favorite postmodern novels, Jeanette
the Cherry. (Wow -- racy title! But really, it has more to do
with fruit than sex. haha!) Sexing the Cherry actually features
fairy tale characters -- the 12 dancing princesses play a major
role. However, in this story of magical realism, Winterson does
not take the reader and place her in a world of magic and fantasy.
Instead, Winterson questions the existence of the world -- of matter
itself. For example, the youngest princess rejects her body; she
longs to show that matter doesn't exist. What we see as solid objects
are (in the terms of quantum physics) really "empty space and
points of light." So, the princess begins a dancing school
where women spin on pointe shoes until they become singing points
of light. In Winterson's book there is no reason or logic ... or
physics! There are no rules -- there is no gravity. Space and time
are seen as false constructs ("time is one"), and characters
move from place to place by mental process, rather than by their
feet, or through the use of magical objects. Near the beginning
of the book, one of the characters announces:
"Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the
path not talen and the forgotten angle. These are the journeys I
wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made,
or perhaps did make in some other place or time. I could tell you
the truth as you will find it in diaries and maps and log-books.
I could faithfully describe all I saw and heard and give you a travel
book.... [But] I discovered that my own life was written invisibly,
was squashed between the facts, was flying without me like the Twelve
Dancing Princesses who shot from their window every night and
returned home every morning with torn dresses and worn-out slippers
and remembered nothing."
I don't know if this helps, but it might be a start! None of the book is "real" -- it's just this imaginative adventure followed by that imaginative adventure. There is no definitive quest to be completed or a world that can be saved; it's just the reimagining of the lived self. In magical realism, if a character flies away, it does not mean, as in Harry Potter, that there are spells in the fictional world that can be put on objects like brooms to make them defy gravity. It means that the character is figuratively leaping away from the world, or from him or herself, or that they are spiritually flying into the sky. Existence is re-imagined, and it looks like magic.