Is it or Isn’t It Magic Realism and Does it Matter?


Magical realism, unlike the fantastic or the surreal, presumes that the individual requires a bond with the traditions and the faith of the community, that s/he is historically constructed and connected. (P. Gabrielle Foreman. Past on Stories: History and the Magically Real, Morrison and Allende on Call. Magical Realism. Ed. Zamora and Faris, p. 286).

Magical Realism takes the supernatural for granted and spends more of its space exploring the gamut of human reactions (Susan J. Napier. The Magic of Identity: Magic Realism in Modern Japanese Fiction.).

Magic realism (is) a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report. Designating a tendency of the modern novel to reach beyond the confines of realism and draw upon the energies of fable, folk tale, and myth while maintaining a strong contemporary social relevance. The fantastic attributes given to characters in such novels-levitation, flight, telepathy, telekinesis-are among the means that magic realism adopts in order to encompass the often phantasmagoric political realities of the 20th century. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms).

These are but three of hundreds of definitions one can find on Magic Realism, but if we sort through them we find, of course, a basic agreement on the basic tenets: a mixture of the real with (for lack of a better word) the supernatural, “a strong sense of contemporary social relevance,” a sense of indigenous cultures, and the very strong sense of a “taking for granted the supernatural.”

“A bit of history tells us that the term “magical realism was coined around 1924 or 1925 by a German art critic named Franz Roh…” (Alejo Carpentier, The Baroque and the Marvelous Real). Not a surprise that the term should come out of Germany in the 20’s, or that the movement should be rising there, though the literary movement is, of course, associated with Latin America. Latina journalist and social critic Isabel Allende transported the movement further in her feminist writings that protested elitism, racism, and sexism. And what better vehicle than Magic Realism to infuse and uplift her writings of a group mired in social and political powerlessness and suffering domestic brutality?

My question is—how much of the intellectual definition in fact can be transported before the genre is disfigured or transmogrified into something else entirely? Does it matter?

In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button. Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.

Is Magic Realism the same as Surreal the same as Metaphysical the same as Paranormal?

Don’t cringe—of course not.

But where exactly does one draw the line?

For example, at last count there were over one million words in the English language—with new ones added and deleted continuously. Language is fluid. Are genres? And if so, how much so? Who decides?

For me, the largest question revolves around taking the supernatural for granted. Currently, I am working on a mystery series, Stone Quest in which the lead character, Luke Stone, is a psychic visionary. He has “fantastic attributes”: he has psychic visions and he has the power of healing; however, not only does he not take these attributes for granted, he fights like hell against them. As the character progresses through the series, he discovers even more “attributes”, which I won’t reveal here (spoiler alert!), and his battle with his “supernatural” self is a decisive part of the plot. I had at one time called the series Magic Realism—but have since stopped. I was for a while referring to it as Paranormal—but in today’s literary parlance paranormal means vampires and witches and things not of this series, so I have removed that moniker as well. I toyed with Metaphysical – but that didn’t seem quite right, so have now settled upon Mystical and so be it. For now.

I believe my choice to no longer designate the Stone Quest series as Magic Realism was the correct one, though, honestly, it saddened me because so many things about Magic Realism and its definition lure me: “Magical realism manages to present a view of life that exudes a sense of energy and vitality in a world that promises not only joy, but a fair share of misery as well. In effect, the reader is rewarded with a perspective on the world that still includes much that has elsewhere been lost. (David K. Danow. The Spirit of Carnival Magical Realism and the Grotesque). And of course, the master, the king, Garcia Marquez said “realism is a kind of premeditated literature that offers too static and exclusive a vision of reality. However good or bad they may be, they are books which finish on the last page. In other words…the magic text is, paradoxically, more realistic than the realistic text.” (Scott Simpkins, Sources of Magic Realism/Supplements to Realism in Contemporary Latin American Literature).

Ultimately, whatever I call it, the readers’ experience is up to me.

Unfortunately, it is also up to me, as an Indie author, to guide my readers to my books. And that is where the labels and where the accuracy of those labels comes into play.

We do owe our audience accuracy—and that means marketing accuracy as well.

Later this summer, I am planning on beginning my very first romance novel, Western Song, a contemporary western romance, adapted from an award-winning screenplay. The story has both Native American and Thai characters, and in the original screenplay, I touched upon both the religion and mythology of both cultures. Lots more room to grow these in the novel form. Lots more room to call upon Magic Realism here without jeopardy of compromising the integrity of the genre, too.


Watch this space…

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link at the top of this post to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.