I write across multiple genres. Recently, my Contemporary Western Romance, Western Song was published by Solstice Publishing. Straight forward. Not a hint of magic, magic realism, or fantasy anywhere there. I greatly enjoyed writing Western Song, and am so appreciative of Solstice. And here’s the best part. They publish multiple anthologies throughout the years, so multiple opportunities for their authors to create new work. Their newest anthology is Fantasy. I wrote a short story for that one, and wow! What fun it was to be back in the “magical” realm again.
I love working with that “sixth” dimension in my writing. It causes my imagination to soar. Working again in that realm, I ruminated anew on the differences between Magical Realism and Fantasy. Writers live in a word of categories arguably more now than ever before. So how do you know whether what you are writing is Magical Realism or Fantasy?
Bruce Holland Rogers writes in “What Is Magical Realism, Really?” Magical realism “is not speculative and does not conduct thought experiments. Instead, it tells its stories from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality from the one we call objective. If there is a ghost in a story of magical realism, the ghost is not a fantasy element but a manifestation of the reality of people who believe in and have “real” experiences of ghosts. Magical realist fiction depicts the real world of people whose reality is different from ours. It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not speculation. Magical realism endeavors to show us the world through other eyes….As a tool, magical realism can be used to explore the realities of characters or communities who are outside of the objective mainstream of our culture.”
Can be and often is used just this way. Think of the introduction to Columbian and South American culture and everyday life the granddaddy of Magical Realism Novels One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez gave to the rest of the world. Or Like Water for Chocolate? What an elegant, mystical, and poignant gateway both of these pieces provided. Beautiful and so very painful, more so because of the beauty and simplicity of the writing. I believe the impact would have been nowhere as compelling or powerful without the use of Magical Realism because it was through this use that the very culture and the people were conveyed. Many argue Magical Realism was, in fact, born in these regions.
If you are writing Magical Realism you are making the ordinary miraculous and the miraculous ordinary. You are writing about real people living in real time, going about their real lives, but one that is very different from the “mainstream,” and you are showing us their experience, their life through their eyes.
So what is Fantasy? Fantasy often takes place in an imaginary universe (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) but can have “real” locations, events, and even humans. Most, if not all fantasy has supernatural or surreal or magical elements and may employ magical creatures as well. It can even take place on Earth but in an unknown world such as underground or in a secret forest. There are hard and fast rules as to how the “magic” can be applied as opposed to Magical Realism where the ordinary can explode into the miraculous but goes unnoticed or is simply a part of the daily experience.
Some argue that Magical Realism is the “deeper,” more “serious” form. And indeed, there is much compelling Magical realism literature: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and the Tin Drum by Gunter Grass in addition to the others already mentioned to name just a handful—books that have all impacted my life. But did these tomes have more impact than Dune by Frank Herbert; Watership Down by Richard Adams; or A Wizard of Earthsea by the incomparable Ursula LeGuin.
Some may consider Fantasy silly or escapist. But in my working with Fantasy—both in reading and writing, I have found the power of the creation of these new worlds compelling and inspiring. And at the heart the values remain the same: the triumph of good over evil; the unchangeable desire for justice to prevail; and, of course and always, the unquenchable search for love.
Different tools, different pathways, the use of different methods, lead to different genres. In the end—what do you want to express? What world do you want to create?
The initial questions will lead you to the answer—is it Magic Realism or is it Fantasy?
This blog is part of Zoe Brooks’s annual Magic Realism Blog Hop. Please click on the blue frog where you will find links to all the other blogs. Happy reading!