I meant to ask someone else if they wanted to guest post this topic but I forgot and now I have to do it myself. (Any bloggers out there want to take up Xenofiction for next month? lol)
What is Magical Realism?
Magical Realism (MR) is a subgenre of fantasy that injects magic into real life. While some would argue that MR is not fantasy, I would argue that it falls on the spectrum of fantasy. It may not be the most fantasy thing to ever fantasy, but it has a place in the genre. It is often a blend of literary fiction and fantasy, and strives to make a political or sociological point with the story. The magic can take many forms, but it is seen as an everyday part of life in the story. Commonplace. Yet it also is left vague.
There is a lot of overlap between Magical Realism, Slice of Life (SOL), Urban Fantasy (UF) and Contemporary Fantasy. In fact, many popular works in MR will also be shelved or advertised as one of these other genres instead/as well. There is a lot of overlap between urban fantasy and magical realism, as often the two both show magic in an existing world (though UF doesn’t have to), but there are a lot of differences between the two such as:
* UF often bends reality to create the story, MR never does
* UF often explains the magic system in a way MR never does
* UF is often fast paced, thriller, or involving high stakes, which MR doesn’t
and many other major differences. Slice of Life also isn’t MR, because they are both about ordinary lives, SOL doesn’t have to make a point or teach a lesson, it is more concerned with daily life.
What makes Magical Realism unique and its own separate subgenre is that real life has magic that is common place and magical, while also not being within strict magical guidelines and protocols.
What can you expect to see in Magical Realism?
You can expect a lot of things when looking for Magical Realism books:
The Place: It will take place in our world, and it will stay on our world, whether in our time period or not. I wouldn’t expect a future time period, but I’m currently at a loss as to why you couldn’t. It does not take place on an alien planet or in space. It can place in the city or rural areas, though there is a preference for non-city. It doesn’t even necessarily have to take place on land.
The Magic: The magic is intentionally vague and unexplained because people don’t need to understand the magic – it is naturalised. MR can involve time travel, alternative realities, etc., but not if it can be explained, understood or triggered through various means.
The People: MR is about ordinary people in ordinary lives – no secret societies. They’re everyday people from most walks of life (exceptions tend to be leaders who live lives that aren’t so ordinary). They are down to earth and not overly evil or overly saint-like. They aren’t gods or goddesses or mythical creatures/monsters, but they can be local legends or urban myths. The characters may have physical or magical traits that belong to paranormal creatures. Ghosts can appear, not as people but more like as plot devices.
The Feeling: MR feels magical. It feels like anything can happen. On a scale of Literary to Pulp, the writing is lies close to, or at, Literary.
What is the History of Magical Realism?
Magical Realism, as a defined genre, isn’t the oldest subgenre, but it is pretty old, popping up in the 1920s and 30s and becoming popular in the 1940s. Originally, the term was used to describe paintings, and indeed the genre is more than just literary. The term was born out of the Realism movement which strives to create an exact representation of reality, which in turn was born out of an opposition the Romantic movement which produced an idealized concept of reality.
While popular across the world now, Magical Realism gained most of its popularization through Latin America where it is still incredibly popular today. It was when Latin American literature became popular internationally that MR spread to more worldwide popularity. In fact, even today in many countries in Latin America and across the world, Magical Realism is an incredibly popular subgenre of fantasy. Russian literature comes to mind. In some countries it is even more popular as a subgenre than it is in the US, UK, Australia.
There can also be an argument made that even older works of fiction can fall into the subgenre. Charles Dickens frequently has a ghost show up in his stories (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). The Brontë sisters had supernatural elements in their stories, as outlined by this article in Clarkesworld Magazine by Carrie Sessarego. There are more examples I’m just too lazy to look them up. Personally, I don’t make this argument because in my opinion this was unintentional, or just a product of their times, more than it being a part of a larger subgenre.
What are some examples of Magical Realism?
There are so many ways to give examples for this subgenre:
Genre Defining: Gabriel García Márquez. You cannot avoid Márquez when researching MR. One Hundred Years by Solitude is widely regarded as his best work.
Latin American: Isabel Allende and Louis de Barnières are two other popular Latin American MR authors. The House of the Spirits by Allende and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Bernières are both popular. There is also Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Though I can’t attest to how much Fantasy these are, haven’t read them.
Movies: Big Fish and Pan’s Labyrinth might be two of the biggest movies for the subgenre. Lots of popular films that have been adapted from other works are magical realism as well, like: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ( Bryan Lee O’Malley), The Green Mile (Stephen King), Life of Pi (Yann Martel), and Practical Magic (Alice Hoffman).
Paintings: You’re on your own, sorry.
This is by no means an complete list as this subgenre is absolutely huge. Some people may not agree all are examples of the subgenre, and indeed I haven’t even read all of them. However, if I could choose one book for you to read, it would be Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, and one movie it would be Pan’s Labyrinth. Both great stories.
Here are some links that helped me get my thoughts together:
I would love if people who don’t typically read this subgenre take this next month, until the next post, to read one Magical Realism book. The examples above is a good place to start, but there are hundreds of other books, and maybe the comments will give more examples. If you decide to take up this challenge, I would love it if you could leave the book a review and tag me in so I can see the reaction!