What Is Magical Realism?
What is Magical Realism?
Magical Realism is a genre of fiction literature that invokes a wide array of opinions from different readers. These books evoke a wide array of responses. Some absolutely love magical realism books, but other readers (and academics, for that matter) hate the genre created by magical realists, and look down their nose at it. Part of the problem is that the very term "magical realism" has a very nebulous meaning and now is often used for marketing purposes for stories (or movies) that are actually surrealist, expressionist, escapist, or experimental in nature. The original definition of magical realism fiction is fiction where the magical or distinctly uncommon occurs frequently, but is seen and treated by the characters as an everyday occurrence. While there are great examples of magical realist literature from other cultures, the earliest common use of this term came with Latin American literature, and early on it wasn't uncommon to see the term "Latin American magical realism."
The author most associated with magical realism is Gabriel García Márquez, who is the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. This is the most common work of magical realism that is consistently taught on the college and graduate level. Many of the best works of magical realism have a normal literary background and setting, but with a strange perception on reality.
A good example of this might be telling a story from the point of view of someone who sees figurative things literally. So for a male character, if he sees a "blond goddess," he won't see a beautiful blond woman like the other characters, but he'll actually see a goddess, with terrifying deity powers and probably a bright glowing halo. Instead of seeing a hairy bearded man, he might actually see Sasquatch. Is he an atheist? Maybe when he walks into a church he sees sheep, and a ram spewing from the pew.
This adds a very strange, and sometimes very magical, quality to the story which can be played with in a lot of ways. This is what drives some people nuts about magical realism, and what also causes other readers to love this genre.
Photos Reflecting Magical RealismClick thumbnail to view full-size
Magical Realism Books from Amazon
Great Magical Realism Lecture
Amateur Mini Documentary on Magical Realism Literature
100 Years of Solitude "Movie Trailer"
Best Magical Realist Works - How Magical Realism Differs by Culture
Magical Realism has its strongest roots with the Latin American authors, a large number of whom started the movement by creating stories of very contemporary and normal settings, but having the characters see the world through very mystical and spiritual eyes. While normal people went about a normal day, angels and devils would appear, floods would last for 100 years, and a whole bevy of strange folklore-like things would happen while everyone in the story would just take it in stride.
Magical Realism is a lot like Meta Fiction in that readers and academics tend to have a very love/hate relationship with the genre. Many writers, readers, and academics absolutely love this genre, while others hate it intensely. To figure out whether magical realism is your cup of tea or not, I would really recommend reading 2-3 different works, since there are many very distinctive voices within the magical realism genre.
Here is a list of some of the most famous and most popular magical realist novels:
List Magical Realism Books:
- Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Indian-British)
- Illywhacker by Peter Carey (Australia) - this is one of my personal top ten novels of all time (and I've read thousands), and is Australia's epic novel. The twists at the end are absolutely astounding - this book is worth the investment of time.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, (Colombia). This is probably the most famous example of magical realism ever.
- Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Czech) this book was written before the term "Magical Realism," but Kafka's works fit, especially depending on interpretation
- Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
- Immortality by Milan Kundera
- La Casa de los Espiritus (The House of Spirits) by Isabel Allende
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
- Electric Jesus Corpse by Carlton Mellick III
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel by Haruki Murakami
This is a great list that will give you a wide variety of writing styles and different cultural influences in the Magical Realism genre. Reading a great variety is very important, because you may find that you don't like magical realism from Latin American authors and influences, but you love the genre from the Czech or Australian perspective.
The genre of magical realism is very culture based, which is why the Australian works in this genre will be completely different from books of the same genre from an American background, Czech background, Latin American background, or African background. Knowing this allows you to figure out which magic realist experience fits best with your taste, but I highly recommend giving this genre a chance.
A Magical Realism Question
What do you think of Magical Realism Novels?
Magical Realism Links
- List Magical Realism Books
Good list of Magical Realism books and Magical Realist authors, including links for every one for more information.
- Evolution of Jewish Magical Realism
A webpage dedicated to the evolution of Jewish magical realist literature.
- Magical Realism via Wikipedia
Wikipedia's entry on the literary genre of magical realism
- Ivy League Discussion of Magical Realism
A discussion from the University of Columbia, and their take on magic realism.
- Simple Definition Magical Realism
A simple online definition of magical realism.