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What Is Magical Realism?

Updated on August 28, 2011

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 Realism

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A great art print by Rob GonsalvesCourtesy of Sundstrom via sxc.huCourtesy of vassaliki via sxc.huCourtesy of barunpatro via sxc.huCourtesy of barunpatro via sxc.huVan Gogh's "Starry Night"
A great art print by Rob Gonsalves
A great art print by Rob Gonsalves
Courtesy of Sundstrom via sxc.hu
Courtesy of Sundstrom via sxc.hu
Courtesy of vassaliki via sxc.hu
Courtesy of vassaliki via sxc.hu
Courtesy of barunpatro via sxc.hu
Courtesy of barunpatro via sxc.hu
Courtesy of barunpatro via sxc.hu
Courtesy of barunpatro via sxc.hu
Van Gogh's "Starry Night"
Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

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?

See results

Magical Realism - So Whatta' Ya' Think?

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    • htodd profile image

      htodd 

      6 years ago from United States

      This is really great post on Magical Realism

    • profile image

      BFCacodemon 

      7 years ago

      I think its really cool that you used a Halo video. I love this genre!

    • evansyah20 profile image

      evansyah20 

      8 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      I think we need to see it beyond the level of literary readings and see how how world is redefining itself to ways hitherto considered mystical,supernatural etc.Living in Africa, I have been able to appreciate a wide range of soap opera's in this fashion hence my article title Magical Realism and the Problem of Identity in Second Chance-el cuepro de deseo

    • profile image

      Clarice 

      8 years ago

      are there any chat rooms i can go to to discuss this topic?

    • Jerry G2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerry G2 

      8 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Hey all,

      Thanks for the great comments. I'll be honest, some magical realism I absolutely love, other elements drive me batty, but I find myself coming back again and again. It really is a mind opener, and I agree with many of the comments left that I love the integrated of spiritual into real and the world view effect that comes with that.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 

      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Great job!

      I did my master's thesis on one aspect of Magic Realism: defamiliarization. While studying the genre, I learned to appreciate the work of Jorges Luis Borges, particularly Labyrinth.

      But I also love the children's author Jon Scieszka, who focuses on the MR aspect of decentralized characters, i.e., he writes stories from the perspective of the wolf rather than Red Riding Hood!!!

      I think what I like about MR is

      1. its ability to integrate the spiritual with the real, giving the reader a physical experience wrapped in wonder.

      2. The way it broadens my worldview by offering a cultural perspective that differs from my western-dominated point of view.

      Thanks for rekindling my enthusiasm for this subject!

    • Myriad profile image

      Myriad 

      8 years ago from the bottom of your heart .. ie chennai!

      It helped me immensely to read this post , To relate better to magical realism books , I enjoyed Salmans work , But half the time I was wondering what they hell was happening , But now i know ! the Magical realism ~! Thanks a lot for the lovely post mate ~

    • profile image

      elliot.dunn 

      8 years ago

      my first intro to magic realism was 100 Years of Solitude which i definitely had a love hate relationship with. i think i might enjoy it if i returned to it: i loved how it served as a microcosm for the world's story, how it started at creation and ended with the apocalypse.

      i next read The Famished Road by Ben Okri and that was a little more insane actually especially since it was about 800 pages long. the connections between the physical and spiritual worlds were definitely intriguing but altogether bewildering. magic realism loves to mix history and myth, providing a very cultural experience - definitely agree with you there. there's a political thrust behind okri, a desperate need to change things in his community.

      the only other magic realist book i've read was Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. His book goes back and forth between a narrative, which is pretty straight forward fiction, and the history of a town's founding, which reeks of 100 Years of Solitude.

      All in all, i haven't really formed a direct opinion of magic realism but it's certainly difficult to wade through. it requires a certain state of mind and mental awareness. thanks for the hub though!

    • ahpoetic profile image

      ahpoetic 

      9 years ago

      There is real magic in life. It sometimes happens next door or down the block or within the group one doesn't approve of or to the co-worker one really doesn't know. Magic is real.

    • The Lost Dutchman profile image

      Patrick Bernauw 

      9 years ago from Flanders (Belgium)

      Great hub!... I'm a Big Magical Realism lover, one of my favorites is Carlos Ruiz Zafon!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      i also love magic realism both as literary style and a film genre! If i may add another good book and movie - como agua para chocolate (by Laura Esquivel)/ Like Water for Chocolate (directed by Alfonso Arau). Great hub! :D

    • Jerry G2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerry G2 

      10 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Thanks! A lot of people are turned off by magical realism, but I absolutely love the genre!

    • evemurphy profile image

      evemurphy 

      10 years ago from Ottawa

      Great topic! Great hub! :)

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