Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Magical Realism

Katy began her post on Monday by saying, "A cherished writer friend recently planted a flag in the literary sod and vowed to build a brand on Magical Realism in fiction." I'm also friends with the writer, and when she said she wants to write "Magical Realism," I thought, What a great way to define what she writes. Wish I could be so spot on describing what I write. And then, after reading some of the really good comments to Katy's post, I began to think, Hmm, maybe our friend wasn't the first to coin the phrase.

So when I began typing "Magical Realism to Google it, I was very surprised when my search engine finished the phrase for me, then opened up to a Wikipedia page, and many other pages on the topic. Shoot, there are whole books on Magical Realism, and I'm just now hearing the term. Honestly, I'm blown away by all I don't know.

According to Wikipedia, Magical Realism is defined as: "an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality." But I suppose you already knew that. Wikipedia lost me, like a dropped stitch, in the ensuing paragraph then picked me up again when it said, "Today there are many varieties of writers whose work is categorized as 'magical realist' to such an extent that critics and readers alike are confused as to what the term really means and how wide its borders are."
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That would be me.
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While exploring the subject, I read an interesting article on Magical Realism by Bruce Holland Rogers titled, "What is Magical Realism, Really?". That doesn't mean I could make a coherent presentation about Magical Realism, but it gave me a little more information I could somewhat grasp. Mr. Rogers said, "If a magazine editor these days asks for contributions that are magical realism, what she's really saying is that she wants contemporary fantasy written to a high literary standard -- fantasy that readers who 'don't read escapist literature' will happily read. It's a marketing label and an attempt to carve out a part of the prestige readership for speculative works."
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In the Comments section of Katy's post, Megan Sayer said, "The church needs to champion this, not be afraid of it." I couldn't agree more. And Niki Turner in her comment, which made me realize there was more to the subject than I first understood, said, "I always wonder why we, as Christians, have such difficulty merging the supernatural with the natural. That realm, with all its 'magical' qualities, should be more real to us than reality."
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It should, but it's not. And we could probably go back centuries to find when the church first began to disavow the miraculous in its midst. But if biblical truth contains the miraculous, the numinous, the fantastic and sublime, why shouldn't a Christian's work contain the same kind of truth? Why do we not only shy away from such things, but consider them taboo? There are plenty of artists and authors who aren't necessarily on the Creator's side who have no qualms about spotlighting a world we can't see with human eyes. If we believe all we read between the pages of the Bible, we should, as Megan says, be championing the supernatural in our work and in our lives.
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In the little bit of research I did on the topic, One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was the most often cited novel that fits the category. What other books have you read, or would recommend on Magical Realism? And am I the only one who didn't know it's a recognized genre?

14 comments:

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'm with you not wanting the church to be afraid.

Reminds me of the verse about our battle not being with flesh but with spiritual forces, etc.

And the one about entertaining angels unaware.

So much more goes on than we could possibly imagine.

~ Wendy

Bonnie Grove said...

I think most Christians aren't afraid of novels of magical realism (yep, I knew the term. It's the genre I write in - I specialize in magical realism with a psychological twist).
I think most Christians read all kinds of novels. But I also think that most Christians don't buy their novels in the Christian market. Most shop wholly, or mostly in the general market.
But I agree, the church needs to stop being so afraid, and smearing that fear onto everyone else. We're supposed to be free, right?
It's time to let go of the reductionism of North American Christianity (we've managed to reduce the wild vastness of what it is to follow Jesus into three points and a prayer), and to embrace the fullness of what it is to be a New Creation.
I for one am not listening to what the CBA tells me I "should" write. Frankly, I refuse to truncate my artistic life in order to fit into a teeny tiny mold of what someone else thinks Christian fiction "should" be.
Don't "should" on me!

Nicole said...

I think I'd heard the term, but it sounded like an excuse not to use "supernatural" so I ignored it. I include supernatural elements in all my contemporary love stories because I believe--corect that: I know our Lord still speaks to us in miraculous ways, does miraculous things in our midst, and longs to do more if we'd just welcome Him to do them.

And "don't 'should'" on me either. No way! We write to please our God not some pub board, most of whom seem out of touch with readers. There. I said it. So sue me. ;)

Patti Hill said...

I'm reading Hundred Years of Solitude right now. Our readers mentioned other titles that I've read and loved: The Passion of Mary-Margaret and Peace Like a River. Elizabeth Berg provides an interesting mentor for her protagonist in Range of Motion. I also write magical realism with elements that are almost explainable but not quite. I want to leave my readers with a dare to consider the wondrous--Jesus!--with more expectancy.

word verification: "Whino" a person isolated by his habitual whining. So sad.

Jennifer Williams said...

I think Perpetua by Amy Rachel Peterson would be considered Magical Realism. I loved it.

Kathleen Popa said...

The Bruce Holland Rogers article was excellent. He helped me understand the genre better than I had. Here's a quote:

"...magical realism is always serious, never escapist, because it is trying to convey the reality of one or several worldviews that actually exist, or have existed. Magical realism is a kind of realism, but one different from the realism that most of our culture now experiences."

It's a natural for any writer who wishes to write stories that are not labeled "Christian" because they contain Christian characters and at least one conversion at the end, but because angels come and go on a ladder to the sky.

Ellen Staley said...

I'm with you, Sharon. If fact the articles you referenced were the same I looked up yesterday before posting on Monday's blog about the battle that rages around us.
Is any publishing house out there specializing in magical realism or are most ignoring that specific genre as a label?

Nicole said...

[How can anyone take it seriously when you correct something with "corect that". Geez.]

Kathleen Popa said...

Ellen, I think even in the general market, magical realist novels might be classified as contemporary fiction, or perhaps historical. You have to find these books by word of mouth.

Megan Sayer said...

Wow. I feel like I've been slapped in the face by an angry Canadian...and before breakfast, too!

Bonnie could I ask (in the manner of a kid being allowed to sit up late at the grown-up's table who asks inappropriate questions about things she doesn't understand), could I ask why you chose to go through the CBA?

Sharon K. Souza said...

Somehow my comment got eaten up before it posted. Sigh.

I appreciate the titles you're sharing. Patti, are you liking 100 Years of Solitude? Nicole, we all understand that our fingers don't always work the way they should, especially first thing in the morning. But your comment is right on. The Lord does speak to us in miraculous ways, and He does do miraculous things in our midst. I love for that!

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan, Canadian's don't get angry. We get slightly miffed at most. It's in our constitution. We are terribly polite at all times.

But the reasons, like the results, are complicated - and ongoing. At some point I will make the effort to be clear about all this - soon. But not at the moment. For this, I am sorry.

What I am about today is embracing the full freedom of being an artist/writer. And that is a lovely, lovely place. I suppose I'm guarding it with some teeth showing on occasion. But art is passion, so this is to be expected.

Liz Hoyt Eberle said...

I am in awe of all of you ladies. Every time I stop by, I'm blessed and enlightened and I'm older than many of you put together lol. No, I did NOT know what Magical Realism meant and avoided it because of no knowledge. Now I realize that probably a short story I wrote years ago and one one 2st place might be in that category. Anyway, I love that story and how my heronine learns life and I love this site where I learn artistic passion. P.S. Sharon, my local bookstore ordered "A Heavenly Christmas in Hometown" for me and it arrived today. Can't wait to read Christmas at Valentine season.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Liz, thank you for your comment. Isn't it funny that we do things by instinct without realizing there are others doing the same type of thing, and that there's a legitimate label for it? I love when that happens. Thank you for ordering A Heavenly Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.