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Magic Realism: Examples and Discussion (1 Viewer)

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Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I love good magic realism. I'm trying to get familiar with some new poems and/ or stories in that in that genre. Could you name and link to some of the shortest magic realism (or magical realism) pieces you're aware of? I'd like to see examples of poetry, flash fiction, longer stories, all in magic realism. How much do you know about it? What characteristics of the genre are most important to you? (Later I'll likely post some of my favorites, too. Most recently I've been reading some Alberto Rios pieces and his work in magic realism is outstanding.)
 

RHPeat

Met3 Group Leader
Staff member
Senior Mentor
Pam Try

Any of Tim's surreal fantasies. They borderline magic with crows and towers and incantations to the dead.

I don't have a clue what you're speaking about. Where did the term come from? Where did you see or hear of such a thing? Why is it call "Magic Realism"?
Let's get the complete story here.


a poet friend'
RH Peat
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Novel by Gabriel García Márquez (almost whole career was known is known as a writer of magical realism)
That Japanese writer that is best known in the west.
Haruki_Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. (definitely magical realism)

They sometimes write a lot of magical realism I have heard from critics. I read a criticism of a García Marquez short story once. About a flood and an alcoholic father. He changes by the end of the story. The description of the flood is the epiphany or moment of enlightenment for the alcoholic father.
 
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EternalGreen

Senior Member
TL Murphy called my chicken-PoV story "magical realism."

It's kind of hard to define. Originally, it had something to do with various realities according to the narratives of oppressor vs the oppressed.
 

Greyson

Senior Member
anything by Murakami, not just Windup Bird. Kafka on the Shore and Killing Commendatore are both on par with Windup Bird (in terms of magical realism at least).
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse treads the line. Invitation to a Beheading from Nabokov has some elements as well, though is perhaps more surrealist.


:EDIT: my favorite parts about magical realism is its hardline dedication to never explaining anything. some people likely find this a bit frustrating (i.e. why is this man entering a separate world that's only a hotel??? this makes no sense!!). i have plenty of friends who despise this, but personally i find it refreshing. in a world where we all too often believe we understand everything, being slapped in the face with some absurd occurrence and having to just roll with the punches is nice. also, it's a great platform for ambiguity, which i'm a big fan of.
 

Tiamat

Patron
I always considered magic realism to be modern real world drama but with magic. A lot of Neil Gaiman is magic realism, like "Neverwhere" or his and Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens." If you're looking for shorts, Charles De Lint is one of the pioneers of the genre, and his stuff is very imaginative, if you can ignore his obsession with goth chicks and lesbians. "Saskia" is my favorite short story of his, but I'm not sure if you can find it online. It was in his compilation, "Moonlight & Vines."
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Some great suggestions are coming in and I can't wait to explore them more. First, I'll answer R.H. Peat as best I can in limited time.

R.H. Peat wants to know more when he says: "I don't have a clue what you're speaking about. Where did the term come from? Where did you see or hear of such a thing? Why is it call "Magic Realism"? Let's get the complete story here."

*** Rest of the story coming up. Or part of it, anyway. Magical realism (or magic realism) has been around a long time and the term was coined mostly by Franz Roh (in 1925) and Alejo Carpentier (in 1947) in essays each of them wrote. I was all set to teach a four-week online course in magical realism but the journal I was teaching for shut down. Wish I could have taught that course. I love the genre and have studied it deeply.

One of the many things the magical realists do is to “out-real” the realists-- they write more "real" work than the writers of realism themselves, because they are able to find the magic that exists in the mundane. There are several other characteristics but if you’ve read any of the pieces below I imagine you’ll get a good idea about it. (They do odd things with time too that’s quite interesting. And lots more.)

Some writers of magical realism include novelists Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children), Toni Morrison (Beloved), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Carlos Fuentes (Aura).

Some writers of magic realism short stories are Nicolai Gogol ("The Nose"), Dino Buzzati ("The Falling Girl''-- I just announced in the news section of Writing Forums about the publication of my analysis of this one-- it includes several characteristics), Julio Cortazar (“The Night Face Up” and “Axolotl”—both stories are amazing and totally wonderful), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”), the great Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Clarice Lispector, and even William Faulkner has written it (and there are many others).

Some poets in this genre include Elizabeth Bishop (I love her “The Riverman” in particular), Juan Filipe Herrera, Alberto Rios, and many, many others.

I'm looking to update my magical realism reading.
 
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RHPeat

Met3 Group Leader
Staff member
Senior Mentor
Some great suggestions are coming in and I can't wait to explore them more. First, I'll answer R.H. Peat as best I can in limited time.

R.H. Peat wants to know more when he says: "I don't have a clue what you're speaking about. Where did the term come from? Where did you see or hear of such a thing? Why is it call "Magic Realism"? Let's get the complete story here."

*** Rest of the story coming up. Or part of it, anyway. Magical realism (or magic realism) has been around a long time and the term was coined mostly by Franz Roh (in 1925) and Alejo Carpentier (in 1947) in essays each of them wrote. I was all set to teach a four-week online course in magical realism but the journal I was teaching for shut down. Wish I could have taught that course. I love the genre and have studied it deeply.

One of the many things the magical realists do is to “out-real” the realists-- they write more "real" work than the writers of realism themselves, because they are able to find the magic that exists in the mundane. There are several other characteristics but if you’ve read any of the pieces below I imagine you’ll get a good idea about it. (They do odd things with time too that’s quite interesting. And lots more.)

Some writers of magical realism include novelists Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children), Toni Morrison (Beloved), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Carlos Fuentes (Aura).

Some writers of magic realism short stories are Nicolai Gogol ("The Nose"), Dino Buzzati ("The Falling Girl''-- I just announced in the news section of Writing Forums about the publication of my analysis of this one-- it includes several characteristics), Julio Cortazar (“The Night Face Up” and “Axolotl”—both stories are amazing and totally wonderful), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”), the great Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Clarice Lispector, and even William Faulkner has written it (and there are many others).

Some poets in this genre include Elizabeth Bishop (I love her “The Riverman” in particular), Juan Filipe Herrera, Alberto Rios, and many, many others.

I'm looking to update my magical realism reading.


Sounds a little like Jorge Borges short stories I remember one about a coin that get passed around but he goes into all this detail how it is found and then moves about. Almost like it has a life of it's own. Was it The Zaere or something like that it must be 30 years ago I read the story. You need to talk to Darren. He knows about this: I remember him speaking about Haruki Murakami. And there are places in Catch 22 that sound like this as well. The catch itself if more real that real.

A poet friend
RH Peat
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Magic Realism is a pretty squishy genre with mixed results. When it works, it's compelling. When it doesn't, it's absurd.

I think a big issue that people run up against is forgetting the 'realism' part. The idea is to have an otherwise realistic, gritty story with maybe a couple of major magical elements. The problem is when too rife, those elements can quickly overshadow the realism, leading to what is closer to surrealism or absurdism. This was always my problem with Marquez: It quickly descends into a kind of chaos where you have random people bursting into flames with no real explanation, no sense of 'this could almost happen', and a kind of mad swarm of art-fartiness. Some people love it, I find it unpleasant.

But some magic realism, as said, really is the best. Toni Morrison, is a good example. Neil Gaiman is good too. "Like Water For Chocolate" is another example -- a lot of the best MR authors are from Latin America, often incorporating folklore and paranormal stuff. Ultimately I think it's a pretty difficult genre to pull off, but when it works it can be exceptional.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I think one of my favorite novels falls under magic realism -- The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass. It takes place in pre-war and WWII Germany, so the "magic" is mixed with real events that are already surreal -- and some of the more bizarre things are from the authors memories, like the dwarf clown circus etc. It's a pretty heady mix...
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I have Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum sitting on my bookshelf. It's been sitting there for years just waiting for my attention. One day I'll get to it because I know it's worth spending time with. Another magical realism novel I find fascinating (that's terribly disturbing) is D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel. I thought it was unusual in particular because the author sets up a Jungian instead of a Freudian point of view. I haven't yet read any Neil Gaiman (and see I need to). I'm in the process of exploring the work of Haruki Murakami. Maybe Darren will weight in on Murakami's work (I hope so.)
 

codyrobi613

Senior Member
It ain't short, but Patrick rothfuss' "name of the wind" might be a good example of I understand magic realism. It's a traditional fantasy setting, but magic is treated in a very post modern way
 

bdcharles

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Media Manager
It ain't short, but Patrick rothfuss' "name of the wind" might be a good example of I understand magic realism. It's a traditional fantasy setting, but magic is treated in a very post modern way

I think that would be almost the reverse. Magical realism tends be normal settings with fantastical elements, rather than fantasy settings with normal elements.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
In my understanding of the subject there are two well-regarded genres of magical realism. One is under the speculative umbrella (magic is used literally instead of implied) while the other some writers have used a literary style and approach and have incorporated magical realism. I don't think there are more sub-genres or requirements that I know of other than this. Description is given an emphasis to express IMO a character's transformation. The description can be exaggerated and border on the absurd sometimes. You need to suspend disbelief in some cases. It seems a very evocative or easy to read descriptive style when well-executed. It sometimes seems to use metaphors such as in Jorge Borges's case.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Interesting topic, especially now that I'm working on a new novel that has magic, but it takes place in the real world.

So Magic Realism vs Urban Fantasy... what's the difference?

From what I've read, magical realism seems to be that the magical elements are not stated forthright, while urban fantasy is. While this definition seems clear, the novels I've read that are magical realism does indeed have clear magic in them, but not a magic system in them, and some events aren't said to be caused by magic, but by some undefined, unexplainable occurrence.

Does that make sense to anyone else?
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Luckyscars wrote: "This was always my problem with Marquez: It quickly descends into a kind of chaos where you have random people bursting into flames with no real explanation, no sense of 'this could almost happen', and a kind of mad swarm of art-fartiness. Some people love it, I find it unpleasant."

What you point out above is a large part of why I'm drawn to the genre. I enjoy that feeling of I don't know everything, the feeling that I don't experience every reality, etc. Some people really do believe in spontaneous combustion in human beings. I've wondered about that from the time I was a little kid and would see occasional news pieces about spontaneous combustion (mainly in supermarket tabloids or magazines).

I guess I like this kind of work (the more literary type magical realism) because it does tend to open little cracks in the mind so that other ideas, other realities, other possibilities can sometime make their way in. Some claim if we actually did experience each others' reality, we'd likely go insane since the realities would be so different. I often wonder about that and sometimes suspect it's probably so.
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I know next to nothing about urban fantasy. But I suspect there's quite a difference between it and magical realism. According to one expert (Wendy Faris), what helps distinguish magical realism from allegory and fantasy is the attention paid to realistic details in magical realism works. Such works like to interrogate the usual ideas of space, time, and identity and many times such works also take on an anti-establishment, antibureaucratic stance. The magical realists tend to portray a reality that is "more real" than the realists are able to portray. I think the good stuff just can't be beat.
 

Greyson

Senior Member
to echo pamelyn here, i think the absurd nature of magical realism isn't a detracting point, but often the focal point. i honestly feel you can trace some of the elements back to Camus' work, which while not 'magical' are often absurd. i find (at least in my reading endeavors) that the magic in magical realism often stands in for some psychological exploration. when we consider our psychology, it's like thinking about the oceans: we see only the surface, and what takes place below often can appear absurd, nonsensical, or insane. the exploration of these elements and the idea of 'experiencing a separate reality' is incredibly compelling in my opinion.


So Magic Realism vs Urban Fantasy... what's the difference?
i think this also perhaps responds a bit to tetsuo's question. while i don't have so much understanding of urban fantasy, i believe we could break two of Neil Gaiman's works into the categories. American Gods I would call urban fantasy while Ocean at The End of The Lane is more magical realism. In the former, we understand the magical system, at least insofar as there are gods who are recognizable and we can fathom their powers. the machinations of these gods is where the ambiguity comes in, but we have a pretty good grasp on "what magic is" in this case. with the latter, there is never an explanation given as to why things are the way they are. why is this pond called an ocean? no one says. why is there a separate world the character stumbles into? only some characters know, and they never tell. Coraline could be another good example of Gaiman's exploration of magical realism. again, the 'magical' elements aren't ever explained, and are more used as a vessel to explore the difficult family dynamics and concepts of control, abuse, etc. Hope this clarified a bit!

I'm in the process of exploring the work of Haruki Murakami.
I've read almost all of Murakami's works, if you'd like to discuss i'd be more than happy to as well.
 
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Greyson

Senior Member
i also wanted to hit on the idea that magical realism requires 'gritty elements'. i think this is a sufficient element, but not necessary. magical realism isn't about telling a compelling realistic story, in my opinion. it's an option for the author, but ultimately, the realistic elements ground the absurdity to help guide the message. in my opinion, the real work of a magical realism novel takes place in the absurd, not the grounded.
 
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