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03 January 2012 @ 08:38 pm
What is magical realism?  
I've seen it crop up on sites and as a genre separate to 'urban fantasy' though looking it up on wikipedia it seems to be the same thing.
It's Lion Turtles all the way downlettered on January 3rd, 2012 10:13 am (UTC)
ZOMG! It's the best ever.

There are some big differences between magical realism and urban fantasy, depending on who you ask:

1) magical realism tends to be more literary (I sort of hate that term)
2) magical realism will less often deal with established tropes (for instance, you probably won't see vampires, werewolves, necromancers, sorcery, spells, etc in magical realism. If you did, it's likely to be less like any of those things that you recognize, and more something that is original to the writer--though not necessarily to culture)
3) the "magic" tends to be theme-driven rather an plot driven. (e.g., instead of a story about a man cursed to have an umbrella constantly thwapping him on the head and how he deals with the curse, you'll have a story about a man dealing with a constant annoyance and how he resolves that annoyance...and the annoyance will just happen to manifest as an umbrella thwapping him on the head)
4) magical realism originated with certain groups, particularly Latin and South America writers. Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are famous examples. Although groups have taken up the ideas since (there've been some notable Italian ones), some people are only referring to some of these historic groups when speaking of magical realism.

The interesting thing about magical realism is that those early groups of Spanish-speaking authors had some influence on fantasy and speculative fiction, and all of those genres have evolved. Because there is no set definition to magical realism, some might say that magical realism is any "realistic" setting that also includes magic. But imo, One Hundred Years of Solitude isn't actually that realistic--but it is literary.

So, some people, by defining magical realism as "literary", are really just trying to say that there is good speculative fiction and bad speculative fiction, which . . . sucks. Because fantasy/sci fi still has the "genre fiction" stigma, even in spite of the fact that it's become a lot more mainstream that it was even two decades ago, when I was 8 and first started reading it.

For instance, Cormac McCarthy's The Road is not regarded as sci fi by many, and the only reason that seems to be the case is that people think it's literary--i.e., they assume other sci fi is not literary, just because it has spaceships. I've seen The Road called magical realist, but it's really not. It's closer to urban fantasy, but it's even closer to just plain ole sci fi.

Anyway, when I think of magical realism, I think of surrealism in art--for which I don't believe there is a literary parallel (other than magical realism). So, for instance, magical realism is the literary form of this:

...and that's probably way more of an explanation than you wanted. But I love this genre, and in particular, I love Borges. I recommend giving him a try--though sometimes good translations are hard to find. He's spectacular, though, and his stories are usually fairly short.

Edited at 2012-01-03 10:14 am (UTC)
Vera: ZQ_Puppy_preciousl_vera01 on January 3rd, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
I honestly don't know where to begin with everything you've posted here, but I promise I mean that in a good way because there's so much I didn't really get from the readings I've been doing about it! This highlights why it's different from urban fantasy but I confess the 'literary' tag still throws me. I think I might have to get stuck into something to understand the difference.

I love the pic, btw. Similar images came up when I was googling, but they didn't click with what I was reading.

Edited at 2012-01-03 12:40 pm (UTC)
It's Lion Turtles all the way downlettered on January 3rd, 2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
hahaha. Well, sorry about my huge answer, but I love magical realism so much! The definition varies, though, so I hope something of what I said may help.
Veral_vera01 on January 3rd, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
Your huge answer was fantastic, & things just slotted into place bc of it. The term had got incredibly confusing for me for a bit.
Filomena: yay this is bossaubade_saudade on January 3rd, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
There's this straight-forward aspect to magical realism that is not really there in "urban fantasy" -- because from what I've read of UF there's always world building and worldsplaining, which is like an acknowledgment that "shit is different in this 'verse"...and MR writers don't seem feel the need to acknowledge that at all. Whatever magic happens is what happened, and if you want explanations you might as well ask how many piano tuners there are in England or what the definition of a galaxy is (I was watching QI yesterday on youtube ;D)

So when Laura Esquivel says that in Like Water for Chocolate one of the character's water broke and flooded her house, nobody thinks OH IMPOSSIBLE, we just see it happen literally, half-take it metaphorically and simultaneously laugh at the in-joke that sometimes people talk/feel in "magical realism" ways.

Edited at 2012-01-03 10:04 pm (UTC)
It's Lion Turtles all the way downlettered on January 3rd, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, right. That's a good way of putting it. That's sort of what I meant about Sorrentino story (There's A Man In The Habit Of Hitting Me On The Head With An Umbrella). In urban fantasy, that story would be about who the man is and how he is able to follow the narrator around and why he's doing it--and, as you say, what in this world allows him to remain constantly with the narrator--whereas in magical realism, why he's there isn't the point. He's just there, as a fact.
Filomena: ELTA!!!!!!!!!!!aubade_saudade on January 3rd, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
now I have a craving to read ALL the magical realism. lol

It's Lion Turtles all the way downlettered on January 3rd, 2012 10:49 pm (UTC)
I often have that craving ;o)
Vera: JGL_focusl_vera01 on January 4th, 2012 07:13 am (UTC)
Then, would I be right in saying that the magical part is just assumed as the "norm" in MR titles?
tobywolf13legendarytobes on January 3rd, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
Well I think the way to look at it is to start with researching the grand daddy of all magical realism with "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez who was one of the pioneers.
Vera: Jude's Watson_Hehl_vera01 on January 3rd, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
Definitely! His work & Borges are on my list of titles to get now.
tobywolf13legendarytobes on January 3rd, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
good luck!

Borges is a trip even in english, super confusing!
It's Lion Turtles all the way downlettered on January 3rd, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
I feel like that depends on the Borges you read. Some of his bio shorts--though not magical realist--are super quick. And they still have the Borges flavor.

A Hundred Years of Solitude is awesome, but soooo looong.
Vera: Bradley_sunnies & armor coolnessl_vera01 on January 4th, 2012 07:16 am (UTC)
Ok, maybe I should start with something short then and not A hundred years then, hmmm.
Filomena: im a dorkaubade_saudade on January 3rd, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
what? he's totally not confusing. he's fun and entertaining:

The House of Asterion (translated from the Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges

And the queen gave birth to a son named Asterion.
Apollodorus, Library, III, I

I know they accuse me of arrogance, perhaps also of misanthropy, perhaps madness too. Such accusations (which I shall castigate in due course) are laughable. It is true that I do not leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (which are infinite* in number) are open day and night to man and animal alike. Anyone who wishes may enter. One will not find feminine extravagance here, nor gallant courtly ritual, just quiet and solitude. Here one will find a house like no other on the face of the Earth. (They who declare that in Egypt exists another similar are lying). Even my detractors admit that there is not a single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous tale claims that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Need I repeat that there are no closed doors? Should I add that there are no locks? Besides, I did one evening step out onto the street; if I returned home before nightfall, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the hoi polloi, faces discoloured and plain like an open hand, had induced in me. The sun had already set, but the helpless cry of a babe and the coarse supplications of the common herd signalled that I had been recognised. The people prayed, fled and fell prostrate; some climbed up to the stylobate of the temple of Axes, others gathered stones. Someone, I believe, hid himself under the sea. Not in vain was my mother a queen; I cannot mix with the common people, though my modesty does so desire it.

The fact is that I am unique. What a man can pass unto others does not interest me; like the philosopher, I think nothing is communicated by the art of writing. Annoying and trivial minutiae have no place in my spirit, a spirit which is receptive only to whatsoever is grand. Never have I retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not consented that I should learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days are long.

Filomenaaubade_saudade on January 3rd, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Naturally, I am not without amusement. Like a ram on the charge, I run through the galleries of stone until dizzily I tumble to the ground. I conceal myself in the shadows of a cistern or in the corner of a corridor and pretend that I am being searched for. There are rooftops from which I let myself fall until I bloody myself. At any time I can shut my eyes and pretend that I am asleep, breathing deeply. (Sometimes I really do sleep, sometimes the colour of the day has changed by the time I open my eyes). But of the games I play, the one I prefer is pretending there is another Asterion. I pretend that he has come to visit me and I show him around the house. With great reverence I tell him: Now we return to the previous intersection, or Now we head towards another courtyard, or I knew you would like this drain, or Now you will see a cistern that has filled with sand, or Now you will see how the cellar forks. Sometimes I err and we both laugh heartily.

Not only these games have I imagined; I have also meditated on the house. Each part of the house repeats many times, any particular place is another place. There is not one cistern, courtyard, drinking fountain, manger; there are fourteen (infinite) mangers, drinking fountains, courtyards, cisterns. The house is the size of the world; better said, it is the world. Nevertheless, by dint of exhausting all the dusty galleries of grey stone and the courtyards with their cisterns, I have reached the street and I have seen the temple of Axes and the sea. This I did not understand until a night vision revealed to me that there are also fourteen (infinite) seas and temples. Everything exists many times over, fourteen times, but there are two things in the world that seem to exist only once; above, the intricate Sun; below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the Sun and the enormous house, but I do not remember anymore.

Nine men enter the house every nine years so that I may deliver them from all evil. I hear their footsteps or their voices in the depths of the galleries of stone and I run with joy in search of them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. One after another, they fall to the ground without my having to bloody my hands. Where they fall, they remain, and the cadavers help to distinguish one gallery from another. I know not who they are, but I do know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that someday my redeemer would come. Since then, the solitude does not pain me because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will rise above the dust. If I could hear all the rumblings of the world, I would detect the sound of his footsteps. Let it be that he take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors.

I wonder: what will my redeemer be like? Will he be a bull or a man? Will he be perhaps a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

The morning Sun was reflected in the sword of bronze. No trace of blood remained.

“Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. “The minotaur hardly put up a fight.”

* The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that in Asterion’s eyes, this adjectival numeral is no different to infinite.


see? awesome. :D *nods*
Vera: Criminal Minds_garcia lovely smilel_vera01 on January 4th, 2012 07:18 am (UTC)
Re: 2
Awesome and incredibly lyrical too. Thank you for posting!
Filomena: joyous rapunzelaubade_saudade on January 4th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Re: 2
you are very welcome, and awesome Garcia icon. +1 :D