Emma Allmann, February 8, 2018
Magical realism can feel more nebulous than your average genre. The very name sounds pretty darn contradictory. If there’s magic involved isn’t it fantasy? How can it be realism if there are magical elements? What is magical realism? The definition has come to encompass a few different functions of fantastic elements in stories that are unwilling to confirm or deny for the reader that these elements exist in its world. It can sometimes feel unsettling or give the story a dream-like quality.
Magical realism can be found in most art forms throughout the world, however, the literary movement of magical realism was spearheaded by Latin American authors. Particularly from these Latin American authors, it is often read as a genre of political subversion. Just as the fantastic and magical elements are presented as normal, the standard structure of reality is put into question. Essentially, magical realism is a chance for authors to show an alternative to an accepted reality, which can be an incredibly powerful tool against political regimes.
As more and more authors around the world took their cue from the authors of Latin America, the genre has become blended and conflated with other genres. Surrealism, which is more concerned with upending the accepted realities of the mind and inner self, and fabulism, which is known for putting fables and myths into a contemporary setting, are two of the more easily recognized genres that have become part and parcel of the magical realism mode.
Ultimately, magical realism uses magical elements to make a point about reality. This is as opposed to stories that are solidly in the fantasy or sci-fi genres which are often separate from our own reality. There is a distortion effect in the very fibre of the prose that forces the reader to question what is real and often opens up avenues of reality we may not have thought possible before reading the story. The realities being questioned can be societal, familial, mental, and emotional, just to name a few.