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Magical Realism- what the heck is that?

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Many of you writers, and some readers, will have heard the term “magical realism.” It has recently appeared with some frequency on the wish lists of agents and editors alike.

It wasn’t but a few years ago when I thought, “What the heck is that?”

I recently read a post by Bruce Holland Rogers that talked about how magical realism was a debased term (he explains it much better than I do here, so visit this post for a more in-depth discussion). However, I might defend writers by saying that without correctly defining the genre and providing examples, publishing professionals do themselves a disservice when writers make claims that don’t add up to real magical realism.

So what is it, then? Well, now that you’ve backed me into a corner with that simple question, I might try to make the definition as simple as possible. Magical realism is the acceptance of magic in the real world. Actually, Katharina Hagena says it great in her Huffington Post article on the topic: “In a novel of magical realism, you’ll find elements of the fantastic which break or creep into an otherwise realistic world.”

So what does that really mean? Are the Chronicles of Narnia magical realism? Not really. Magical realism takes into account the real world. The Earth we live upon. Not a fantasy one. How about Twilight? Well, you could say the novels expose something extraordinary in the real world, but the real world doesn’t really (or mostly) accept vampires exists, and that’s where we get down to the nitty gritty definition.

Maybe the best way to explain is to present works considered magical realism. Think about Stuart Little. Here’s a talking mouse that gets adopted by a family. Nobody in the story seems to think this particularly strange. How about Scorpio Races? Sure it takes place in the past (Stiefvater is purposely vague on the exact year), but no one, not even an out-of-town American visitor, seems to think it unbelievable that these meat-eating horses emerge from the sea once a year and people race them. How about Harry Potter? Oooh, this might bear more discussion, because most Muggles don’t necessarily accept magic takes place. But the argument could be made for it being part of this category.

In Bruce Holland Rogers’ post, he emphasizes that the value of magical realism is seeing the world through a different set of eyes. Maybe we could take that a little further and say that in magical realism, we see an altered world through different eyes.

Do you have some favorite magical realism stories you’d like to share? Do you disagree with my definition? Are you a publishing professional who wants to take me to task and have an online literary duel? I’d love to hear your comments below. Remember, you’re only helping others wrap their mind around a concept that is as abstruse as the elements of the stories it encompasses!

Now, take the quiz on what magical realism book is best for you!

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