Medieval castles, swordfights, wizards in long robes and pointed hats – sometimes, a fantasy world very unlike our own is the escape a reader is looking for. Who wouldn’t want to disappear into a verdant Middle Earth? An alternate history where we traded technology and modern comforts for magic and adventure. Our own Earth pales in comparison to such lush landscapes and exciting lives – right?
I have exciting news for you. Magic exists, here, in the very world you would recognize as the street you live on, your community, your country. One doesn’t need a magic wardrobe portal or a sleek wooden pirate ship to escape into a fantasy world – just step out your front door. This is the premise of the genre of magic realism.
Simply put, magic realism is the existence of the strange, odd, and magical right alongside the existence of the everyday world as we know it. The genre was established by Latin-American authors in the earlier half of the 20th century. A now-classic example of magic realism from this time period is the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. This novel presents some of the most important events in Colombian history through the lens of seven generations of an odd family and the strange town they established. This family lives in the real world and the real history of that world, alongside some very unrealistic elements – ghosts and mythical creatures abound.
Magic realism has since blossomed into a very broad genre from the time of García Márquez. Some authors continued the theme of extraordinary people touching their mythical magic to an ordinary history – Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children starts with India’s independence day, for example. Others flipped the genre on its head – Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 features seemingly ordinary people discovering their normal world isn’t so normal after all.
Some recent entries in the genre expand the definition of magic realism even further. Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey shows a world where magic coexists alongside technology and the choices people make to live between them both. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, combines old history with even older folklore. And Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman touches on another fantastical family history set in the very real template of colonial American history (fun witchy sidenote: Magic Lessons is the newly released prequel novel to the beloved 1999 magic realism film, Practical Magic.
In the same way that magic is limited only by the stretches of imagination, so too is the genre of magic realism. Whether you recognize the people and places in these novels as your own or not, one theme runs true through all these stories: you don’t need to escape this world to find magic.
-Blog post by Megan Franks, Late Night Library Supervisor