Seeing the World Through a Different Lens: Magic Realism

When I was young, Magic Realism seemed like the most romantic art form. It was mysterious and exotic because it came from another imaginary world. Magic realism is when something that seems impossible in reality happens in a story.

The best example might be Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, where she falls down a rabbit hole and meets talking animals who are playing croquet with flamingos as mallets.

Magic realists often utilize supernatural elements or inexplicable coincidences to create an irrational sense of reality. Still, it isn't always about fantasy worlds - writers also used it for social commentary on our society using realistic settings such as the one we have seen in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

What is Magical Realism?

Magical realism is a style of writing that mixes supernatural elements with real-world activities to help you understand reality. Toni Morrison, Gabriel Marcia Marquez, Aimee Bender, and Isabel Allende are best-selling magical realists. 

The following elements you would find in the works of these pioneers, regardless of their plots and writing styles:

  • A brief explanation of what occurred as a result of something mystical or supernatural
  • A focus on the broader implications of that brief magical occurrence; in other words, a “literary fiction” approach to writing
  • The employment of fantasy as an extended metaphor frequently symbolizes something internal to the protagonist.

Writing a Magical Realism Story

What is the best way to begin writing magical realism tales?

Your story should follow the basic requirements of magical realism:

  • Exhibition of supernatural powers
  • The conventions of literary fiction to tell the story, and
  • The use of fiction as a metaphor

For better understanding, let's look at the short story of Carmen Maria Machado, “Especially Heinous,” as a case study. I'll summarize the narrative without giving away any spoilers:

Exhibition of supernatural powers

By mixing two fantasy plots throughout the narrative, Heinous goes beyond the limits. One portion of the story is about the dark drums of Manhattan spirits.

The conventions of literary fiction  

Despite these absurd plots, the narrative focuses on how Stabler and Benson investigate their strange encounters, with many "episodes" dedicated entirely to a character's mental state. Contemporary fiction usually tries to push the boundaries of form, and this tale's narrative construction certainly does so by leveraging episode summaries to tell an exciting adventure.

The use of fiction as a metaphor

In a nutshell, the enraged spirits of Manhattan's voiceless women represent a rejection of the culture of rape and sexism. Many of the girls were juvenile murder victims and male violence. While the tale was before the #MeToo movement, it reflects much of today's western feminist zeitgeist.  

Your Next Favorite Magical Realism Story?

I am a published author and literary critic, so you can trust me when I say that there is no better way to escape the stressors of reality than through the lens of magical realism! 

Keep an eye out for my newest book on magical realism, and prepare to tread the fine line between magic and reality.