Magic Realism


Who?               Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison

When?             1960’s - onwards



In the west we often think of the idea of magic and the idea of reality as complete opposites, Binary Opposites in fact. We often tell people who have got their head in the clouds, are daydreaming or otherwise a little woolly to ‘get real’. As with all binary opposites one of the pairs is always looked on as better or more important than the other and, again in the west, it is reality that is seen as more important whereas magic is just fantasy and is less important.


However, Magic Realism is a style of writing that denies that ‘the real’ is more important than ‘the magical’ and it attempts to combine these two opposite things. It combines the idea of a world that is rational, logical, chronological, orderly and controlled with the idea of a world that has supernatural, mythical, magical or inexplicable elements in it.


Magic Realism differs from pure fantasy, e.g. Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, because it is set in the normal modern world; there are no orcs, dragons or wizards. Instead of a completely unrealistic world we are given a gentle fusion of magic and reality that cannot be reduced to a simply logical account of things. Examples of magic realism in writing would be ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’, ‘a rain of flowers’, or the idea that ‘it rained for four years’.


Magic Realism was primarily developed in Latin America. This may be because Latin American cultures have been influenced both by the logical western culture of the conquistadors and the more supernatural, magical culture of the native Mayan, Aztec or Incan Indians. As such both of these elements appear in their writing. We also find examples of magic realist writing in other countries where European culture has come into contact with other, native, cultures, e.g. India in the writing of Salman Rushdie or China in films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.


Some common characteristics of magic realist texts are:

·         The mixing of opposites - e.g. inside & out, rural & urban, Western & local, different races

·         A use of multiple perspectives – and therefore a lack of clarity about accuracy of events and the credibility of views expressed by the characters

·         Time being represented as cyclical and / or disrupted

·         Carnivals / celebrations affirming the beauty and vibrancy of life


So why do it? Partly it may be just an attempt to write in a new style or it might be another post modern expression of how it is impossible to really be certain about anything. However, I like to think that a magical realist is trying to show that the world cannot be adequately captured in a plain, dull, boring set of scientific and logical relations; that there is more to life than the rational and sensible; that things cannot be reduced to a simple case of cause and effect. In a sense the magical realist does not try to capture or understand reality but instead awaken within us an appreciation of ‘the mystery that breathes behind things’ (Luis Leal).