Every Little Thing You Do is Magic

["Danza Folklorica"- Frederico Fuentes]

I’m a realistic person to a fault, at times. As a child cartoons irritated me because animals don’t in fact talk and children do age over time (those damn effing babies on the Rugrats). As an adult my realistic tendencies have been a blessing and a curse. My savings account has a decent cushion in it because I have a realistic perception of the economy and life’s abilities to throw financial curve balls. I try to set realistic plans in terms of the students I teach and what I expect of others. My tendency for realism calls for contingency plans and Plan Bs (and Cs and Ds). I am a prepared woman. Unfortunately, realism tends to prevent optimism and often leads to irrationality (my poor husband), but that’s another post for another day.

Given my inclination for what is real, it’s a wonder that I’ve developed such a love for magical realism. For those of you who haven’t been in my English class this week or who need to brush up on your literary terms, magical realism refers to a realistic story that is interspersed with occasional magical elements that are generally accepted by the characters as being normal (using the term to define the term- tsk tsk). Magical realism is a genre that requires readers to merge, and acknowledge, the two realities within a text, temporarily suspending belief. I’ll spare you the rest of the lecture and the quotes from all the professors I forced upon my students, but if you’re interested I do have a PowerPoint and the clip from Pushing Daisies that we watched today… Anyway, magical realism allows anything from simple mind reading to telekinesis to paranormal activity to occur in an otherwise “normal” story.  


I’ll admit, for loving the genre so much I haven’t read nearly enough of its books. Right now we’re reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in class, but I’ve also read his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits was the first magical realism novel I read, back in high school, and since then I’ve read a few more of Allende’s works. Toni Morrison’s books incorporate magical realism, as does Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I’m also a huge fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who I am going to see read in a few weeks. While this is definitely not a comprehensive sampling, it has been enough to make me realize how much I enjoy reading these books.

I think my appreciation comes from the fact that in order to pull off magical realism an author has to be quite talented. Enough layers and details have to be established in the realistic portion of the text to support the magical elements, a surely difficult task. An author has to create a careful balance that ensures the right amount of whimsy without crossing the line into cheesiness. While not a book, the perfect example of this is the “so-good-it’s-bad” Sarah Michelle Gellar movie Simply Irresistible, where she takes cooking advice from a magical talking crab. A good writer makes their audience recognize and accept the magical elements of the story, allowing them to seamlessly merge into the ones that are realistic.

Back to the term whimsy. Not counting Harry Potter, I don’t generally care for the fantasy genre, or novels that center around magic, but there is something about the whimsical that attracts me. To me whimsical is the movie Amelie, it’s the tree that grows inside Skylight bookstore, it’s little kids dressed up running around their backyards with homemade capes and puppets (for the five kids left in the world that aren’t glued to an imagination-robbing device for hours a day). It’s a feeling that gives you the notion of unusual possibilities existing in this world that can often seem mundane and cynical. Magical realism may not always be pretty or positive, but it opens tiny little trap doors that allow you to escape from the ordinary. And then the door closes and you’re back to reality- and so on and so forth. 

Professor Luis Leal does describes the genre best when he says, "If you can explain it, then it's not magical realism."

1 comment:

  1. I was sort of iffy about reading any books with the "magical realism" description until I read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was pleased with the experience I had while reading it, and am considering reading more like it. Any recommendations? Nice informative post!