Saturday, April 25, 2015

Subgenre Saturday: Magical Realism

The first installment of Subgenre Saturdays was all about bizarro fiction which, as the name suggests, is bizarre. But it's bizarre in a very in-depth way. The plot, the characters, the writing style, even the formatting of the books can sometimes be very strange.

Today, we're going for a different sort of bizarre. Everything seems all right, everything's familiar, either as modern day or something historical (normally modern day). Except your neighbor drinks blood, your boss is a psychic, and there's a dragon that lives in the alley down the road. And nowhere will anyone even give the slightest suggestion that anything might be out of the ordinary. Not even the narrator.

Welcome to magical realism. People react normally to outside stimuli, such as being attacked by the dragon who lives in the alley. You're still going to be pissed that he caught your skirt on fire, but that doesn't mean you question him being there.

The most well-known example of magical realism is probably Big Fish (I've only seen the movie, so I can't say for certain if the book is magical realism as well.). Everything's just fine and normal… but a fish turns into a woman, heaven is a hidden village in the middle of the woods, and you can see death in the eye of the witch in swamp. It's all absolutely real. It's not really dismissed (except by the son, but that's central to the plot), but it's not really explained, either. It just is. That's magical realism in as much of a nutshell as possible.

My favorite example is a short story by the grandfather of magical realism: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges. A short story, it still took me an hour to read, and a couple hours after to roll it all out in my head. Which should give you an idea just how trippy it is. Essentially, a secret world order is trying to create a new world and make it real by writing the history and culture of it and letting it pervade the world. And eventually? It does. And it comes into being. Not just something 'so real you can almost touch it,' but something that can't be real, even though you're pretty sure at this point it is. Modern magical realism, on the other hand, is dominated by a single man, the same way Borges dominated it in his day. Bruce Taylor, Mr.Magic Realism himself. He also dabbles in bizarro fiction and other more conventional styles, but he's most known for his work in this strange little subgenre.

In the realm of TV, you have Twin Peaks (or almost anything by David Lynch) and, perhaps most familiar to a modern audience, Lost. A bunch of people getting to know each other that just happens to be set on a time-traveling island. And when you get back into film, you have Pan'sLabyrinth (here's a war, and here's some weird stuff that may or may not be magic) and Stranger than Fiction, the story of a man who also happens to be a character in a famous novelists work. Once it's established that he's actually hearing the voice of the author, nobody ever questions the strange things that happen. It becomes a morality tale about the nature of death and life and suicide.

I realize that wasn't much of anything, but really, magical realism is like a bird flying by. You can observe things about it, but capturing the bird is almost impossible. If you have a better grasp on it, I really hope you'll comment. I feel confident in what I've said, but it's a tough nut to crack, so I always welcome a new viewpoint. And make sure to subscribe up above if you want to stay up to date on everything to come.


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