Magical Realism

We’ve recently started watching Narcos on Netflix.  It’s a fascinating and amazing story, the vicious  tale of Pablo Escobar and his insane ability to sell cocaine to America.  Honestly, I highly recommend it.  Anyway, at the start of the series there was a definition for a genre I was unfamiliar with: Magical Realism.  It’s the idea that “magic” can exist in an otherwise mundane world.  The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of this, as are numerous other works.  Salman Rushdie did it with The Satanic Verses (and other works).  I’ve actually read The Satanic Verses (and one other who’s name escapes me at the moment).  It didn’t blow me away but I  didn’t feel the need to declare fatwa over the book.

Magical Realism is also common in Latin American literature and, I would argue, in a lot of the myths and legends that we’ve woven together to explain both our world and our place in it.  Religion makes common use of Magical Realism to inspire awe and to remind you that you’re really not that special when compared to the one true whatever.  I suppose one could make the argument that Magical Realism is very much present in the horror genre, especially in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.

From Rushdie to King and back again there are commonalities in the stories.  King’s stories take place in Maine and deal with the repercussions of day to day life when something outlandish is dropped in.  Lovecraft’s stories revolved around the mysteries hidden just behind the veil and the things you really didn’t want to admit.  Rushdie’s stories – especially The Satanic Verses – deal with extremely strange events set in a very real world.

That’s the kind of thing that would make the world more interesting.  It could be the lights in the sky that followed us from Durango to Farmington or the invisible person sitting on the bed or the way my dogs were always skittish in the hallway.  Sure, maybe there were rational explanations for these things but maybe there weren’t.  Maybe the only rational explanation is UFO, ghost, and God-only-knows-what-but-it-seems-to-be-leaving-us-alone.

Like I said, I hadn’t heard of Magical Realism before watching Narcos, but it struck me that I was inadvertently writing in that genre.  My goal with Henchmen was originally to bring the superhero and supervillain genres a bit closer to the ground.  It didn’t exactly work out that way, but that was the original intent.  I wanted to take the regular world we all live in and lift up the corners a bit; see what’s hidden behind the curtain.  What I found were a Valkyrie, a tentacled horror (my nod to Lovecraft), and the God of Dreams, along with a menagerie of other weirdness.

Take those things, add a dash of danger, a pinch of unbridled anger, half a cup of desperate need for revenge, and a hefty dose of the real world.  Cook for eleven months at 400 degrees. Voilà: Henchmen.

At least now I can have a somewhat snooty response handy when someone asks me what genre I write.  It’s not horror, or action, or comedy: it’s Magical Realism.

One thought on “Magical Realism

  1. Thanks for the link to such a fascinating article. The author didn’t mention Angela Carter, but she’s an author who used Magical Realism in her writing. The only other he mentions and whose books I’ve read is Marquez.

    I’ve a feeling that the novel I’m working on now may be described as Magical Realism, or certainly as hinting at it – there are those who may tell me it’s fantasy – whereas my first and second I’d describe more as paranormal.

    Though I love the series, I’m not sure I’d classify Harry Potter as other than fantasy. However, as the writer of the article asserts, the term has become so wide now it’s almost lost its original meaning.

    Thanks for this post. Exteremely interesting and thought provoking. It’s made me reflect more deeply on my work in progress.

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