I Believe It’s Magic
If you’re a child of the 80’s like me, you now have an earworm and a mental image of 3 guys in khaki jumpsuits chasing “spooks, specters, or ghosts.” Isn’t it funny how motifs that our scientific society should reject as superstition continually pop up over and over again in our literature, art, and film?
I was intrigued to read about the Second Magic Realism Bloghop on 6th – 8th August 2014. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days, these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so come back to read more.
I’d never heard the term before, but I love the concept because I think it explains a lot about why we turn to supernatural explanations as well as much of what I try to do in my own writing. Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier used the term magic realism to describe how Latin America storytellers used the fabulous to illustrate and explore the mundane in the 1940s. It is the “matter-of-fact incorporation of fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” (Thank you, Merriam-Webster!)
Now my work is sold as paranormal romance on Amazon because you have to go in a slot somewhere, and indeed, the romance is a key element in the story. I love a good love story! But I also consider myself largely a fantasy writer because my book world is populated with fairies and leprechauns and other elements of Celtic mythology. Like Tolkien’s The Hobbit, my book, Feeling Lucky, concerns a treasure. The difference, however, is that my treasure isn’t protected by a dragon in a far-away land, but is fought over and safeguarded from the IRS in the United States today – the fantastic in direct juxtaposition with ordinary reality.
Including the supernatural as part of the everyday world has a dual effect. First, it enhances the magic of the everyday world. I remember being told in school that the rationale for fairy tales and mythology was that they explained the natural world in a time when scientific explanations didn’t exist. But this is too simplistic an explanation.
Psychological theorists like Carl Jung and Bruno Bettelheim both tied fairy tales to expression of the spirit and mind. Whether you ascribe to their theories or not, there is something about the mystic and the magical that serves a vital function in the modern world. Is it ghosts that haunt the B&B in my book, Restless Spirits, or is just bad plumbing? The imagination craves more!
The 2nd effect of magical realism comes from subjecting the supernatural to the rules and restrictions of the everyday. This creates a meta-fiction, a focused reflection by the reader on the story and its elements. The setting, the characters, and the themes take on enhanced significance. In both Feeling Lucky and Restless Spirits, the everyday questions of money and success are under a spotlight that can’t help but reveal the incongruities in standard practices and assumptions. I have to admit, charming the IRS with fairy magic was kinda fun!
Now I don’t claim to be the caliber of noted writers like Gabriel García Márquez or Laura Esquivel, but I think attempting magic realism has added depth and richness to my writing. Check out the other bloggers on the Second Magic Realism Bloghop on 6th – 8th August 2014, and see if this particular writing convention can work for you!
A thoughtful post, Kathy. The fact that these folktales/mythological tales are still with us, demonstrates there is something in these stories that satisfies a deep need in people.
I have read Jung a fair bit and am still struggling to understand him. I love that, the depth and the journey. Until recently i had not connected his work to magic realism but I certainly see some connections now.
Mythology is powerful…Joseph Campbell tells us that in HERO W/ A THOUSAND FACES (I may have scrambled the title a tad!). All our mythology bubbles down to the same well-spring…US! Tim O’Brien spoke of story-truth having more reality than truth-truth. I think this is all what we are reaching for– and what drives all of us who are compelled to do this crazy thing — to write.
…”subjecting the supernatural to the rules and restrictions of the everyday.” I like this. I can imagine a father flying over a town on half a loaf of bread to fetch medicine for his asthmatic daughter, and ends up in prison because it is strictly prohibited to fly, on a sunday.
In a world where our Puritan forefathers decided to legislate witchcraft instead of burn it, maybe? Oh you could have so much fun poking at examples of legal overkill! Great idea!
I like this line too; I think as writers we often focus more on the liberating factors of the supernatural in fiction, while I know that I for one sometimes conveniently forget that the everyday and fictional rules do reign in those elements in their turn. Interesting blog, Kathy, thanks!
Hah, now I have the urge to watch GB’s again! Thanks for this insightful post, really enjoyed it. You’re right, the purely functional, mythology as ‘science for simple people’ definition is so often wheeled out that I think it discourages a closer investigation of why folktales are so pervasive, and persistent!
I agree. There has to be more to them for the stories to stick around like they do!