Today on Writer’s Glossary…
Magical Realism is a literary genre, which is distinct from and should not be considered fantasy, science fiction or any other speculative genre. The term was primarily used in reference to Latin American Literature, with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude being the most famous example. However, it is now used to describe any works of realist fiction, which include magical elements. Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter are writers outside the Latin American tradition, who both use magical realism.
Whereas fantasy uses the magical and fantastical to ask ‘what if’, magical realism simply uses magic as an extension of the reality of its characters and the way they see or experience the world. Rather than exploring the fantastical, magical realism is exploring the real world and the magic within it.
For instance, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus features a circus performer who has wings and flies. Carter uses the winged woman to explore feminist themes of emancipation, rather than to explore what society would be like if we could fly, which would be the realm of a fantasy novel.
Often fairytale elements, religious figures and miracles or the bizarre appear in magical realism as part of the world of the characters. A river of blood (One Hundred Years of Solitude), when a man dies is not remarked upon, neither is a flying woman because there is magic in the mundane.
If you want to know more, check out this great article by Bruce Holland Rogers.