Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

A guest post from Laura Perry

I’m a writer, and a portion of what I write is fiction that qualifies as magical realism. My most recent novel, The Bed (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed), definitely qualifies. I’ve had a few people question that term, suggesting that it’s a contradiction. After all, according to mainstream society and “common sense,” magic isn’t real.

I’ve written before about Pagans who practice magic but don’t actually believe in it, a habit that can lead to very unpleasant side effects (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/single-post/2016/02/10/Pagans-who-dont-believe-in-magic-but-use-it-anyway). Mainstream society puts a great deal of pressure on us to conform to the materialist viewpoint that anything that can’t be experienced through our five physical senses or detected via scientific instruments simply doesn’t exist or is, at best, some sort of hallucination. So it’s an uphill battle against cultural pressure just to consider the possibility that magic is a real thing.

There’s a sizeable portion of the Pagan/alternative/New Age community that explains magic as some sort of psychological effect, which is fine as far as it goes. There’s plenty we don’t know about how the psyche works, so chalking magic up to psychological thingamawhatsies is tantamount to invoking a version of Clarke’s Third Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws) with the human brain in place of some sort of constructed technology. That, too, is just fine, since no one really knows why or how magic works.

The thing is, magic does work. It produces effects—sometimes unexpected or unpleasant ones—in the material world. Whether that’s through the forces of the human mind or the workings of Nature or the intervention of divine beings is up for discussion.

If magic works, then it’s reasonable to write stories about it and say that those stories are examples of magical realism. Bear in mind that fiction, even fiction that’s based on “true life” stories, is still a made-up thing. But good fiction is a believably made-up thing. I’ve seen the results of magic, both good and bad, enough times to be willing to slide it into the underpinnings of my stories. I don’t write about people flying through the air on broomsticks or shooting flames out of their hands. I write about the kinds of magic I’ve experienced myself: dreams and visions, rituals that go well or that get out of hand, customs that are designed to safeguard the practitioner and that can result in disaster if they’re ignored.

These things aren’t fantasy, though not everyone experiences them. And of course, even people who’ve experienced them may choose not to believe in them since mainstream society still says magic isn’t real (I’ve seen that happen—cognitive dissonance is a powerful and frightening thing). That’s another useful bit for my fiction: the conflict with friends and family members who think you’re crazy for even considering the idea that magic actually works. But in real life, it can be less than fun to deal with.

So no, I don’t consider “magical realism” to be a contradiction in terms. I enjoy writing it and I enjoy reading it. But more than that, I enjoy living it.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Certainly those that have worked magic have had some odd experiences, just as having told the gods that they can make use of me, has resulted in some odd meetings of people that have proved to be rather interesting.

    One thing that Physics suggest is that our observation of something can change what is happening, so it is possible that we are sort of co-creators of our reality that we live in. We live and experience what we expect to hear, see and experience, but perhaps not what we do not expect to hear, see, and experience. We notice bits, and then fill in the gaps, each of us experiencing different gaps, and filling in with different information. Thus whatever objective reality is, if it even exists, may be different than the subjective reality that we experience. Everything existing in that,reality, affects it in some way, even on the microscopic level ,most likely on the atomic level.

    So what you can believe, and what you cannot believe it, also affects the reality that you live in So does the quality of your ability to sense your reality, you intellect, education, cultural expectations, and so forth. What I find fascinating are the shifts that we see in our own reality for time to time. I am not certain what creates those shifts however, though changes in experience is one of the things that shifts our way of looking, and experiencing our personal reality.

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