A Tale of Magical Realism
I wrote Red Sox and the Devel’s Handmaiden to try to come to grips with the fascinating genre of magical realism. In order to more fully enjoy this tall tale, I suggest that we explore briefly together both what magical realism contains, and what it does not.
Events or happenstances that most people believe could occur according to the laws of physics or according to socially accepted norms of behavior are often defined as natural or “real.” In apposition, anything that occurs in the realm of the supernatural, whether springing from Heaven or Hell, or even on Earth, may be referred to by a majority of people as “Magical Realism” may therefore be defined as a story in which any event or happenstance occurs as a result of these two “realms”–the real and the magical-intermingling and affecting each other.
For example, an oral or written story that takes place solely in a supernatural location such as Heaven, perhaps only involving angels,cherubim, seraphim, and God, without reference to people or common objects,is magical-as well as religious–but not real. Oppositely, a tale set in the natural realm of people and common objects, without reference to gods or demons, is real, but not magical. However, if the protagonist in a story appeals to a Heavenly or other supernatural realm in order to affect some event on Earth, such as a protagonist’s prayer for his mother to recover from a life-threatening illness, then this story can be defined as being within the genre of magical realism.
The line between realism and magic, however, is often blurred because typical occurrences on Earth, while known by a vast majority of people as being real, are nevertheless also frequently viewed as “miraculous” and “magical” by this same vast majority. A child’s first smile, first step, and first word are often viewed in this magical way. Similarly, a full-arching rainbow is often seen like this.
Additionally, even when people believe that God is no longer an important influence during the Christmas season, they still often view people’s good deeds in the name of Christmas and God as being miraculous. Feeding the hungry and homeless and giving clothes to the poor may be viewed as belonging to this miraculous category.
In sum, stories in which the realms of the real and the supernatural impact each other, and stories in which readers believe that the unfolding and resolution of events are in some way miraculous, are defined, in my opinion, as magical realism.
Looked at as a continuum, magically real stories can range from the most fantastical and bizarre to the most pedantic and mundane; from the most supernatural to the most natural; from the most sacred to the most profane;from the most metaphysical to the most physical; from the most magical to the most real. In the language of the physical world-the realm of science and technology–the genre of magical realism can range in stories from the least to the most probable; that is, from the least to the most believable.”The Red Sox and the Devil’s Handmaiden,” while referring often to everyday–even earthy-events, falls on the far end of the supernatural scale. I mean, how probable is it for God and the Devil to appear before the same person? Frankly, I think not very likely, but please feel free to differ. Still, this and many other such fictions are written to show that magical elements can be manifested in even the most realistic of stories. By extension, I hope the readers’ own lives are enriched, as mine has been from penning this tale.
Of course, you and I will disagree as to what extent the probability is of a specific event occurring in any story. Yet, I believe that what is most probable in all magical realism tales is that they juxtapose our normal world against a backdrop of unreality, and thereby throw reality into sharper relief. Such stories, if nothing else, help us to see greater beauty and other wondrous characteristics that we otherwise might overlook and take for granted. The coastal hills of California? Beautiful. These same hills set against the Pacific Ocean? Otherworldly. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Miraculous. Magical.
Magical realism, even for those who categorically deny the existence of the supernatural, can extend all our senses, illuminate added emotional and intellectual dimensions, and help us appreciate our most realistic of worlds. The writing of the “Red Sox” story has been a magical odyssey for me. I hope it provides the same for you.
© Andy Plotkin 2005