Agent Observations

Before You Hit Send v.5

This morning I’m listening to sound of silence as all the kiddos in the house, mine and my niece, are still asleep after my brother took them to the pool for five hours yesterday. It’s wonderful.

Today, I’m going to address a more in depth look at what defines Magical Realism.

I’ve noticed a vast amount of agents and editors asking for Magical Realism. I’m one of them. But when I started thinking about it, I became confused. My initial thought was Magical Realism is like Practical Magic or the Craft or Harry Potter. Boy was I wrong. And I wonder if it’s a label we’ve tagged to these books, but maybe I’m the only one who was wrong. Except, looking at some of my queries, I don’t think I am alone in mislabeling.

So what is Magical Realism, you ask?

Well, Merriam-Webster Dictionary has THIS to say about it. But in essence, it is a genre of literary fiction most widely associated with Latin works, like those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His novel 100 Years of Solitude is a prime example. In this High School Senior required reading (at least it was for my senior year), the elements of magic are seamlessly woven into the normal experiences of the characters. For instance, one character in the story lives for over a hundred years and the story moves on as if this is just a part of the normal every day life. Better put, Magical Realism is about the meshing of the ordinary and the fantastic, or the common world we know merged seamlessly with fantasy or the fantastic without the need to be explained. On the other hand, Harry Potter does not do this. In Rowling’s world, a separate magical realm has been established with rules and world building that are explained. Just on the other side of a magical barrier exists the normal world we know. So what about Practical Magic?

I don’t believe, after reading all the texts about Magical Realism, that stories involving latent witches or those with true powers of witchcraft actually fall into the category of Magical Realism. I may be wrong. Though, Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic may be the closest thing to MR because she seamlessly weaves a world of witchcraft practitioners into the normal world and her novel is literary fiction. But I think the world is explained in some degree, something true MR shouldn’t contain. We know that Gilly and Sally have descended from a long line of witches. We know, through the girls’ observations, that the Aunts are practicing witches, handing out potions, ect.  But look at the novel Like Water For Chocolate or the film Chocolat. Without having any indication that what the characters are doing is witchcraft, we get the sense that magic is being created through the food, through the chocolate. Even the actions, the cooking, are everyday mundane. So is a world where witches and magic exists, shown to us through more widely recognizable symbols and actions, really Magical Realism? I feel it’s fantasy, but I just don’t have a solid answer. Feel free to add your thoughts.


  • Cynthia Kennedy Henzel

    My understanding is that magical realism means that things happen outside the norm but don’t need an explanation because they are woven in as an integral part of normalcy. They are more like small miracles; something that happens that we accept and don’t demand an explanation or don’t feel there is a rule being set that must always apply. If your story is about a witch or ghost or alien, the reader suspends reality to follow the story. If blood runs uphill, we follow the trail without worrying about why or who did it (unless you are Neil deGrasse Tyson).

    • Cate Hart

      I think that is a great definition. But it’s more than the reader suspending disbelief that a character is a witch or a ghost or an alien. That can be said of any genre fiction. As readers, we suspended our disbelief that Louis and Lestat were vampires in 18th Century New Orleans because we know vampires don’t exist. We suspend our disbelief that hidden among London’s busiest rail station is Platform 9 1/3 and beyond that is a world ruled by magic. In both Interview With the Vampire and Harry Potter, the world, the vampires, the magic is explained. In Magical Realism, the witch or ghost or alien is accepted and the reader may never fully realize that’s what the character is. The author may leave subtle if any clues. A great example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story about a couple who help an angel. In the story it’s never explained, only suggested, that they are helping an angel – a small miracle – and the main characters accept this as normal. In genre or speculative fiction, the author would give explanation as to how the angel was part of the world and how the characters would react to the phenomenon.
      As I mentioned, great definition.

  • Cynthia Kennedy Henzel

    Thanks, Kate. As I’m hurrying to get a great scene that I woke with written, I drop my favorite coffee cup on the ceramic tile. In a magical world, I use my emerging powers and it doesn’t break. In a magical realism world, it lands upright with expensive Guatemalan coffee intact, and I hurry off to the computer. In the real world, it bursts into a thousand pieces and I must face the choice of stopping work to clean it up and forgetting my scene or leaving the mess for the kids to wade through when they wake up.

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