Fear? Not if you use magic realism and fantasy the right wayGenre is an essential part of literature and a great writer manages to create a magnificent piece of work by intermixing various genres and creating a surprise packed literary masterpiece. The modern era is marked by information overload where a reader wants to find out about the author, genre serves as a source to narrow down the choices of the reader.
One differentiates sub-genres such as romantic, historical or crime in a novel along with distinguishing categories of prose, poetry or drama. Ancient Indian writers were better equipped with the knowledge of genres when compared to modern literary figures. The ancient Indian texts were dominated by spiritual realism in sharp contrast to fantastical works and the writings were patronized with Sanskrit language being the most used one. The invention of the major literary genres and their norms is the most significant effect of classical literature’s influence.Magical realism is a genre of narrative fiction that presents a realistic view of the world filled with everyday problems while at the same time depicts a contradiction by adding to this realistic world superior elements of the supernatural and extraordinary magical incidents with the story being grounded in reality. The concept of magical realism marked the end of expressionism and was first Introduced in the world of art.The term was coined by a German art critic Franz Roh in 1924.For Roh Magical realism was not only crucial in art and literature but also “a way of representing life and responding to reality and pictorially depicting the enigmas of reality.
” Latin American writers from 1940s gave firm roots to magical realism as a literary genre which they used to present their culture as rich and vibrant. The movement was later strengthened by Spanish American writers like Miguel Angel Asturias and Alejo Carpentier including genre founders Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Elena Garro, Juan Rulfo, Rómulo Gallegos, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende. Magical realism is seen as serious and not escapist and brings the ancient folklores, fables and myths to life for present social relevance.Alejo Carpentier wrote is book the “kingdom of this world” as marvellous realism which later became popular as magic realism. The story is divided into four parts and it set in Haiti which is ruled by the French where slaves rebel against an oppressive government.Ti Noel ,the protagonist, is a slave who manages to buy his freedom but is enslaved again under kingship of Henri Christophe who is a cruel king in Haiti. The book is filled with instances where the slaves are helped in their rebellion by various mystical and magical powers. The protagonist has the ability to take animal form to escape the oppressive plantation owners.
The book ends on a note where the reader is made to believe that Ti Noel is no longer a slave and has taken a Vulture’s form to protect his people. Magical realism is often confused with fantasy and both are mistakenly perceived as same writing style with no major distinguishing factors but magical realism is focussed upon the real world while the realm of fantasy is dominated by a completely made up world with unreal characters in an unreal setting which has nothing to do with the mundane aspects of Human world.J.R.
R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a popular example of fantasy. Characters include Hobbits, who are little people with big feet, as well as Elves, Dwarves, Fairies, Elves, and Wizards. The plot in fantasy fiction cannot happen in real life and includes witchcraft and wizardry all taking place in an uncovered dimension of the world. The characters include talking animals, sorcerers and witches belonging to medieval Europe.
The factor which ties together magical realism and fantasy is magic. Magic may be seen in the setting or in the plot or being practiced by the characters. Fantasy provides the reader with renewed perspective about the world where the complex ideas are conveyed in a symbolic form with lesser difficulty.Thomas Hardy preferred fantasy over realism, claiming that “a story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling,” and that a writer must have “something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman. In the book; game of the impossible W.
R.Irwin describes fantasy as “a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility “Fantasy is a wider style which includes sub-genres like urban fantasy, young adult romance, paranormal romance etc. Inclusion of mythology is the another element of fantasy genre. The classical mythological works are used by writers of fantasy genre to include in their plot or theme the mythological characters like angels ,demons and monsters. While magical realism emphasises the earthly and mundane existence of human realm, the fantastical works have no flavour of the “basic” and are focussed on parallel limitless world created by the entirely by the author.
This concept of “world building” forms 50-60% of fantasy as a genre. Popular examples fantasy fiction are The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials (which begins with The Golden Compass), and The Wizard of Oz etc, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron etc. Fantasy borrowed a lot from Classic Greco-Roman world. The Platonic philosophy of the “other world” and its importance gave substance to fantasy genre.
Indian classics such as the Panchtantra,the Vedic mythology,Baital pachisi and other works which included human like speaking animals with Human or divine abilities formed the foundation of future fantasy works. According to Richard Burton and Isabel Burton the ancient Indian works were “the germ which culminated in the Arabian Nights, and which also inspired the Golden Ass of Apuleius, (2nd century A.D). Boccaccio’s Decamerone (c.1353) the Pentamerone (1634,1636) and all that class of facetious fictitious literature. “The weird sisters in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Prospero in The Tempest provided rich material for next generation of Fantasy writers.The most spectacular book of Magical realism remains the “One hundred years of solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which serves two main purposes of this genre. The first one is a deep introduction about the rich Columbian culture which the story revolves around and secondly he makes reader question the weirdness of everyday human existence and forces them to explore deeper into mystical and divine realm.
The characters of the story are no longer shocked about the magic as they encounter it frequently and are used to it.The people of Macondo(author’s native place) view magic as quite normal and thus “flying carpet” rather than a magical object is seen as an element which can help the residents of Macondo to develop their village. The writer cleverly makes the reader forget about the Magical aspects such as the “gypsies” and the “flying carpet” while bringing forth the Normal realistic setting of the story more powerfully. Levitation is another magical dimension explored in the novel where the priest, Father Nicanor rises 6 feet above the ground, floating freely in the air due to a possible divine intervention as the characters of the story perceive. Dates are also twisted in the work as one of the character Fernanda had a calendar with a golden key in which her master marked for her the restricted days. The calendar at first seems crazy and unbelievable because of the number of restricted days she has which reduces her year to 42 days. Her calendar serves as mirror for people or more aptly, is an exaggeration of constraints a society places upon people in the name of “holy days” or “religious holidays “The writer seems to balance the unusual magical occurrences in a very “normal way” the idea of unusual is overpowered by the character’s “normal” reaction to this magic.
The book follows magical realism to exaggerate the Columbian culture which builds upon various superstitious and mystical elements.The south Asian literary tradition was not hit by magical realism for the longest period spanning from 1940s,it was with Booker’s prize winning novel “The midnight’s children” by Salman Rushdie which established the magical realism genre in South Asian literature. The novel uncovers the harsh realities and political situations during the India-Pakistan partition and encompasses the formation of Bangladesh and imposition of Emergency. The protagonist,Saleem Senai narrates his family’s s story to his to-be wife Padma. The Best of booker’s prize winner, is an informative novel which uses magical realism to explain the birth of the protagonist Saleem.
Saleem was born at stroke of the midnight of 14th August 1947.He is mysteriously equipped with telepathic powers where he can read thoughts of other people. As it turns out, all the children born at midnight of partition have the this magical power in common and can communicate with one another. The work deals with history of Three countries and the violent developments in them from an emotional perspective and not from a political one. The work is a great example of magic realism in Asian context but at the same time the realistic approach is evident while he discusses the agonizing experiences of the people victimized by the tumultuous period of partition and all sorts of Assaults, molestations,dacoity,murderers which formed the bloody background of the partition and later Bangladeshi Liberation struggle and emergency. The New York reviews of books called it “the most important book to come out of this English speaking generation”The role of genres in literature is a crucial one of which Magical realism and fantasy form the most popular ones with the latter dominating the modern era.
Fantasy and magical realism are difficult to distinguish as magic forms the defining feature of both. The “setting” of the story is the major distinguishing factor between these genres. Magic realism presents a realistic world view blended well with magic and the extraordinary.
It questions the reality of human world with all its absurdity. Daily problems and challenges faced by people are supplemented by magical aspect which forms a part of the plot, setting or is practiced by the characters. Fantasy in contrast, is a more wider genre where the story is set in a world created by the author. The unusual dimension of this new world is dominated by weird animals,soreceres,wizards,elves,Jinns etc.
The world is an imaginary one and has nothing to do with earthly or mundane existence. Magic adds up to this unusual new world which in comparison to Magic Realism is more limitless and more expressive.