Magical Realism: Origin, Characteristics And Authors

He magical realism is a narrative strategy used mainly by Latin American writers . It is characterized by the inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements in an apparently realistic fiction. Some scholars define it as the logical result of postcolonial writing.

They affirm that, through magical realism, the facts are posed in at least two separate realities: that of the conquerors and the conquered. On your side, orOther scholars explain that this differs from pure fantasy, mainly because it is set in a normal, modern world.

Magical realism

His descriptions of humans and society in general are authentic. Its objective is to take advantage of the paradox of the union of opposites; then, it challenges binary oppositions like life and death, or the pre-colonial past versus the post-industrial present. Thus, this narrative strategy involves the fusion of the real and the fantastic.

The presence of the supernatural in magical realism is opposed to European rationality, amalgamating realism and fantasy. On the other hand, some critics maintain that it offers a vision of the world that is not based on natural or physical laws, nor on objective reality. However, the fictional world is not separate from reality either.

Now, there is a coincidence that magical realism is an expression of the reality of the New World. It is a combination of rational elements of a European civilization and irrational elements of a primitive America. 

Some terms that have been used to describe magical realist writing in different parts of the world are: wacky realism, fabulism, interstitial writing, unrealism, the wonderful real, magicorealism, the wonderful reality, McOndo, mystical realism, mythical realism, new wave, postmodern writing, realistic magicism, slipstream and social realism.


Genesis of the term

The term magical realism was first coined in 1925 by Franz Roh, a German art critic. He used it to describe a painting style of his time that pictorially depicted the enigmas of reality.

A few years later, in the 1940s, the concept crossed the ocean into South America. There it was adapted to the field of literature and was popularized by Latin American authors.

In itself, Latin American magic-realist literature originated with two novels: Corn men, by the Guatemalan writer Miguel Ángel Asturias, and The kingdom of this world, by Cuban Alejo Carpentier.

These writers combined Roh’s original theories of magical realism with French surrealist concepts of the wonderful and their own indigenous mythologies.

Like its counterpart in painting, the frame of reference for this style of writing was exotic natural surroundings, native cultures, and tumultuous political histories.

In 1949 Alejo Carpentier wrote an essay on this topic. Influenced by it, in the 1950s several Latin American authors adopted the style, combining it with French surrealist concepts and folklore.

Expansion in Latin America

Later other Latin American writers, such as Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar, also used elements of magic and fantasy in their works.

Then, in 1970, the English version of One hundred years of lonelinessby Gabriel García Márquez when we have the information. So the movement became an international phenomenon.

Later, writers such as Isabel Allende (Chile) and Laura Esquivel (Mexico) became part of the later developments of this narrative style. With their contribution, they contributed to giving a new approach to women’s problems and perceptions of their reality.

Magic realism in the rest of the world

While Hispanic writers were, and still are, a major influence on modern realistic magical literature, the style is not limited to a specific time or place.

In fact, writers around the world have embraced and adapted magical realism, molding it to their own cultures and within their own frame of reference.

For example, in American and British literatures magical realism has been a popular genre since the 1960s. 

It has also been an important branch of postmodernism; Franz Kafka (author ofMetamorphosis) is considered a precursor of the genre, despite the fact that for its time the term magical realism was not yet used.


Narrative of the facts

In magical realism literature the most fantastic and wild things are told in a very practical way.

Everything is described as if they were ordinary real life situations. This makes the fantastic elements of the story seem more realistic: the events are told as if they could actually happen.

Hybrid character of stories

In magical realism the intention is to combine opposites. The fantastic is mixed with the mundane, the ordinary with the extraordinary, life in dreams with life in waking life, reality and unreality.

Unrelated elements are often mixed together, and there is no advance thinking about the outcome.

Incorporation of the myth

Magical realism writers are often inspired by and borrow material from all sorts of myths. These can be ancient, modern, religious, or any kind of myth.

The novel and short stories as preferred categories

Magical realism has its preferential domain in novels and short stories. This is because this type of prose narrative has flexibility as a fundamental characteristic.

In this way, the writings can be enriched with a good dose of magic, without necessarily losing that sense of reality.

Non-linear character of time

In magical realism time is not something predictable and reliable that progresses from one second to another (it is not linear). Sometimes it repeats itself instead of moving forward, or it zigzags all over the place, jumping forward or standing still.

Political criticism as background material

Magical realism offers a way of veiled criticism of power structures. Despite all the fantastic and extraordinary elements present in the narrative, you can always read the political criticism between the lines.

Magical realism in Colombia

According to the critics, the magical realistic narrative of Colombia dates back to the 1850s with Rodríguez Freyle’s work, El carnero (1859).

In addition, another of the Colombian writers who used this style was Héctor Rojas Herazo. The works Breathing the summer (1962),In November the archbishop arrives(1967) and Celia se rot (1985) are part of his production.

However, the highest representative of New Granada is Gabriel García Márquez. His masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), deals with war, suffering and death.

In general, the purpose of García Márquez in portraying the politics of the region was to comment on how the nature of Latin American politics always tends toward the absurd; Denial and endless repetitions of tragedy abound in it.

Thus, the magical style of his work blends fantastically with reality, presenting the reader with his version of Colombia.

In this version, myths, portents and legends coexist with technology and modernity. These myths, along with other elements and events in the novel, tell a large part of Colombian history.

Magical realism in Mexico

The rich magical realistic Mexican narrative of the twentieth century has drawn mainly on the components of Mexican national identity and mestizo culture.

This narrative was created from the mixture of European and indigenous cultures and races, but it has also fed on the pre-Hispanic tradition of its inhabitants.

After the war between the United States and Mexico (1846-1848), the occupying Chicanos from the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California joined the movement.

Since the mid-1970s there has been a conscious and consistent relationship between Chicano and Mexican literature. However, the influence on his narrative is older: in the 1950s Mexican novels became increasingly experimental, entering the realms of surrealism and magical realism.

For example, Pedro Paramo (1955) by Juan Rulfo and Memories of the future (1963) by Elena Garro exerted an immense influence on contemporary Mexican and Chicano writers.

Featured authors and books

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In One hundred years of loneliness García Márquez tells the story of Macondo, an isolated town whose history is similar to the history of Latin America on a reduced scale. This combines realistic settings with fantastic episodes.

Like many other Latin American authors, this practice of mixing historical facts and stories with examples of the fantastic derived from the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, considered one of the founders of magical realism.

In history, the inhabitants of Macondo are driven by elemental passions – lust, greed, thirst for power – which are thwarted by social, political or natural forces.

Among other creations by this award-winning author are: The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), A Chronicle of a Death Foretold (nineteen eighty one), Love in the time of cholera (1985) and The general in his labyrinth (1989).

Laura Esquivel

Its main production, Like water for Chocolate (1989), represents one of his most outstanding works. The book was successful and served as the plot for a movie of the same name.In 1992 the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences awarded this film in 10 different lines.

Among other works of his authorship we can mention The law of love (nineteen ninety five), As fast as desire (2004) and Lupita likes to iron (2014).

Carlos Fuentes

One of the most important works of Carlos Fuentes is The death of Artemio Cruz (1962). This novel narrates, between the past and the present, the life of a former soldier of the Mexican Revolution who has become rich and powerful through corruption.

Other of his productions registered within this genre include The most transparent region (1958) and Aura (1962).

Isabel Allende

Chilean writer Isabel Allende has captivated her readers, not only for her distinctive combination of expert magical realism techniques, but for her political and social outlook, and her emphasis on gender, patriarchy, and machismo.

One of his most recognized works is The House of Spirits(1982). It is a sinuous and often mystical story. Through the example of an upper-class Latin American family, the author explores the gender, class, and political loyalty fissures that tore apart much of the continent during the 20th century.

The island under the sea, Ines of my soul, Eva Luna and My invented country They are among the creations of this Chilean author.

Julio Cortazar

Julio Cortázar, Argentine writer and short story writer, combined existential questioning with other experimental writing techniques in his works. Magical realism was one of these.

Two works by Cortázar written in the 1950s, Bestiary and Continuity of Parks, attest to the use of this narrative strategy.

Bestiary is a collection of stories that combines humor, the absurd and the fantastic. For its part,Continuity of Parks is one of the 18 stories that appear in his book End of game.

Especially in the book Endgame fiction and reality intertwine in a perfectly circular story. This story has become one of the most discussed in world literature.

Representatives in other latitudes

While it is true that Latin American writers have popularized magical realism, in other parts of the world it also has important representatives. Among the cult authors of this genre in the world we can mention:

– Günter Grass (Germany): The tin drum (1959)

Kobo Abe (Japan): The Face of Others (1967)

Italo Calvino (Italy): Invisible Cities (1972)

– Jack Hodgins (Canada): The invention of the world (1977)

– Milan Kundera (Czechoslovakia): The inmortality (1988)

Arundhati Roy (India): The God of Small Things (1996)

– Peter Høeg (Denmark): The century of dreams (2002)

Gina Nahai (Iran): Midnight on the Avenue of Faith (2008)


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