I suppose you could think of this as a companion piece to my post at Indies Unlimited last week about why I write fantasy. I've dipped my toes in the waters of magic realism, too, and so I thought it might be interesting to talk about how the two genres complement each other.
Well, it will be interesting for me, anyhow, and it's my blog.
Why would a fantasy writer want to bother with magic realism, anyway? It's not like it sells any better. Certainly the critics like it better, if what you're after is literary-snobby critical acclaim. But really, what can you do with one that you can't do with the other?
I can think of a couple of things. For one thing, magic realism is more subtle. Let's say your characters are doing their best not to talk about the elephant in the room -- alcoholism, say, or child abuse, or murder. In fantasy, chances are that the magic solution would be big and unmistakable: a wizard turns the wine to water, or the abuser gets his comeuppance when a magical creature mauls him. In magic realism, you might have a character like Toni Morrison's Beloved -- a baby whose death haunts her mother so much that the baby's ghost comes back. At first she looks like a blessing, but then she grows and grows, becoming so huge that she takes over the family's house and calls all the shots.
For another thing, the gee-whiz factor in fantasy can sometimes hamper you from doing what you'd like to do. In fantasy, non-magical people basically have two reactions to magic: either they're totally wowed by it (or pretend not to care while secretly being wowed by it), or they fear it. Which sets up that old good vs. evil dichotomy: "Burn the witch!"/"No, you don't understand! She uses her magic for good!" Same/same with paranormal creatures: either they're misunderstood, or they should be destroyed. Think Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," or any paranormal romance in which the "good guys" are after the hunky vampire/werewolf/fae.
If you've read any of my books, you know I don't have a lot of use for that classic dichotomy. In my opinion, even the bad guys believe they're doing the right thing. And magic realism allows even the villains to be more well-rounded characters. It puts the magic in the background, so that it becomes part of the fabric of time and place. And that allows the author to paint with a finer brush. If I'd written Seasons of the Fool as a regular fantasy, Dave's wife, Nina, might have been portrayed as the equivalent of the wicked stepmother. As a work of magic realism, Nina takes on depth and becomes a tragic figure (or that was my intention, anyway). Instead of being a stock character or a caricature, she becomes a person who might be reconciled with her kids someday.
Don't get me wrong -- I love writing fantasy. It's a lot of fun. But I also enjoy writing magic realism, and I expect to be doing more work in that genre, too, in years to come.
These moments of magical realistic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell