Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Splitting Hairs?

After writing yesterday's post, I did a quick Google search for "dark magical realism". I wanted to be sure I wasn't misusing the term or lost in literary left field. The search produced 127 hits (that is with quotation marks around the phrase...the only way to find that exact search string).


One of the sites referred to a book about Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman. Okay...not exactly what I think of when I use the phrase "dark magical realism". Gaiman's Sandman work leaned heavily on mythology. The first two sites on the list didn't even refer to the phrase intact. (e.g. a sentence ended with the word "dark" and "magical realism" started the next sentence)

Now I know the modifier "dark" isn't necessary. Magical realism has become a large enough literary umbrella that it has plenty of space for darkness. But I do think there is an important difference between a story like Julio Cortázar's "House Taken Over" (what I would consider a seminal work of dark magical realism) and Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings". One instills a quiet sense of discomfort; the other, wonder.

Some argue that magical realism doesn't exist at's just another name for fantasy. (Terry Pratchett was quoted as saying "[magic realism] is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy.")

I disagree. Fantasy means something to people, even in rule-bending contemporary fantasy. Personally, I expect fantastical creatures or worlds or at least the suggestion of those things. Magical realism doesn't go so least not in my understanding. It is more subtle, and in being so, more strange. I can suspend my disbelief just that much more when a story makes subtle changes to my real world. When those changes are dark, I find it even more unsettling. Vampires don't scare me. Having something never mentioned by name take over my house, does.

Maybe I'm just splitting genre hairs. Mostly, the lack of "dark magical realism" hits on Google surprised me.


Jamie Eyberg said...

the lack of google hits surprises me as well. I really thought that M.R. was pretty well defined and a tight subset of the fantasy genre. Although I can throw horror in with fantasy as well on a certain level.

Aaron Polson said...

Depends on the kind of horror, doesn't it? I mean, Halloween was hardly fantasy.

Natalie L. Sin said...

That is strange. You would think that genre would be fertile ground for googling!

Catherine J Gardner said...

Not the point of the post granted, but does putting quotation marks around your search whittle out all the crap? I'm seconds away from checking it out.

I do wish we didn't have to label our stories, it makes life so hard.

Catherine J Gardner said...

Well I'll be... It works. Woot! That should leave my google searches uncluttered from now on.

By the way, I searched myself and want everyone to know the Catherine J Gardner on Facebook is not me... Yikes!

Aaron Polson said...

Cate - Scary, isn't it?

I learned the ins and outs of searching back in undergrad (when we had to milk the database for relevant research information). The quotes trick is a very nice trick indeed.

Bye-bye, crap.

katey said...

I agree with your definition wholeheartedly. That said, one could drive oneself crazy trying to figure out everyone else's definitions, really.

Let's just make ours the big one. Starting... now!

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - I'm with you. We win!

Benjamin Solah said...

On another note, you changed your design...I like that it's wider but kinda liked the 10pt font.

BT said...

Cate - try here for all your searching good bits:

Aaron - I'm with your definition. I'm all for defining things better under the current, overly broad umbrellas.

It's like horror - it's so stained by what happened in the 80s we are almost compelled to better define what comes beneath it, so our target readers, and possibly new readers, don't become disillusioned, disinterested or simply dis us as a whole (like book shops have done :c()

Aaron Polson said...

Benjamin - back to the smaller font. I had to reset all the colors, sizes, etc. when I changed the template.

BT - the 80s were bad for a lot of creative people (shudder)

K.C. Shaw said...

I wish there was a better term for fantasy-that-isn't-a-Tolkien-derived-epic. I consider what I write flat-out fantasy (no magical realism for me--although I do appreciate the genre and think your dark magical realism subgenre makes sense), but it's neither epic nor urban fantasy. I've heard it called alternate world fantasy, but that's sort of awkward and too close to the alternate history fantasy that I also don't typically write.

Gosh, this is more confusing than it ought to me!

Aaron Polson said...

K.C. - Big Genre Titles (Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi) hurt more than they help.