Over at Suite 101 they have an article about Magical Realism. While the author lists some excellent examples of the subgenre, I do think she gets one thing quite wrong:
An angel walks into your local grocery story with shiny wings and a glowing halo. Everyone accepts this as a natural occurrence and doesn’t bat an eye.
My problem with this statement isn’t that it’s simplistic–the author admits that as a fault. The problem is that it’s wrong on a fundamental level.
I would argue that Magical Realism is actually an exceptional disconnection of the fantastic from focus. Yes, it is about the acceptance of the fantastic as natural, but it goes beyond that. Magical Realism makes exceptional, both in its form (writing) and its content (characters, etc.), the naturalization and de-mystification of the fantastic; this means that, while Fantasy presents the fantastic in a way that is both exceptional in its presentation (i.e. we see it vividly and in a form that clearly demarcates the elements that make it fantastic) and its content (stories “of” the fantastic), Magical Realism does the exact opposite, taking something that we know doesn’t exist (or at least only exists in a particularly limited supernatural scope) and putting it into the backdrop of an otherwise “real” story. You don’t actually “see” the fantastic elements in Magical Realism unless you’re intentionally looking for it. They become so utterly embedded into the world, so de-emphasized so as to be less than a passing fancy. You don’t see the fantastic in Magical Realism well enough to say that it is a coherent structure of the fiction being portrayed.
So, when an author uses an example like an angel walking into a grocery store, that has far more to do with urban fantasy than it does with magical realism. Why? Because the angel is not de-emphasized; the example clearly allocates considerable textual play to the nature of that angel’s existence, placing such a being outside of the exceptionally naturalized. Magical Realism goes that one step further by making the fantastic natural for us (the readers) too.
Does anyone disagree with me? Let me know what you think about Magical Realism. I’m curious to hear opinions on this.