On the Reality of Magic


Sunset Magic – photo credit Jan C. Wood

Give me a story where a woman walks out of a cookie-cutter suburban home, steps too forcefully on a cement paver, and bounces onto a sturdy branch of her neighbor’s mulberry tree.

Tell me about a boy who falls asleep in English class and gets in trouble in school because he stays up all night drawing creatures that crawl out of the pages of his sketch pads to steal his socks.

Let me see an insurance adjuster, worried about being laid off, who misdials his business phone and has a tearful conversation with his teenage self.

I want stories about things that shouldn’t happen but do. They happen not because it’s a fantasy world, but because someone right here, right now is so happy or sad or angry that the very laws of physics no longer apply.

Why does Magical Realism appeal to me? Not because it’s an escape from the real world but because it’s a reflection of the real world.

Too often, we’re encouraged to find a reasonable explanation for the unreasonable. One day you’re a normal person, and then you fall in love, and the very fabric of reality changes. The air tastes sweet and all the musicians, even the dead ones, have written a song about you. You experience loss, and the actual color disappears from life. All you can see are drab shades of brown and gray, and the only flavors in your food are salt and sour. You have a child, and you have to figure out how to restrain the power inside yourself; you fear and revel in your own potential to be a vicious blood-thirsty monster if some unwary soul threatens your baby.

A boy looks perfectly normal – maybe a little late to speak – and one day, he sits down at a piano and pulls notes from the heavens.

A little girl picks up a paint brush because she can’t keep her hands still, and with small fingers and department store paints, she creates images to make a grown man cry.

Magical Realism is that – it’s acknowledging the inexplicable in the world and electing not to assign a “reasonable explanation” for it. But it does it without untethering everything else from reality. If the woman lives in a world where everyone bounces into trees, or all boys bring hand-drawn creatures to life, or insurance adjusters make daily calls to their past selves, then the story becomes fantasy or even absurdity.

I find a story most compelling when it could happen to you or me, and not in some scientifically advanced future but now, and not in some glittering world accessed through a portal, but here.

It’s compelling because, if we are honest with ourselves, it is the truest reflection of the real world. Because when we try to explain why we fell in love, or why that one guy’s handshake makes us shudder and step away, or why that deep golden too-hot part of a Sunday afternoon brings an ache to our chest, we can’t. We tell ourselves a lie about it that makes sense. We make realistic the magical. And too often, we believe our own mundane explanations.

That’s why I read Magical Realism. That’s why I write it. If I didn’t, it would be at best a missed opportunity and at worst, a lie.

My Magical Realism book, Bright Aster, is available through Amazon.

bright aster

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Over twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about Magical Realism. Please take the time to click on the links below to visit them and remember that links to new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.