What Is Magical Realism : Magical Realism Examples

What is Magical Realism: What is the debate?

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Magical Realism happens when a highly realistic setting is invaded by the supernatural as a matter-of-fact. The reader accepts ‘the reality’ of ‘the magical’.

Despite its widespread use, the term 'magical realism' has proven notoriously difficult to define amongst literary critics. This is largely due to a variety of applications of the term and its changing meaning over time. In literary circles there’s a vigorous debate with strong reactions both for and against the use of ‘magical realism’ to describe various works of fiction. For example,

    • Is magical realism restricted to the geographic location of Latin America, where it had the largest initial popular impact?

  • Does magical realism have room for a diverse variety of subject matters, or is it restricted to themes of political or cultural discourse?
  • Can magical realism be a narrative mode chosen solely for the purposes of literary exploration, without having its source in the writer’s mythological or cultural background?

But these academic disputes may very well miss the point. Writings (and films) with elements of ‘magical realism’ have never been more popular amongst the reading and viewing public. And while the reading public does not participate in literary studies and debates, they are an ultimate force in what sustains a literary movement.

For nine decades there has been resilience to the term that goes beyond any debate. Perhaps that’s because the forced relationship of the irreconcilable terms, ‘magic’ and ‘real’, mirror a fundamental human question that has indelible appeal. Magical Realism seamlessly injects beliefs that are not practical or observable into a universe influenced by science and pragmatism. This leads to perspectives and modes otherwise inexplorable. It creates an irresistible combination for readers; and a powerful narrative form for writers.

So while it’s essential to acknowledge the historical roots and the various works that have evolved this exciting form of literature, and confront the critics that wish to confine the use of the term, it is perhaps more important to embrace what it is becoming on its journey as a serious and compelling branch of fiction.

In the following sections we’ll explore the historical context of ‘magical realism’ and determine why the use of the term has led to such complexity and consternation among critics. We’ll navigate the minefield that surrounds the acceptance of examples as magical realism in literature and film.

But we’ll begin by focusing on the area of magical realism that is undisputed. Specifically, what are the elements of magical realism that all works in this genre share and what clearly defines it as a distinctive genre of literature both in its past and going forward?

In doing so classic and contemporary examples of magical realism stories will be discussed. (magical realism examples)


Magical Realism example
- (short story example of magical realism)

The Last Penitente - northern New Mexico Magic Realism 


The Spaniard, Antonio De Vargas, had been born two-hundred years ago, east of the Río Grande, in the land of sun, silence, and adobe. When Michael, a young Gringo boy, first spotted De Vargas in a remote village in 1970, it was during the 'Festival of the Dead'. But it was not this strange village celebration which had summoned De Vargas from the nether. That's because, in all these centuries, neither De Vargas's colony nor his secretive brotherhood had ever truly been gone. Some purpose had thrown together the boy and man who lived in very different New Mexicos. But up here, in the north mountain vastness of the forty-eighth state, who could say whose New Mexico was real–and whose was not


read the short story




drawing a line in the sand

For those who re-define Magical Realism as fantasy!

The magical realism definition has become somewhat diluted by publishers who increasingly use the term to describe various works for marketing reasons. This practice puts magical realism in danger of being reduced to vague clichés. As will be discussed in sections below, arguments about the use of the term tend to center around what themes belong in the genre; there is little or no debate about what constitutes it.

For example, the definition of magical realism has occasionally been misapplied to certain works of fantasy, perhaps in an attempt to add prestige. But most fantasy distinctly differs in that it creates new worlds where the presence of the supernatural is something to which special attention is drawn, whereas for magical realism writers, the presence of the supernatural is accepted in the ordinary.

Also fantasy is escapism, or escapist literature, which is designed primarily for imaginative entertainment rather than reading designed for provoking thought. Magical Realism is a branch of more serious fiction, and though the better examples can be thoroughly entertaining, this genre is not created primarily for escapism.  (escapism vs realism definitions) 

So some caution should be exercised when searching for supposed examples of magical realism. It would help to have magical realism defined before naming magical realism stories as being such.

Magical Realism Defined

Definition of magical realism: A narrative technique that blurs the distinction between fantasy and reality. It is characterized by an equal acceptance of the ordinary and the extraordinary. Magic realism fuses lyrical and, at times, fantastic writing with an examination of the character of human existence and an implicit criticism of social norms.

Magical Realism’, or Realismo Mágico, was introduced in the 1950’s in relation to Latin American fiction. It is one of three related terms (Bowers (2004), Magic(al) Realism),

  • Magical RealMagischer Realismus, coined in Germany 1920 in relationship to paintings that tried to capture the mystery behind the surface of reality.
  • Marvelous RealismLo Real Maravilloso, in 1940 used to define the art and literature in Latin American that arose to depict the juxtaposition of  the European and Latin American racial and cultural systems, where indigenous cultures had a different appreciation of reality. Its distinguishing feature is it brings together opposing perspectives of tangible approaches to reality and the acceptance of magic and superstition into the same context.

However, Magical Realism has been adopted as the main term used to refer to all narrative fiction that includes magical happenings in a realist matter-of-fact narrative.

In Magical Realism,

‘The supernatural is not a simple or obvious matter, but is an ordinary matter, and everyday occurrence—admitted, accepted, and integrated into the rationality’ (Zamora,Faris (1995), Magical Realism:Theory, History)

To expand this magical realism definition let’s look at elements of magical realism in fiction.

Elements of Magical Realism

Traditional magical realism literature has definable elements of magical realism that all works in this genre share. Magical realism authors put explicit techniques to very specialized use in order to explore viewpoint or worldview. Though any specific examples of magical realism may differ, they will employ a smattering of the elements listed here.

Fantastical elements - fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the 'reliable' tone of objective realistic report. Fantastic attributes are given to characters.

Authorial reticence - The narrator does not provide explanations about the credibility of events described in the text. Further, the narrator is indifferent; the story proceeds with "logical precision" as if nothing extraordinary took place.

Sense of mystery - Magic realist literature tends to read at a much intensified level.

Plenitude - an "extraordinary" abundance of disorienting detail.

Hybridity – mixing multiple planes of reality or inharmonious arenas of such opposites as urban and rural, and Western and indigenous.

Collective consciousness

Political or social critique - magic realism's ‘alternative world’ works to correct the reality of established viewpoints.

History of Magical Realism

(its controversy, and its progression to Contemporary Magical Realism)

In literature, “Magical Realism” first came into use to describe the work of certain Latin American writers. A common criticism is that Latin America is the birthplace and cornerstone of all things magic realist. But magic realism has taken on internationalization: many non-Hispanic writers are categorized as such, and Contemporary Magical Realism has truly become an international commodity.

The origins of closely related terms for Magical Realism are complex. This has resulted in a usage that’s highly contested amongst literary critics, primarily because many base their viewpoint on just one historical thread. Most adopt the Latin American thread.

However, the term first came about nine decades ago in reference to a new mode of painting in the 1920’s during Germany’s new age of parliament, known as the Weimar Republic. The world of art and poetry had previously been dominated by a modernist movement called Expressionism. The German art critic Franz Roh coined the term ‘Magic Realism’ for a new form of painting that had representations of mystical non-material aspects of reality in a realistic backdrop. This is not to be confused with a surrealist movement occurring at the same time, which was a brand of magic highly influenced by the psychoanalytical writings of Sigmund Freud. For Roh, a magic realist needed to incorporate ideas about the interior life whilst expressing it through depictions of the material world.

Examples of Magical Realism in Art

Another thread developed for magic(al) realism in Latin America as the writer Alejo Carpentier became strongly influenced by the European art scene. He instigated a distinctly Latin American form of magic realism which he called ‘Marvelous Realism’. His aim was to express the non-material aspects of life, but he used it to focus on the differences between European and Latin American racial and cultural systems. This terminology was more about the different appreciation of reality held by the subordinate Latin American culture in contrast to the colonizing Europeans.


So you can see that ‘Magic Realism’ (Germany) and ‘Marvelous Realism’ (Latin America) refer to distinctly different versions. The new term ‘Magical Realism’ which we commonly use today emerged in 1955 in an essay by critic Angel Flores, ‘Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction’. Flores’s essay muddied the historical water, though, since he created a new history of influences for his purposes of arguing that magical realism was the continuation of a Spanish language tradition, citing ‘Don Quixote’ as a first example, though it was written three-hundred years earlier.


However, following the publication of Flores’s essay there was a renewed interest in Latin America leading to a second wave of magical realism writing, which is not directly related to Flores’s analysis of the movement. It developed into the most recognizable types of Latin American literature today. A notable example is Gabriel García Márquez, who initially used this form of literature to portray political, racial, and cultural discourse.


The international recognition of Latin American magical realists has led to a misconceived assumption that magical realism is specifically Latin American, and that the themes of this literary genre must necessarily be cross-cultural or political.


Nonetheless the fame of Latin American magical realism propelled the rapid adoption of this form of writing globally. For example, there has been a strong offshoot of writers in the English-speaking world who adopt magical realism in order to express their non-Western mythological and cultural traditions. This has acted to strengthen the narrowness of themes considered appropriate by some critics for magical realism.


However it is crucial to recognize that an over-association of magical realism with Latin America would lead to it becoming a passing fashion in literary history of a certain region. Also, strictly accepting only the works with cultural, subversive, or political possibilities of magical realism is to apply an artificial constraint, and is unfaithful to its broader history. As will be seen from contemporary examples of magical realist works, such boundaries do not actually exist for magical realism.

Contemporary Magical Realism Examples

 (please check back, this section is being updated)

Magical Realism Examples

Examples of magical realism…

Guatemalan author William Spindler suggests that there are three kinds of magic realism, which however, are by no means incompatible:

European ‘metaphysical’ magic realism - with its sense of estrangement and the uncanny.

‘Ontological’ magical realism - characterized by ‘matter-of-factness ’in relating ‘inexplicable’ events.

‘Anthropological’ magical realism - where a Native worldview is set side by side to the Western rational worldview.

Click here of a list of Magical Realism Examples in literature and film

Teaching Magical Realism? Interested Book Clubs?

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by Jay Archer David

What Is Magical Realism : Magical Realism Examples


After a near-fatal climbing accident, David tries to return home. But the road he’s on is no longer what it seems. He’s pursued by a terrible secret that will turn a simple outing into the greatest of human struggles.

"Great New Sc-Fi Author - I was absolutely spellbound" - Read Reviews

Straddling the line between fantasy and literary fiction is a genre known as magical realism. It combines the poetic punch of literature with surreal and otherworldly elements to make a genre far richer than either genre alone. Our editors were pleased to work with such a book recently, and we're even more pleased to announce that Jay Archer David's ROAD SIGNS is now available to the public. "There is a road between places, between things, peoples and times. It conceals magic, bestows power-but mostly we travel it with eyes closed. David wants to open his eyes and travel farther." This is the premise behind ROAD SIGNS, and we've invited Jay Archer David to share more about his book, and its creation.
(Read Interview)

The Last Penitente - norhtern NM Magic Realism (a modern example)
The colony was old – older than anything else European in the north Americas. It was not at all true that the Spaniard, Antonio De Vargas, had been summoned from the nether on 'the day of the dead' when he crossed paths with the young Gringo boy. For in all the long centuries, Antonio had never been anywhere else. Though a modern world had painted over the past in its one large city, up here in the mountain vastness of the north, who's to say whose New Mexico was the real one–and whose was not.
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