Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Magic Realism

Term first used in 1920s Germany to describe some contemporary painters, and at first not easily distinguishable from Surrealism, though distinctions did emerge. In Surrealism, there is no real concern for a default region or rhetoric which may be described as "real", no framing Reality; surreal paintings and texts may be deemed Fantastic but are rarely Fantasy. In MR, by contrast, the regions of the real may be irradiated with dream imagery, dislocations in time and space, haunting juxtapositions, etc., but reality is the frame within which the narration, whether visual or textual, proceeds. The more extreme examples of MR are often fantastic; but many MR texts – in particular Myth of Origin tales by the Latin American writers with whom the term is now generally identified – can be treated as fantasy.

By the early 1980s, MR had become a term mostly applied to writers like Jorge Luis Borges, whose Universal History of Infamy (coll 1935) subjects its various subjects to manipulations that make the fictional seem true, the historical seem imagined: but always within an ultimate frame that acknowledges the ongoing world. In the hands of Borges and those who followed him, MR is a technique of interpretation, and in fictions is almost invariably tied to Story. MR is a way of telling the story of reality, and its deep popularity in Latin America reflects the fact that old European modes had failed to capture the complex, interwoven, fabulous history of that vast region – MR is, in short, a way of approaching the Matter of Latin America. English-language writers who have been described as magic realists include Brian Aldiss, James P Blaylock, Peter Carey, Angela Carter, E L Doctorow, John Fowles, Mark Helprin, Salman Rushdie and Emma Tennant. [JC]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.