Monday, July 23, 2012

Fantasy Blog Circus: Borders and Crossovers in Fantasy

For me, there is nothing more annoying than someone who writes magical realism and who doesn't believe in magic. I got introduced to magical realism and natural supernaturalism in college when I read Latin American fiction.  The Latin American form of magical realism is not merely evocative metaphor (although it often is only that) But it is combined with a desire to honor the folklore old grannies  and uncles told to children on their knees. For authors such as Julio Cortazar, Borges or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there is a healthy respect for the underlying magical mystery of everyday life, the honoring of a culture's oral storytelling, and a desire to sacramentalize (in the Roman Catholic sense) the world by showing Life and Mystery embodied in the predictable routines of life. For me, true Magical Realism is full of mystery and questions about the nature of life. 

Of course there have been authors such as Henry James in "The Turn of the Screw" who combined both so every once in a while there are movies such as "Take Shelter" or books that play with the principle of uncertainty. "Is this character cracking or is the world not as closed and rational as we think?"   But I suspect James actually was writing a ghost story. If he did not believe in ghosts, he set his unbelief aside and created a story that is both psychological and metaphysical thriller. For many American writers, however, magical realism is simply a way to use metaphor to show the internal workings of the mind. Thus there is a distinct borderland between magical realism that looks outside of man's mind towards the unknown universe, and magical realism that shows the psychological complexities of the unknown human mind. 

I suppose it's a combination of growing up in a Bible-believing church  and growing up in Jamaica. Whether it's a testimony of a healing in a church service or a ghost story on SyFy, Discovery, or Biography Channel, or someone seeing Sasquatch or some other cryptozoic creature, I take my supernatural stories at face value.

I once had the pleasure of listening to my friend, Sharon McGuire, relating an evening where her friends were telling each other about the supernatural events that had happened to them. The Haitian girl believed in shapeshifters because she had seen them but utterly disbelieved in vampires and considered them silly. On the contrary, the Romanian girl believed people could turn into wolves because she had seen them but thought the Haitian girl's anecdote was ridiculous. I love stories like that.

I recently heard that the writer Victoria Laurie writes ghost stories because she had a ghost encounter when she was in high school. I like stories that open up the world. As Einstein said, "the mysterious is the most beautiful thing in art and science." As Shakespeare wrote, "there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of in your {rationalistic} philosophy.

So, with my love of the supernatural, I tend to dislike when a writer is simply using the surreal to describe emotions or aspects of a closed universe...and I generally will go along. After all, the surreal is useful for explaining life in all its aspects. But I would rather a dream in a story have supernatural resonances than be the outworkings of worried synapses or the result of an underdone potato. I would rather have Scrooge be visited by three spirits and be acted upon by supernatural agencies in the world that are beyond his ken, than chock up the night to repressed guilt or buried memories. That's just me.

True, we have yet to see a mermaid pop up in the Hudson River, but if a writer depicts such an event, I want to believe the writer actually believes seductive sirens/succubi actually exist -- and isn't using fish-tailed sea denizens as a symbol of heaven knows what.

One of my favorite Bible verses is "Lord, rend the heavens and come down." And I love St John's Apocalypse. Why? Because they promise a time when life --in all its magic and strangeness-- will be seen for what it is; they promise an unveiling. For me, magical realism and natural/supernaturalism are subtle reminders that human minds don't really know what the world is made of.

See other opinions on this topic at the this month's fantasy carnival blog

Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, 
Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age:  Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at 

Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia.  She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.  See:

Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, "The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections.

 I began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV'S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA'S PALACE. Now under my birth name, Ross, I am continuing the" Darkover" series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. I'm a member of Book View Cafe. I've lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and am active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies. 

Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.  
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