1. Use of language. Is it original? And original does not necessarily mean "innovative", but unique to the story/author; Does it convey the story convincingly?; Does it help you see things in a different light? Does it help you to reflect on life in an illuminating way? And many etceteras.
2. Character development. Do you care about the characters and their fate? Do they ring a bell in your psyche? Are they attractive as such?
3. Plot / situation. Does the plot or the situation depicted stimulate your mind? We know many works of literary art need no plot, and then the way to present a plotless situation becomes relevant.
So, "fantasy", "crime", "romance" and other labels may help categorize books, but in the end it is the literature inside what should be valued (or rejected). Now, "Magical realism" produced masterworks, and then torrents of cheap imitations. I have lamented that modern Latin American literature came to be identified in some quarters only with magical realism, i.e. books by Latin American authors that couldn't be categorized as such tended to be ignored or underestimated. Hopefully this is changing, as Latin America gets urbanized and globalized, and at least some stories may, but don't need, to be told through magic. More later, when I have access to my reading list...
: Anyway, it's fun to talk about!
: So, my first issue: How does one distinguish between
: low fantasy and magic realism?
: A dictionary of literature I have says that Magic
: Realism is "Literature that naturalizes the
: supernatural, taking for granted magical elements in
: an otherwise realistic narrative." And fantasy
: "creates within its narrative a coherent world
: that does not correspond to the perceived reality of
: everyday existence."
: I think this is pretty consistent with what we've been
: saying. What it doesn't address is the purpose for
: which magic realism introduces the supernatural into
: our world. I think that's another big difference
: between it and fantasy.
: Why is [One Hundred Years of Solitude] not low
: If it's not (and this depends on who's doing the
: defining, of course), then I would suggest that the
: key difference is that 100 Years does not attempt to
: create a coherent world. What happens to one character
: is unrelated to what will happen to another character
: in the same circumstance, with no explanation offered.
: The taxonomy becomes quite cluttered when one tries to
: cope with surrealism, satire with fantastic elements,
: etc. However, surely The Master and Margarita and
: much of the work of Kafka is "low" fantasy.
: I think the difference with surrealism is that it
: presents the fantastical as the product of the
: subconscious mind. The fantastical elements are
: presumed to be dreams or hallucinations, not something
: that is actually happening or that is allegorical or
: Most literature that is
: designated magic realism is, in some sense,
: post-colonial, with at least some political intent or
: subtext ...
: Very true. It seems to be saying to the rest of the
: world that "what happens to us is so far removed
: from your concept of logic, reality and justice that
: this is the only way we can make you understand
: The Odyssey, the Book of Genesis, Journey to
: the West, the Divine Comedy, and Gulliver's Travels
: are all arguably high fantasy...
: Don't let too many people in our part of the world
: hear you call the Book of Genesis "fantasy,"
: or you're liable to be looking down the barrel of an
: assault rifle.
: I wonder how many of Homer's contemporaries (if there
: really was a Homer) thought of the The Odyssey as
: anything but a true history? Probably the same
: proportion as now consider Genesis, etc., as likewise.
: The same might be said of Journey to the West.
: I think of the Divine Comedy and Gulliver's Travels,
: along with such modern counterparts as Animal Farm, as
: belonging to a sub-genre of fantastic allegories. They
: are more closely related to fables and fairy tales
: than they are to magic realism.
: ...but the days when this
: could be considered mainstream literature are long
: Isn't postmodernism in some ways a present day
: substitute? Thinking of such works as Gravity's
: Rainbow and Infinite Jest, we have the ridiculous and
: the absurd taking the place of the magical and the
: purely symbolic.
: But I do agree with your sentiment that it's a shame
: that works falling squarely into the classification of
: "fantasy" and "science fiction"
: don't get the literary recognition they might have a
: century or two ago. I think this may be largely due to
: publishers and booksellers attempting to target every
: book to a specific niche market. Gene Wolfe, Connie
: Willis, and China Miéville get shelved in
: "SF&F" and consequently will never win that
: Booker or Pulitzer.
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