Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Really magical

So, I just finished reading Terry Pratchett's Making Money, the further adventures of Moist von Lipwig, Ankh-Morpork's erstwhile Postmaster, as he becomes Director of the Mint. I was going to write a review, but it just boils down to this: it's a Discworld book, go read it.

However, after I read the book, I went to look up any current information on Pratchett, who in 2007 announced that he had been diagnosed with early-onset Altzheimer's. His disease is progressing, of course, but he has remained active up until quite recently. As I was reading, I stumbled across a quote from Pratchett in which he says the label magical realism is "a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people."

Never having met a taxonomy I didn't like, I played with this idea for a bit.

Our friend the Wikipedia provides this: Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.

A source at Princeton says Magic realism or magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality. These magical elements are explained like normal occurrences that are presented in a straightforward manner which allows the "real" and the "fantastic" to be accepted in the same stream of thought.

Emory University describes magical realism thus: A literary mode rather than a distinguishable genre, magical realism is characterized by two conflicting perspectives, one based on a so-called rational view of reality and the other on the acceptance of the supernatural as prosaic reality. Magical realism differs from pure fantasy primarily because it is set in a normal, modern world with authentic descriptions of humans and society.

My literary colleague, Super Sissy, agreed in principle, although she approached it by saying that fantasy stories were set in created worlds and magical realism was set in this world. This is one way to interpret "mundane, realistic" and "normal, modern," I suppose.

The upshot of all of it is that magical realism is somehow literature while fantasy is just plain fiction, and Pratchett writes fiction.

The funny thing is, Pratchett's stories may be set in an imaginary, faux-medieval world, but it is a mundane, realistic, normal and deceptively modern one; the quotidian and the banal walk side by side with the supernatural. The Discworld stories usually do provide tweaked but authentic descriptions of humans and society and often access a deeper understanding of reality or at least punctuate the hidden meaning of mundane realities.

But Pratchett doesn't get to be in the magic realism club with Borges and Marquez because he made up Ankh-Morpork and didn't set his stories in Columbus, Ohio.

On the other hand, Ron Goulart's Please Stand By, a short story about an ad man who turns into a small grey elephant on national holidays, is certainly based on the acceptance of the supernatural as prosaic reality, but I don't think anyone would call it magical realism. (It is a pretty funny story, though.)

I guess it matters little. Most lists of fantasy sub-genres include Magical Realism as a divison on the same tier as High Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Ghost Story, and Weird Western, so maybe it's not so high and mighty a literary mode as all that. It just seems that some labeling seeks to impart status rather than to describe characteristics. I recall all the times that Vonnegut and Bradbury were declared by the literati to be writing fiction instead of science-fiction, because their stuff was good, so obviously it couldn't be sci-fi. (Even Bradbury was subject to this ideological hegemony at the end and railed against being called a sci-fi writer.)

Whatever. Read good books, however they are categorized, and Making Money is one of them.

I'll put revising the genre taxonomy on my do-list and let you know when I'm finished.

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