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Magical Realism: the literary name for spiritualist fiction

By:Evie Woolmore
Date: Fri,18 Jul 2014
Submitter:Evie Woolmore
Views:10852

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Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore

A couple of years ago, the successful novelist Robert Harris expressed a thorough lack of enthusiasm for magical realism. He said, "I enjoy recreating the concrete details of a society or a city or a country or a structure and then playing around with it. I've no taste at all for fantasy, or for magic realism. That's garlic to a vampire as far as I'm concerned." In a blog I wrote in response, I observed that Mr Harris seems to position his works as directly opposite to magical realism, "as if facts are somehow literally fatal to the genre or vice versa." And yet, as I went on to say, "if one is to consider Mr Harris's Fatherland or Pompeii, has he not merely done as I and other magical realist authors do: to take a position in our familiar world, and simply consider a new perspective on what we know? He calls it "playing around". I call it a "what if?""

I am a writer of magical realist novels, the literary term for stories which have spiritual themes. Magical realism is an umbrella term, I suppose, for novels which have themes of otherness, be they fantasy, vampire, spiritual or one of the many fusion genres which are emerging. I write historical magical realist fiction - or historical spiritual fiction if you like, and my three novels The Salt Factory, Equilibrium and Rising Up, all set spiritual stories in historical settings.

Zoe Brooks, another magical realist author, defines magical realism on her website as "a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.'' Like most historical novelists, I strive for accuracy in my books, and spend hours researching the period, the geography, the vocabulary and so on to enable me to create as authentic a setting as possible, a setting that is, as Zoe describes, "realistic". Yet why do I go to so much trouble to create an authentic historical setting when I'm going to be challenging the reader to think of that same world in a different way, because of the magical realist themes I introduce? Will you care that the heroine of The Salt Factory, Thelonia Jones, is wearing the correct Victorian knickerbockers when I'm going to introduce her (and you) to a little girl who can bring dead things back to life?

I wonder if there is a veil of otherness and separation that falls over a novel when its setting is removed from us in time as well as in possibility, a veil that actually

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

helps us believe more in the book's magical qualities? In other words, if I set this story in a land far, far away in distance and time, isn't it much more possible that the things I'm going to tell you happened actually did happen? Isn't that far more likely than if I tell you this happened yesterday in a house around the corner from where you live, which might make you start thinking of reasons why it can't possibly have occurred? It's a wonderful paradox, typical of what makes fiction so fascinating, that while I strive to make you believe in the authenticity of the Victorian England I am painting in my novel, I am doing so just so you will feel more comfortable when I show you something very extraordinary in that world.

My motivation for writing has never been to find out how far I can stretch the boundaries of your imagination. I am not a creator of marvellous 'worlds through secret doors' like Tahlia Newland's Diamond Peak or John Dutton's Temple of Truth. The magical realist aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first, they are part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.

So perhaps I also like using a historical setting because it's a way of lessening the shock. If I make you comfortable in a world by making it feel authentic, then you will be less disturbed when I reveal some of the hidden truths about that world. There is something very safe about historical fiction. We are escaping from this time and this world to one which seems less complicated, and through which the author leads us like an experienced tour guide. And so perhaps we are less troubled when unusual things happen there, for we can learn the lessons of that world, understand its characters, appreciate its themes, admire its vision, because it is a foundation for our world, and yet still safely separate from it.

~~~~~~~

To find out more about Evie Woolmore and her spiritual novels, please visit her website at http://allonymbooks.com/evie-woolmore/ or find her novels on Amazon.
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