Storytelling, dreams, and magic

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Life in Truth (as opposed to the “life actual” world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.” – Jane Yolen in “Touch Magic”

MRbloghop2016When we wake up from a dream, we’re aware of the fact that we didn’t realize we were dreaming while we were dreaming, but accepted what was happening as real no matter how improbable it seems in the light of day. Daydreams are somewhat the same. We’re imagining surfing in Hawaii or climbing Mt. Everest when somebody says, “you look like you’re a thousand miles away.”

Authors hope readers will react to their books like this. We want the reader to step into the story and, as the words flow forward along the pages, believe a little or a lot that the story is real. When a book is compelling, readers are often startled when the phone rings or somebody knocks on the front door and they find themselves back in “life actual” in somewhat the same way they react when they wake up from a compelling dream.

It’s said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested that when stories contain human interest and a semblance of truth, readers will temporarily suspend their judgement about the implausibility of the plot, setting and characters. Readers willingly suspend their disbelief and see the novel, short story, play or movie as life actual rather than life in truth.

A general fiction author will take us to a real place, or at least a realistic place, in our own comfortable domain of life actual (sometimes called “consensual reality”) and tell us a story that could happen (or might have happened) in the “real world.” (I put “real world” in quotation marks because both Quantum physicists and spiritual gurus have called into question whether the world we perceive as real is real.)

Contemporary fantasy authors will take you to a hidden place within the world we know where magical events occur. The Harry Potter series is a good example of this. Most of the magic within Rowling’s books was confined to Hogwarts and other magical locations. The consensual reality at Hogwarts was different from the consensual reality in London, and both readers and wizards knew that they were traveling between parts of the world with different rules.

perception2Magical realism authors bring magic into the world we know. In a magical realism story, the magic is part of the characters’ everyday life and is accepted as just as real and viable as the cars they drive and the pots and pans in their kitchens.  The characters don’t see magic as something with the world “maybe” attached to it whether that magic comes from the land, from ancestors or spirits, or from the spell casting or innate abilities of the people involved.

The authors of general fiction (or realistic genres), contemporary fantasy, and magical realism all want readers to suspend their natural disbelief in the reality presented in the novel, and accept it as real in the same way they accept dreams and daydreams as real. In some ways, readers are like those who go up on stage during a hypnotist’s or magician’s performance and say, “Yes, I’m willing to be hypnotized” or “Yes, I’m willing to be fooled by your illusions.”

Perception is Reality

Storytellers, hypnotists and stage magicians (illusionists) can place you into somewhat of a dream state in which you accept what’s happening as real because we believe that perception is reality in one or more of these ways:

  • Psychologists might say you see the same reality as everyone else, but are impacted by it differently because of how you feel about it or yourself.
  • Quantum physicists might say that reality is more than we perceive with our physical senses and that our thoughts or our presence impact it in ways we may not realize.
  • Those who study and accept what used to be called “new age” belief systems will say that our perception and our thoughts create the reality we experience and that we can be taught how to do this consciously.
  • And others will say that our perception of what is real can changed temporarily due to hypnosis, strong emotions or other traumas, alcohol or drugs, or some other life actual cause.

When it comes down to it, most authors don’t think about “perception is reality” while they’re writing. Learning one’s craft brings authors the techniques they need to tell a page-turning story that readers perceive as real while they’re reading it. Most of us want to be tricked one way or another when we watch a hypnotist’s or a stage magician’s performance. We don’t usually think about being tricked or enchanted or hypnotized when we pick up a novel, but that’s what happens if the story on that novel’s pages is well told.

Magical Realism or Just Plain Realism?

I see the world as a child of the new age. I’ve had arguments with publishers about whether my novels and short stories should be called general fiction or magical realism because I believe everything in my stories is real. But, publishers, bookstores and readers tend to like seeing the genre labels because those labels help them choose the ways they like being hypnotized or enchanted (in a magical sense) by an author.

What do you see?

What do you see?

I’ve always written about the world I perceive. Until others pointed it out, I didn’t realize I was writing magical realism. I had to ask, “What makes my stories fit into that genre?” Publishers, editors and writing gurus kept telling me, “You and your characters. . .”

  1. View the spell for creating a pillar of fire or jinxing a troublesome neighbor as no different than a recipe for mac and cheese.
  2. Assume haints and other spirits are just as likely to be in the forest as deer and raccoons.
  3. Give myths and legends just as much credence as recorded history–or suggest they’re more accurate
  4. Think trees, rocks, storms and the land itself are conscious.

I said, “Yes, of course I perceive everything that way. Doesn’t everyone?”

As it turned out, most other people don’t share my perception of reality in their day-to-day lives; however, enough of them like being lured into short stories and novels with that kind of perception to make magical realism a popular genre.

I think I was the last to know.

The world as we know it draws lines between our dreams and our waking hours, between illusion and five-senses perception, between magic and non-magic, and between life actual and life in truth. Magical realism takes away all those lines.

Malcolm

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button for a list of other blogs in the hop. Links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

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22 responses

  1. I’ve had arguments with publishers about whether my novels and short stories should be called general fiction or magical realism because I believe everything in my stories is real.

    <— YES!!! I love this post. What some see as magic or fantasy, I see as expanded awareness.

    • I wrote in a blog some years ago (may have been another Blog Hop) that I felt my books were about seeing the world as it is if only you turned your head a bit further. Expanded awareness is a good phrase.
      Interesting blog Malcolm – always a challenge to nail those definitions!
      Evie

  2. Wonderful blog, Malcolm. I love how you describe MR as a way to go beyond “lines between our dreams and our waking hours, between illusion and five-senses perception, between magic and non-magic, and between life actual and life in truth.” Who says dreams aren’t as real as waking hours. Who says? I so agree: magical realism takes away the lines, fences, limitations, that the sensory-mind has erected.

  3. Zoe’s blog hop always inspires and requires me to dig deeper into that question, What is Magical Realism, Really. My post this year also explores this most elusive (at least for me) inquiry. I greatly enjoyed your piece because I found it so succinctly and so cleverly and with wonderful humor put forth such a bright response. What I especially enjoyed was your perspective and your shock to discover that: “doesn’t everyone view the world just this way?” Ah.

    • The usual question is “you don’t see what I see?” is ever-present in my thoughts. Well, it used to me more than it is now. Now I just write what I write and don;t worry about it as much as I might have some years ago. 🙂

  4. Nice post, Malcolm. You make a case for Magic Realism as training for most of the world to try and see things as you do, full of wonder and fantastical elements. Do they just seem everyday to you or are they fantastical? Anyway, readers go along for the ride happily; we can hope that agents and publishers do sometimes, too. For me, not being a visual person, I see the world in pretty ordinary ways. But it’s my imagination that’s always thinking wondrous things, convincing me that it shouldn’t surprise me that magic is all around us.

    Best, Steve

  5. I love the comment about “myths and legends just as much credence as recorded history–or suggest they’re more accurate.” That’s so true in the western world where we focus on today’s big accomplishment, maybe because we don’t have a much history, but elsewhere, myths and legends are still part of the everyday. Good job all of you for calling for them as part of publishing!

    • Writers, I guess, can tell stories that show the importance of myths and legends, blending them into their work. Maybe–in time–more people will value what’s in those myths and legends and see that lists of dates and accomplishments are not everything there is to be said about the past.

  6. Thank you for this insightful contribution to this year’s hop, Malcolm. So much of it rings true to my experience

    Sorry it has take me so long to comment, setting things up this year took more effort than previously.