Don’t Call It That | Magical Realism vs Fabulism | #WyrdandWonder

26/1/2023 Edit
As of today all comments on this post are closed. Over the years I’ve gotten some mean spirited comments on this post. We don’t have to agree but at least be respectful. There have been some kind people who didn’t agree with me who I had a discussion with as you can see in the comments but other people just want to slam on me. And I’m kind of tired of that. So I’ve closed the comments on it. I thought about deleting it but that didn’t seem fair either. 

I wrote this the way it is nearly 3 years ago. If you want to call it all magical realism, be my guest. But I hope that once in a while when you read a book you will at least think about this. About what it means to latinx writers. 

Magical Realism is one of those subgenres that I stayed away from for most of my reading career. It always felt that there was something about it that made me extremely cautious to even use the term. I could never quite get a grip on Magical Realism as a subgenre. And google never was a help.

Latinx and poc bloggers were a great help. I have learned a lot through them, just by listening to whatever they were willing to share. I’ll be dropping some names at the end for you to check out. But when it comes down to it, it shouldn’t endlessly by their task to explain this to the rest of the whole world.

And that is this: What a lot of you have been calling Magical Realism, isn’t.

So I am once again doing a fantasy  subgenre comparison here during Wyrd and Wonder to hopefully help you guys figure it out. There is a lot of debate, I will add that, to a portion of this. But I do think that this is how it works. Nuances are always present.

Magical Realism

Magical realism, as the name suggest, is a kind of genre that has fantastical elements in the real world. Yet it is certainly not like contemporary fantasy. Where contemporary fantasy hardline creates creatures seperate from reality, with magical realism there is a much more blurring of the line of what is real and what is fantasy in magical realism. Authors withold information about the magic to make it seem more matter of the fact and a normal part of the world.

While the term magical realism was initially coined in 1925 in Germany it became truly apart of literature and art when it made its move to Latin America.  There it became more politically charged when it was often used as a critique on society and how those who were others were treated. Often focused on political movements like marxism or a critique on the elite of the world. Adding onto that is that it is discusses colonialism and its repurcussions.

There is much more to this portion of magical realism that I just cannot fit into this article nor have a good of a enough handle on to share with you. But Latinx bloggers have been talking about this for a while.


Fabulism is in fact very similar to magical realism. It also sets the fantastical in the ordinary as if it were the norm. However here the difference is, is that fabulism is more often non-political, does not address colonialism and the repurcussions, and in general is by authors who are not latinx.

A book by a non-latinx author can’t be magical realism?

The short answer, it can’t be. The long answer is, it is a little more complicated than that. The problem with calling any book magical realism is that the political and social portions of what magical realism is to the Latinx community (colonialism) is often forgotten. A lot of books that are being called magical realism do not have that portion.

Take for example Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Often seen as magical realism. But the commentary or critique on society/politics is not there. Adding onto that is that Neil is a British author and as such was on the other end of colonialism. So it is fabulism.

You must also take into account that most of us as white people have no idea what it is like when people appropiate your things and use it as their own. While you might not see the problem using the term magical realism for everything, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt a portion of our blogging community.

Bloggers to check out

Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense | Cande @ Latinx Magic | Carolina @ Santana Reads | Dani @Metamorphoreader | Sofia @ Bookish Wanderess | Fadwa @ Word Wonders | Adriana @Boricua Reads

Latinx Book Club

Edit: I cleared up a few things that apparently weren’t clear enough. (May 12th)

Kopie van Ontwerp zonder titel(1)

31 thoughts on “Don’t Call It That | Magical Realism vs Fabulism | #WyrdandWonder

  1. Great post, Annemieke! The differences between magical realism and fabulism are something I’ve only been discovering very recently (in fact I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know for the longest time that magical realism is a genre associated with Latinx authors, thanks to being introduced go Angela Carter in school as an author of magical realism) and I think this post will help a lot of us out. I totally agree with you – it’s not the job of Latinx readers to keep explaining everything to us when we have Google at our fingertips.

    Thanks for the links to Latinx bloggers! I’m going to make sure I’m following any I wasn’t following already. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same to be honest. I wanted to dig deeper into magical realism but honestly google isn’t even that helpful because a lot of articles are written by the white.

      Yeay I hope you found some great new people.


  2. Okay, but… this doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is an example of what most people would call magical realism, and he was not from Latin America, and he wrote that before the term was coined (1912, I think). Why we can’t use this fairly recent term for non-Latinx writers seems… artificial. Yes, the genre developed a great deal in Latin America, but not exclusively. I mean, stories with say, ghosts have been around for centuries, and they’re a type of magical realism as well. Another example, Joanne Harris’ “Chocolat” has magical elements that also include political/social commentary but she’s British – is that book not magical realism because of where she was born and who her ancestors were?

    No, it seems to me that limiting a term to only one population group of authors is simply wrong. I get it if you say that a book that doesn’t have the political/social commentary/critique element together with some kind of magical elements that isn’t true magical realism, but to say that it can’t be magical realism just because the author isn’t Latinx doesn’t make sense. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, another book I thought of – Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. There is a whole lot of political and social commentary in that book, and the magical part are the ghosts in his dream. Would that not be called magical realism because he was British?


    1. Correct. A Christmas Carol is fabulism, because it doesn’t include the particular political or social considerations a Latin American author might address. I had a better understanding of the difference between magical realism and fabulism once I started thinking of magical realism as a sub-genre of fabulism. Fabulism is a term that encompasses all of the titles you mentioned.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Um… but A Christmas Carol has TONS of political and social considerations, all which seem to me to be pretty universal. I’m afraid I don’t understand why such books have to suddenly have a new term just because they aren’t written by Latin American authors. It just feels like they’re trying to separate a genre to be exclusively for one group of authors, when all authors across the world address the same or at least similar issues in their novels.


      2. 1. I don’t understand your insistance to pull in a book by a long death author (and hey I like A Christmas Carol) in a discussion on a genre that didn’t truly hit off until after the second world war.

        2. Ghosts, unless written in a certain manner, are not a part of or similar to magical realism. It is paranormal.

        3. As Jenna pointed out the political and social considerations that a latinx author make are a lot different than what a British author would do. It has to do with being on the other end of colonialism for starters. Other authors across the world do not adress the issues the same or similar. That is the point. Maybe there are some authors that can, and I am looking at African authors here for instance, because they have dealt with a lot of colonialism too. But then there is still the cultural aspect. But white authors, nope. We come from such a priviledged place.

        Magical realism does mean a lot to latinx authors, more so than to others around the world. We should at least respect that.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I stand corrected about ghosts – you’re right, that’s paranormal – my mistake. However, from what I understand, the term “magical realism” was coined in Germany for a movement in art, and later became associated with writings from Latin America. While I give full credit to that community of writers developing this genre to the fullest, and I get that it means a great deal to them, I don’t think that any genre should be the exclusive rights of any one population group. I don’t see how one population group can decide that they’re the only ones who can write this (or any other) type of literary social and political commentary. Calling it magical realism or fabulism is simply semantics, and if you ask me, irrelevant – both have magical elements in a realistic world.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes in the 1920’s. After the second world war it seperated itself entirely from the intial art movement in Latin America however. It became its own thing. You are completely disregarding the colonialism that is so important in Magical Realism when you say that. Fabulism does not have that. White authors cannot do it justice. But I don’t think we shall see eye to eye on this and that is fine.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Except that South America isn’t the only country colonized by white people. All of America was, as was Africa and Australia and New Zealand and many other places. As for white authors not being able to do that subject justice, I disagree. A good author can do any subject justice, they just need to know how to be sensitive to the culture they’re writing about.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. I like that as a way to explain it to others as well. Kind of like how contemporary fantasy is the main subgenre and urban fantasy is the subgenre of contemporary fantasy.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. With regard to magical realist books by non-Latin American writers, I think Jose Saramago’s Blindness might belong (granted he was Portuguese and thus wrote in a language derived from Latin; although from a colonialist power he was virulently anti-colonialist). Also Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King.


  4. Nice post! I’ve only recently started seeing the term magical realism thrown around, and it does seem that no one really knows how to use it properly. I think I’ll stick to just calling stuff fantasy. It’s certainly easier. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Huh. I’ve never heard of the sub-genre fabulism. The challenge with genres is that there are no true governing bodies who get to decide what these definitions mean and enforce the definitions. So, people go with whatever they learn as perpetual truth.

    Where can I go to learn more? I want to better understand this — because this feels like a very surface definition of what these genres mean. And it sounds like this is very important to the Latinx community.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fabulism is a more recent rise I believe. I can’t quite find when it came to be. I tried googling a lot but it is hard to find the articles by latinx own authors and readers so I don’t really have a good list for you.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome. Urban fantasy is completely different. There is contemporary fantasy that is just set in our recent world but the fantasy isn’t the norm. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of that, that is set almost completely in a city. Magic, a lot of world building and explanations are not apart of magical realism as it is apart of other subgenres of fantasy.

      The big difference is that a guy with wings will walk around in magical realism/fabulism and this does not get explained nor questioned. Where as in urban fantasy you will find out whether or not this is new, happens often, how it became to be etc.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I stumbled here a little too late, but I can’t help but dip my oar in this debate. I have to agree with Davida Chazan and their argument that no one group of writers can only be considered writers of a particular genre.

    I wish to believe that a writer is a writer is a writer. And yet there is an implicit understanding that the right to write about a subject or write within a genre depends on who you are and who you identify as. This is a troubling and dichotomous belief. On the one hand we champion and argue for inclusion in genres typically white and male (take high fantasy for example and the strides female POC writers such as N.K. Jenisin and K.S. Villoso have made). But with the other, we we allocate the right to write in certain genres based on race, sex and gender. In our quest for equality and healing through our stories, we perpetuate our differences and wounds by telling people who has the right to write what.

    Such an adherence to differences and gatekeeping of genres while we argue for inclusion is nothing short of hypocrisy.

    Magical Realism may have started as a genre to explore the effects of colonialism from the point of view of the colonized. To bar the white male from exploring it tells him that he has no right to engage in or understand his part in that story. That only we know the full list of his sins and that he must make amends. But for one to make amends, one must first understand the wound. To understand requires dialogue and to start a dialogue one must open a door.

    How can we move forward when we keep shutting it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me a while to figure out what to say here and I was in a bad place when you posted this comment.

      The problem is that white authors writing these things does not open a door or start a dialogue. In fact it closes a door for the authors who are experiencing these stories. Fact is, is that marginalized authors for years did not get the chance to write their own stories because it all went to white/non-marginalized authors. You don’t need to write magical realism or about colonialism to make amends or to understand the wound. You need to read their stories and listen. You don’t make amends by taking their stories away from them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did not expect a response to this comment as I was replying to an argument made a year ago and I was late to the party. I hope you are in a better place now and I thank you for not responding to my comment in anger. Too many debates on the internet devolve into mudslinging, which does not help or inform anyone.

        I do agree that marginalized authors did not get to tell their stories for a long time given that the publishing world (and the audience) was white and male. Thankfully that gate is broken and we can now read stories from people from all around the world.

        With that being said I do not agree that a white author writing about black or colonial issues closes a door. Nor do their writing about such issues take away the stories of those who are living it. If it did, then we would not have Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird being used in high school to examine the issues of racism, privilege and justice. In Canada, The Lynching of Louie Sam is used to examine the same issue regarding our racism against the First Nations. Both are powerful stories that tears at the ugliness that is racism and shows how white people can respond (either as allies who help bring about proper justice, or as bystanders and perpetrators of an unjust system).

        Should these very important books be discounted because the authors are white? I don’t think so. I think their novels earned their place in the dialogue around racism and colonialism. Since white people don’t often read black or indigenous literature, To Kill A Mockingbird and The Lynching of Louie Sam served as their first exposure to these issues (especially To Kill A Mockingbird given the time of its writing).

        This brings me to the point about white authors writing in magical realism. Who are we to say that a white author writing in this genre will take away the stories of the colonized? What if this white author has a story that needs to be told? A story that explores their role in the racist and colonialist system they created, how it benefits them and how they can help make amends. Such a story is important because this shows engagement and that should be the natural next step.

        For what is the point of listening and reading the stories of racism, colonialism and all its ill effects if we are not given the chance to change?

        In our rush to say “listen to me, this is what you did, this is how you should be punished!” we fail to hear, “I’m sorry, I am ashamed, how can I make amends?” Such a response does not close a door. It opens it wider. Such a response does not take away stories. It adds to them. It shows the acceptance of responsibility and the willingness to change.

        It shows hope.

        I am a Filipino-Canadian. One of the most important books I read was Po-On from F. Sionil Jose, a Filipino author. The story was about a young man who joined the rebel forces and fought against the cruelty of the Spaniard colonialists. I have yet to read a novel from a Spanish author writing about a Spaniard coming to grips with their role in the colonization of my country and how they are trying to make amends. I believe it is out there somewhere, perhaps it has not been translated yet, but I want to read it. I want to hear the Spanish say “Lo siento. Pasensiya na. I’m sorry.”

        But I won’t be able to if Filipinos won’t let them.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks, this was a great post! I have heard of and read magical realism (Marquez, Borges) but not of fabulism. Now I’m going to have to go back and check which books I’ve described as “magical realism” and whether that was correct terminology!

    Liked by 1 person

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