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

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

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)

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22 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.

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  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.

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  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?

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    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.

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      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.

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      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.

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      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.

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  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. 😉

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  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 1 person

    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.

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