Magical realism – levitation on real grounds

A rather fabulous concept in literature and visual storytelling was introduced to me by a moderately famous web series that not everyone might appreciate. Jane the Virgin is an unconventional rendition of a simple story of a virgin woman who is accidentally inseminated to an unwelcome pregnancy and has a life that she romanticises in her mind to mostly escape. The series, though quite simple in comparison to the action or royal romance ones on Netflix, incorporates this classic element of storytelling named magical realism which makes it so much more intense than I’d expected.

A simple Google search reveals that magical realism, or marvellous realism, is a literary concept that has been employed time and again by even the most popular writers around the world and is apparently one of the most curious traits you can assign to a character. Simply put, magical realism dramatises, personalizes and gives a literal magical touch to elements in the surroundings and brings them to life to interact with the rest of the characters in the story. It all takes place in the real world, but some uncommon elements such as idols coming to life to give advice to the protagonist, a pet verbally interacting with its owner or nature corresponding to the moods of a person, are considered normal.

Magical realism was apparently introduced to the world by Latin American authors to the world in the 20th century. Quite naturally, the most common theme in accordance to which magical realism has been widely used is love or romance. The winds blow in coordination to people’s feelings, the rain falls just in time to instigate a romantic sequence, or a couple of walkers on the street suddenly begin dancing in the background to represent the protagonists’ feelings. Love and romance have been magical realism’s biggest playground.

The concept perhaps isn’t too appealing to realists because most of the times it incorporates the point of view of a protagonist/character who looks at the world through rose coloured glasses. Hopeless romantics or people with rather unconventional mental states are means to bring magic realism to life for realists can never see an idol speaking to them or tend to levitate over an ecstatic feeling. Salman Rushdie’s works, however, are an exception.

A key factor in employing magical realism is that the characters within the story do not acknowledge the magical elements as ‘magical’, ‘supernatural’ or ‘extraordinary’. That would underplay the natural credibility of such elements and hence the characters go on with life as though such aspects are a common part of their lives. The reader or viewer must easily let go of the scientific or logical reasoning in order to connect to content with magical realism.

The fundamental idea behind magical realism is better interpretation of a character that is prone to it. There are certain aspects of the psyche that are hardly tangible when it comes to film making or even writing a book; to depict which magical realism can be helpful. Jane the Virgin, the series that introduced me to it, employed it exceptionally well with graphical elements in order to convey the characters much better to the audience. The series has one of the most impressive character connects ever – so much so that you simply know perfectly well the precise motive behind even the unnatural acts they performs. And you justify them.  

It’s rare to come across a modern day series that consciously employs a literary concept with such seriousness, even casting a popular author of the genre such as Isabelle Allende in a cameo. And yes, it works so well. Magical realism is something I know I’ll keep an eye out for.  


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