Magical Reality

‘Magic realism’ – this is a description that is frequently tossed into a review to indicate to readers that the author has somehow moved away from reality but has not embraced fantasy. But what does it mean – and is ‘magic realism’ actually what is involved? It was consideration of this question that led me to suggest this theme. However, it quickly became apparent that what is sometimes called ‘magic realism’ when it appears in children’s literature here is very different to the magic realism of Latin America. In fact it is much more a sense of ‘magical reality’ – and it is this that Piers Torday, Penny Thomas and June Hopper Swain examine in their articles, highlighting a common core through their individual lenses . How reality in itself can be magical and the imagination of the child reader moves easily between a solid world to the fantastical – or rather does not move from the world; instead surroundings and situations acquire a new perspective with characters that are as real as they themselves. It is a question of imagination – imagination that is rooted in the world in which the young readerlives.

Reading Roger Mello’s personal take it is immediately obvious that there is a clear distinction between the magical reality with which we are increasingly familiar and ‘magic realism’. This, ‘magic realism’, is not the imagination working with the story so that, though extraordinary, there is strong sense of the real and we are rooted in a particular landscape or situation. This is a very different case that for Mello is something ‘sobrenatural’. The literal translation is, of course, ‘supernatural’ – but this is a definition that does not work in English. It is too loaded with ideas of magic, fantasy, the ghostly. For Mello as an illustrator as well as an author it is a way of expanding the text, a way that is beyond the immediate perception of meaning; of creating images that are not mirrors but are truly ‘above or beyond the natural’. His article will fascinate because here is a practitioner offering us his response to his work.

Returning to the UK, Ian Dodds examines the art of Anthony Browne. There is little that is obviously ‘magical’ in these illustrations. We recognise this world it is so ordinary – or as Ian says ‘mundane’. Yet there are surprises, magic moments to capture the imagination adding depth, emotion and tension to the situation that is depicted on the page through illustration and text. Indeed it could seem that magical reality is particularly suited to the work of the illustrator. However, Liz Byrne demonstrates that storytelling in the hands of a master can be imbued in the same way. The author whose work illustrates this to perfection, is of course, David Almond and her article explores some of the aspects of his writing that demonstrate this.

Running through all the articles is a sense of personal response from their authors. Perhaps, this more than anything links and defines ‘magic realism’ and ‘magical reality’ enabling them to work – the personal response of both the creator and the audience.

Ferelith Hordon

 Copyright © 1983 Anthony Browne, GORILLA by Anthony Browne. Reproduced by permission of Walker Books Ltd,