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like water for solitude in the labyrinth of spirits
October 15, 2008 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some great examples of magical realism, please! Books, movies, whatever.
posted by streetdreams to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
one of my favorite movies "Like Water for Chocolate
also short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:05 AM on October 15, 2008


Oh. Now I look at your title...oh well, it's still an awesome movie.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:06 AM on October 15, 2008


You'll also find some examples in works by Toni Morrison.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:08 AM on October 15, 2008


Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez will do....."100 years of Solitude" is amazing but probably too long to get you started, my favorite of his is "Chronicles of a Foretold Death" which is shorter and more accessible. .....Stick to the stuff he wrote in the 60's and 70s and you will be fine.
posted by The1andonly at 10:09 AM on October 15, 2008


The Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges was a fantastic (in every sense of the word) writer of magical realism. Start with his Collected Fictions. The short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is contained therein, and would be a great place for you to start.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:11 AM on October 15, 2008


Pretty much anything by Rikki Ducornet.
posted by mattbucher at 10:14 AM on October 15, 2008


Argh! Firefox ate my links, so you'll have to Google

"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Lots of Isabel Allende's work.

Movies like "Big Fish," "Pleasantville," "Neverwas," "What Dreams May Come."
posted by pineapple at 10:21 AM on October 15, 2008


J.L. Borges is often lumped together with the magical realists, but belongs to a somewhat earlier generation: magical realism didn't realy exist when he was doing his thing. He might not be exactly what you are looking for --- his work is required reading though, so check it out and decide for yourself.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2008


The Palomar stories by Beto Hernandez (comics)
posted by hydrophonic at 10:38 AM on October 15, 2008


Ones that I've read & enjoyed: Robertson Davies (Deptford Trilogy) Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore), Mikhail Bulgakov (Master and the Margarita), Jose Saramago (Blindness), Patrick Suskind (Perfume), Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities).

Obabakoak (Bernado Atxaga) and Hopscotch (Julio Cortazar) also fit. I enjoyed them, but are not quick reads.
posted by ejaned8 at 10:39 AM on October 15, 2008


For books, The House of the Spirits and The hummingbird's Daughter.

For movies, I second Big Fish and add The Fall.
posted by rmless at 10:41 AM on October 15, 2008


Nancy Willard's Sister Water and Things Invisible To See. The later especially is a completely charming book.

Big Fish is all kinds of awesome.
posted by weston at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2008


Another vote for Haruki Murakami, but this time for his book of short stories, The Elephant Vanishes
posted by chan.caro at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2008


Haruki Murakami was mentioned by ejaned8, but I'd also like to throw in that his Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and after the quake are two of the best examples of magical realism I've ever read.
posted by Cassilda at 10:58 AM on October 15, 2008


Louise Erdrich's books (Tracks, etc.) would probably fit what you're after.
posted by flod logic at 10:59 AM on October 15, 2008


just recommending the books, not the movies (Blindness, Perfume, and Love in the Time of Cholera recently got adapted but from what I've heard the books far outshine the movies).
posted by ejaned8 at 11:01 AM on October 15, 2008


I second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Julio Cortazar, but you must start with Blow Up and Other Stories.
posted by prefpara at 11:03 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Carroll, author of:
Bones of the Moon
Outside the Dog Museum
Land of Laughs
and many, many others.
posted by zueod at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2008


Waitress was good magic realism. Alice Hoffman's books are of questionable quality, but would definitely qualify.
posted by lunasol at 11:05 AM on October 15, 2008


Amelie, movie. Pushing Daisies, tv.
posted by ewkpates at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2008


Posted to soon:

I just recommended music from these two films in a thread yesterday, but the movie Paprika and the series Paranoia Agent by Satoshi Kon might also suit you.

I will also heartily endorse other recommendations of Jorges Luis Borges. He's the master.
posted by zueod at 11:12 AM on October 15, 2008


kate atkinson's early novels:

behind the scenes at the museum
emotionally weird
human croquet

and she has a collection of short stories that also contain magical realism:
not the end of the world

she also has an amazing facility with words and playing with words.
posted by violetk at 11:17 AM on October 15, 2008


Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.
posted by Xalf at 11:27 AM on October 15, 2008


Being John Malkovich

Seconding Pushing Daisies, which is currently on the air and needs more viewership.
posted by mkultra at 11:28 AM on October 15, 2008


Anything by Aimee Bender.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2008


Louis de Bernières -The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (Secker & Warburg, 1990) would be right up your alley.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:41 AM on October 15, 2008


Midnight's Children is probably the most important English-language novel in this genre.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:42 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The movie as a whole doesn't have a lot of magic realism, but there's a nice scene in The Perez Family when Alfred Molina's character sees his wife (Anjelica Huston) after a long separation.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:45 AM on October 15, 2008


I enjoyed Chris Adrian's The Children's Hospital.
posted by sad_otter at 12:10 PM on October 15, 2008


Pretty much anything by Angela Carter, particularly Nights at the Circus and The Magic Toyshop, and just about any of the short stories, intelligent, beautiful, bright-dark, freewheeling and gorgeous.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:14 PM on October 15, 2008


Much of Isabelle Illende's work. House of the Spirits I believe is a strong example.
posted by arniec at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2008


One could argue that the Harry Potter series is magical realism, in that magic is a relatively mundane thing in its world, complete with a magical bureaucracy and magical economy living side-by-side with the un-magical world.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2008


Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

Most short stories by Ray Bradbury, specifically compilations October Country and Dandelion Wine.

For films, on a very dark side, Tideland by Terry Gilliam, and to a lesser extent Pan's Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro. I would be amiss in pointing out that both those films can be very disturbing. You've been warned.
posted by elendil71 at 12:42 PM on October 15, 2008


Terry Gilliam is one of my favorites, especially The Fisher King and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
posted by kimdog at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dead Like Me on DVD -- Great series that was on Showtime for a while. Great characters, funny, all around awesome.
posted by DrDreidel at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2008


For film, "Amelie" shares a lot of traits with magical realism. ejaned8 mentioned José Saramago's "Blindness", which is good (and soon to be a film), but I like his novel "The History of the Siege of Lisbon" even better, and it's a lot more fun.
posted by farmdoggie at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2008


Older Jonathan Lethem books (hell, the newer ones too) are pretty great. I love his old short story collection "The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye."
posted by chowflap at 1:44 PM on October 15, 2008


At least some of John Crowley's stuff. I especially liked Little, Big.
posted by jon1270 at 2:00 PM on October 15, 2008


Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo.
posted by MadamM at 2:06 PM on October 15, 2008


The same creative team behind the already mentioned Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me, which I love, is Wonder Falls, which is available on DVD and utterly charming.

If there are other shows/movies like this I'd love to hear about them.
posted by Ponderance at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2008


J.G. Ballard has written some excellent books, while not as well written as Crash, I loved High Rise and Drowned World.
posted by Ponderance at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2008


I agree that you'll want to read all of the fiction by Jorge Luis Borges if you haven't already.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2008


Granted, the definition of "magical realism" is pretty broad, but my understanding is that the primary narrative focus is still the "real" world, where occasionally magical/illogical things still happen. Which is why I think recommendations like Pleasantville, What Dreams May Come, and (most certainly) Harry Potter are off-base; their primary focus is not the real world.

I also think Pan's Labyrinth technically isn't magical realism- if you watch the movie, you know what I mean. Though its companion piece, The Devil's Backbone, absolutely is.
posted by mkultra at 2:25 PM on October 15, 2008


notjustfoxybrown mentions Toni Morrison, which is correct. There is some hefty un-explained magic realism in Song of Solomon and a magic-realist premise of Beloved.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2008


The Brazilian writer Jorge Amado's "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" is a lovely piece of magical realism.
posted by jfwlucy at 3:05 PM on October 15, 2008


Ted Chiang's novella The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate and short story collection Stories of Your Life, and Others are both excellent. They're somewhere around the dividing line between fantasy/SF/magical realism/"slipstream".
posted by teraflop at 3:58 PM on October 15, 2008


my understanding is that the primary narrative focus is still the "real" world, where occasionally magical/illogical things still happen. Which is why I think recommendations like Pleasantville, What Dreams May Come, and (most certainly) Harry Potter are off-base; their primary focus is not the real world.

Well, these guys say, magic realism, or magical realism, is an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting.

Which is right in the strike zone for Harry Potter and Pleasantville. I mean, there's a scene in the Harry Potter books where the head of the wizard government comes to meet the British prime minister to warn him about Voldemort, and it's apparently an annual tradition for these meetings to take place. Before it heads off into a diatribe against conformity, Pleasantville is about what happens to two bickering teenagers after magical Don Knotts shows up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:10 PM on October 15, 2008


Most of the writers that have become very famous as "magical realism" writers credit Alejo Carpentier for having made them aware of the genre when he wrote about the "nature of reality in Latin America" in the prologue of his novel The Kingdom of this World.

He didn't call it realismo mágico, and he didn't say it was a genre, though. He spoke of it as "the marvealous in the real" (lo real maravilloso) and most of those writers insist that more than a genre, it is the natural "parlance" of Latin America.

That novel is a beautiful record of an almost forgotten (and fascinating) piece of Latin American history: the kingdom of Henri Christophe and the revolution sparked by Mackandal.
posted by micayetoca at 5:58 PM on October 15, 2008


Nthing Borges' Ficciones.

One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Achewood's magical realism arc, which begins here.
posted by Rinku at 6:36 PM on October 15, 2008


Plenty of goodies have already been mentioned, so I'll add two that have been overlooked:

Daniel Moyano: Flight Of The Tiger - don't be put off by the lack of information & reviews; it's quite sublime, although darkly tragicomic.

Also, Ben Okri: The Famished Road - you could think of this roughly as an African cousin of Midnight's Children.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2008


Garcia Marquez wrote the short story that the movie Milagro en Roma is based on - it's quite good and incredibly moving in addition to being sort of otherworldly.
posted by clerestory at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2008


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:44 PM on October 15, 2008


The following are little more along the lines of sci-fi/realism, but I think still qualify:

Murakami- A Wild Sheep's Chase
Italo Calvino- Cosmicomics
Katherine Dunn-Geek Love
Kurt Vonnegut- Slaughterhouse Five

John Barth is clearly more deconstructionist than magical, but I want to throw his name out there just to get him some play. Try Chimera if you're feeling post-modern.



Just for the record, I do not find Harry Potter realistic or magical.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:23 PM on October 15, 2008


Gloria Naylor's Mama Day fits the bill. Strongly second Calvino, too - great, often fantastical stuff. It's probably also worth mentioning that Gene Wolfe once described magical realism as "Fantasy written in Spanish."
posted by mediareport at 9:16 PM on October 15, 2008


The movie Local Hero.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris, and some of the books of Tim Powers, James Blaylock (The Paper Grail), and Neal Gaiman (American Gods, for instance) may be of interest.

Also, consider branching out to Urban Fantasy authors, like Charles de Lint's Newford books, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, and Terri Windling's The Wood Wife.

Seconding both Wonderfalls, the tv series, and the movie The Fall.

Try Kem Nunn's Unassigned Territory, which is stretching the definition a bit and not for everyone but a really good book.
posted by gudrun at 10:15 PM on October 15, 2008


Lanark, by Alasdair Gray.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:03 AM on October 16, 2008


Cool Papa Bell: Well, these guys say, magic realism, or magical realism, is an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting.

Not only is Wikipedia not a good resource for these kinds of things, but you're misinterpreting what's there. The fact that something simply "takes place in our world" doesn't make it magical realism. There are stories that are fantasy, and stories that are traditional dramas that happen to have magical elements in them.

Harry Potter is pure fantasy, period. The first chapter of most books takes place in the real world, but that's it- the rest is in the realm of magic. A scene in which a character interacts with a real-world person doesn't count.

As for Pleasantville- by that argument, The Wizard of Oz could qualify as well. The heavy-on-allegory slant of that movie should be a tip-off as well.
posted by mkultra at 7:31 AM on October 16, 2008


Lawrence Norfolk's first novel Lempriére's Dictionary. Seconding Mark Helprin's books, too.
posted by Salthound at 10:27 AM on October 16, 2008


A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin.
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 4:46 PM on October 16, 2008


The Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block.
And I've always liked the films of Michel Gondry (Science of Sleep, Human Nature) and Peter Greenaway (esp. ZOO aka Zed and Two Naughts, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, The Pillow Book).
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is quite good also although much of it is imagined magical scenarios. But very pretty to watch.
posted by HolyWood at 10:01 AM on October 17, 2008


The recent film "Synecdoche, New York," written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, writer of "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." It's depressing, hilarious, and overall a great film. It's about a playwright who creates a theater adaptation of his own life, building a gigantic replica of his hometown and hiring scores of actors to play himself, people he knows, and, eventually the actors themselves. It's having a limited theatrical run right now; be sure to check it out if it's showing in your area.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2008


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