Elaine Forrestal

Fantasy or Magic Realism

Reading is my secret power

I have sometimes wondered why, as an avid reader of everything, I couldn’t get as excited about reading fantasy as some of my friends do. This week I found myself in a position where I needed to analyse and explain, mainly to myself, exactly why this is and has always been the case. Having read a currently popular fantasy novel rather quickly the first time around, I thought that a careful re-read might help me appreciate what everyone else was on about. Instead I found it just as difficult to relate to the characters as I had before.

Although the book was well written, the plot tight, the action fast paced I didn’t ever reach a point where I felt the necessary empathy with the characters to care deeply about them. They were interesting enough and the action often placed them in mortal danger, but I couldn’t shake off the knowledge that whenever something incredible threatened them their array of magical powers would come to the rescue. There was not the deep emotional engagement on my part because I already knew that, no matter what sort of incredible monster threatened the main characters their powers would be stronger than those of the monster.

I admire the hard work and imagination of writers of fantasy. They build their own incredible worlds and live within the rules they have created. However, I do find I relate much more easily to Magic Realism. The characters live in our world and the every-day events that happen to them are entirely  possible. It’s just that the writer allows the character, and therefore the reader, to see those events in a different way. For example it is entirely possible to see a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow on any ordinary rainy day. Perhaps a pot shaped rock happens to be lying at the end of the naturally appearing and disappearing arc. Suspension of disbelief is not so difficult, for me at least, because I know that within the laws of physics such a thing can happen. But whatever the problem that character was planning solve using the gold from that pot must now be accomplished in some other way. Or perhaps not at all because the pressing need for the gold, which was creating the narrative tension the writer needed, has been met in some other way. Fantasy, on the other hand, demands a much greater suspension of disbelief. The writer can simply abandon all pretence at logic and simply wave their magic wand. Of course fans of fantasy novels would say that the writer has already woven a magic spell by creating their own world. But for me it is the deeper human emotions that are not so easily stirred.

Certainly there is a place for fantasy as a genre. It has a huge following and all those readers can’t be wrong. I would like to be one of them, but I suspect I am a lost cause.