Magical Realism: Why We Need It Today

Lightbulb effect of magical realism
  • Save

There’s something special about magical realism. Its stories hover between grounded and extraordinary sensations yet steadily manage to leave profound marks on the reader. With everything that’s happening around the world today—horrible, wonderful, and surreal—this is a genre that feels very relevant.

What Is Magical Realism?

The term sounds straightforward, but the essence of the genre isn’t. As a literary style, according to Tate, it was extended from “magic realism”, a concept coined by Franz Roh to describe the fantastic appearance of everyday objects in a German art style: New Objectivity.

It was Angel Flores who applied the term to categorize the already widespread use in literature of the strange or magical to highlight ordinary situations. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) was a key milestone.

Magical realism as a genre finally began to flourish in the mid-1900s in Latin America, thanks to the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Isabel Allende. The genre spread throughout the world, producing a slew of powerful and thought-provoking works.

Here are the main features of a magical realism book:

  • A real-life setting, whether specific or vague.
  • Any kind of fantastical element—magical, surreal, dark, and so on.
  • Magic grounded and normalized within reality, without necessarily explaining it.
  • A strong societal or psychological context.
  • Unconventional narrative—unrestricted by norms of plot, structure, and so on.
  • A writing style that leans towards literary.

What Magical Realism Can Offer Today

Based on the qualities above, these kinds of books can have a deep effect on people. They’re especially meaningful in times of crisis and we’ve had no shortage of that in the past few years, if not the decade. So, how can magical realism turn heads?

Highlighting Societal Problems

Magical realism is typically used to criticise something about humanity. Considering the number of political, ethical, and even ecological issues around, the genre would fit in very well in modern cultures.

We often need influential literature that keeps us alert about issues and inspires us to never stop discussing them until they’re resolved—hopefully in a good way. Magical realism has already contributed a number of strong 21st-century reads:

  • All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva (2018)
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (2018)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)

Amusing Yet Grounded Expression of Difficult Issues

The wonderful part of magical realism is that it can explore horrible things in a unique and enchanting way. Now more than ever, we need to be able to look at societal issues, especially very tricky ones, from every possible angle.

A measured fantastical perspective not only gives you a fresh view of a topic, but it puts enough distance between you and it to promote abstract thinking, while pointing out details you may never have considered.

Embracing Reality Through Fantasy

The point of magical realism is to actually understand reality better. For the writer, it’s an active and creative exploration of a societal aspect. For the reader, the assessment is more passive but, ideally, still brings out deep and often uncomfortable truths about the world.

This literary genre doesn’t blur the line between fact and fiction to obscure reality. Instead, it makes reality—or parts of it—more palpable, visceral. The fantasy draws the eye to truths and help us acknowledge them at the very least.


While hardly the only genre appropriate to today’s world, magical realism has a lot to offer. Full-fledged fantasy or apocalyptic science fiction can be just as engaging and mind-bending, but their escapism often dominates any truths they want to share.

Magical realism stories tend to have a nice balance between real and extraordinary elements. This stimulates the mind and imagination without completely removing you from the world around you. Basically, you face reality through uniquely tinted glasses.

Get to know more about the power of storytelling…

Author: Electra Nanou

Wordy weirdo supporting authors

One thought

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.