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The meaning and origin of the expression: Magical realism

Magical realism

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Magical realism'?

A literary genre in which magical features and storylines appear and are accepted as everyday reality.

Magical realist stories often have a dream-like landscape and call on folk-lore and myth to question the true nature of reality. Time may be manipulated to appear cyclically or in reverse, rather than in the more usual linear way. It is often unclear whether the reader is intended to view the magical or everyday elements as the more 'real'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Magical realism'?

Magical realismIn the 1920s an exhibition of pictures titled Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity or New Matter-of-Factness) was presented in Mannheim, Germany.

Magical realism was coined by Franz Roh in his article Magischer Realismus ("Magic Realism"), describing the works shown at the event.

The term is now more often applied to a literary genre which appeared much later. This "magical realism" came to prominence in the 1960s with the work of South American writers like Miguel Angel Asturias, Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, and was first applied to their work by writer and critic Arturo Uslar-Pietri. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, 1967, is often described as the seminal magical realist story.

In the original Spanish the term was "Lo real maravilloso", which translates as "the marvelous real", gives a good impression of the nature of the style.

Magical realism in literature isn't an isolated and specifically Latin American genre. It has links to Science Fiction and Fantasy and the works of the English romantic poets, amongst many genres.

In addition to the early painting genre, magical realism also finds expression in other art forms, notably film. This has become a popular and almost mainstream form in the late 20th century, with the work of director David Lynch and other widely released and commercially successful films, like Being John Malkovich, Donnie Darko and Edward Scissorhands.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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