Stories of the Other: Why Write Magic Realism?

My Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry, The Silence of Trees, is an example of Magic Realism, full of myths and folklore from Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

I have always been fascinated with myths. As a young girl, I remember reading Greek and Roman mythology with zeal, anxious to be transported into those worlds of magic and mystery.

As I grew older, I never lost this fascination, instead it grew and evolved. I remember how excited I was when I first saw Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth in high school. In college, I read more of his writing and also began to research Jungian psychology and comparative religions. I loved to read the myths of different cultures, to see how they made sense of the world. From Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces:

“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”

I appreciate the way that myths explain universal truths by way of a story, transforming archetypes into something personal, something recognizable. These mythic images give us a glimpse into the dreams and values of the cultures they grow out from.

In reality, we all do this on a smaller scale. We create personal myths about ourselves and our surroundings, and these myths influence how we see the world, how we make sense of it.

These myths are like lenses that we wear to see the world. We may all see the same event, but our lenses help us to translate it into something that makes sense for us.

Take a small puppy left out by the side of the road, do we view it with compassion, and take it in to our home? Do we view it with responsibility and take it to a shelter? Do we disregard the dog, view it with indifference, and go about our day as if nothing happened? Do we seek out the owner? Do we keep it? Do we scorn the previous owner and criticize his cruelty? Do we sympathize with the owner, who perhaps has too many mouths to feed? Do we view the event as irresponsible, evil, foolish, thoughtless? The personal myth, the story of who we are, determines how we see that and other events.

This is the same type of thing that happens on a larger scale with cultural myths and cosmologies. They determine how communities view their relationships to each other, to the “other”, and to the natural world.

While I enjoy the lush settings and aesthetic pleasure of a good science fiction or fantasy book, I also love a good general/literary fiction read. I love well-executed “literary” skills and language gymnastics (when they appear in the former and the latter). Magic Realism mingles the fantastic, the wonder-filled, with the ordinary “real” world.

With Magic Realism, the author draws upon a particular view of reality. In that reality, any fantastic or mythic elements are not super-natural, rather they are a completely natural, a part of everyday life.

The reader has to suspend his or her disbelief and enter into a different perception, a different worldview. They literally become the “other” and look at the world through the filter of someone else’s lenses.

From a reader’s perspective, I love being able to read stories that show me these different facets of reality. As a writer, I love the challenge of presenting such a potential paradigm shift. That really is magic.

Published by Valya

Valya Dudycz Lupescu has been making magic with food and words for more than 20 years, incorporating folklore from her Ukrainian heritage with practices that honor the Earth. She’s a writer, content developer, instructor, and mother of three teenagers. Valya is the author of THE SILENCE OF TREES and the founding editor of CONCLAVE: A Journal of Character. Along with Stephen H. Segal, she is the co-author of FORKING GOOD: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of The Good Place and GEEK PARENTING: What Joffrey, Jor-El, Maleficent, and the McFlys Teach Us about Raising a Family (Quirk Books), and co-founder of the Wyrd Words storytelling laboratory. Valya earned her MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her poetry and prose have been published in anthologies and magazines that include, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Kenyon Review, Culture, Gargoyle Magazine, Gone Lawn, Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium. You can find her on Twitter @valya.

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