Magical Realism as a Genre

Magical Realism is a relatively recent development in literature, in comparison to older fantasy and legends. The framework of Magical Realism came about as an amalgamation of fiction and nonfiction. In Magical Realist literature, the magical elements and structures are often derived from older fairy tales.

Many experts argue that the way “magic” is utilized in Magical Realism, as well as the characters, settings, and morals, often come directly or indirectly from fairy tales. Ulusoy Aranyosi published a paper in 2011 titled “On the origin of “the magical” of magical realism in literature: Fairy tales as means of social adaptation.” Aranyosi draws similarities between fairy tales and Magical Realism in literature. He essentially argues that while Magical Realist works often derive their “magic” from fairy tales, the Magical Realist works and fairy tales are always written for the same purpose, and thus have many similarities (Aranyosi). Another scholar, Vanessa Joosen, argues that Magical Realism lends itself to recontextualizing fairy tales in a modern sense for a modern audience (Joosen). 

“The Tiger’s Bride” is a story found in The Bloody Chamber, a collection of fairy tale retellings. Each of the works in The Bloody Chamber are Magical Realist stories associated with fairy tales, “The Tiger’s Bride” being associated with Beauty and the Beast. This particular story is unique because, while the basic structure of the tale does not change, the product is in reverse. The tiger does not transform, and instead the beautiful maiden he’s taken becomes bestial (Carter). The original was a story about romance and placed emphasis on the inhuman curse that the Beast experienced. In “The Tiger’s Bride” the message is much more about the curse of being a human with societal expectations and rules placed upon the main character, who is freed by this curse in the end. As Joosen states, this recontextualization is decidedly less magical (Joosen). There is no enchantress, or perceptible curse, or really any magic that cannot be sourced from the Tiger himself. Instead, the genre now fits squarely into Magical Realism, where the tale uses its magic to expose truths about reality, rather than fitting in the same genre as Beauty and the Beast’s fantastical, whimsical world.

The story “The Husband Stitch” is a retelling of “The Green Ribbon.” The source material itself was derived from a popular German story, titled “The Adventure of the German Student” (Crume). This story, too, was derived from a French story that was verbally told to the author, rather than written (Story of the Week: The Adventure of the German Student). In essence, the story has been told and retold throughout the ages, and now is told in “The Husband Stitch” with a more detailed, precise message. “The Husband Stitch” is very obviously intended to be a retelling of “The Green Ribbon” seeing as both use the same green ribbon, and follow the same general idea of a woman who finally trusts her husband with the secret, and he undoes the ribbon to see her head fall off. However, “The Adventure of the German Student” instead follows a one night stand, where the woman is found dead in the morning. Her necklace, which was a black band with diamonds, is removed, and her head rolls off. Aranyosi argues in his paper that these tales utilize the same devices because they often served the same literary functionality, given the magical nature of both Magical Realism and fairy tales (Aranyosi). In this case, it can be construed that all four tales had similar messages for different audiences, causing the tale to be rewritten and recontextualized throughout history.

The key difference between fairy tales and Magical Realism as genres is escapism. Fairy tales have the unique quality of being products of the circumstances in which they were published, while also intended to be read with the idea that the reality created in each tale is better and easier to live in than current reality (Smith). There is no such intention with Magical Realism. Instead, Magical Realism blends realities, and can create ones that seem better than this one, but there is never that intention to escape into them (Esposito). Magical Realism intends to reveal truths about the reality we live in, and can often be a call to action for the reader to act a certain way in order to improve their own reality, rather than escape into the written one. Fairy tales absolutely have morals and lessons intended to be applied to reality, but they are purely the “Magical” part of Magical Realism. They are not bound to reality in the same way that Magical Realist tales often are. In this sense, the two genres can clearly intersect, but still fall into very different categories and time frames.

The wide genre of Magical Realism is designed to do the same thing that a fairy tale is: to make a point about reality through fictional means. Fairy tales being recontextualized and retold with different characters and endings is something that fits into the Magical Realist genre distinctly. In a way, Magical Realist works are the fairy tales of the new generation; fictional stories with much more relevance to today’s reality than older tales.

Aranyosi, E.. (2011). On the origin of “the magical” of magical realism in literature: Fairy tales 

as means of social adaptation. 12. 189-194.

Carter, Angela. (1979). The Bloody Chamber. Croydon: Vintage.

Crume, Vic; Schwarcz, Gladys, eds. (1970). The Haunted House and Other Spooky Poems and 

Tales. Internet Archive: Scholastic Book Services. ISBN 978-0590092197.

Esposito, Eric. “What is Magical Realism in Literature?” Books on the wall, Books on the 

wall, booksonthewall.com/blog/magical-realism-literature/. 

Joosen, Vanessa. “Disenchanting the Fairy Tale: Retellings of ‘Snow White’ between Magic and 

Realism.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 21, no. 2, 2007, pp. 228–39. JSTOR

http://www.jstor.org/stable/41388836. Accessed 16 Jun. 2022.

Smith, S E. “Fairytales, Inequality, and Escapism.” meloukhia, 5 Nov. 2011, 

meloukhia.net/2011/11/fairytales_inequality_and_escapism_/. 

“Story of the Week: The Adventure of the German Student”. Library of America. March 25, 

2016. Retrieved August 1, 2019.

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