Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Magic Realism


A 1994 Tom Doherty reprint of Charles de Lint's (1984/Ace Fantasy) mythic classic, Moonheart.
Cover art by David Bergen.

Though de Lint has expressed a preference for the term magic realism, there is no doubt he is one of the chief animators of what is now commonly called urban fantasy.
Since urban fantasy is often perceived as the province of vamps and weres ( somewhat humanized from their predatory roles in the horror genre), the expansive term contemporary fantasy has gained some credence.

What the genre boils down to is myth and magic in a contemporary setting. Particularly an urban setting. Previously, the country was the historic home of folk lore and legend.

In de Lint's world, magic exists but is secret and unrecognized except by those people who are attuned to the mythic or places which form a nexis with the Otherworld. The "normal" world continues oblivious.

In urban fantasy, paranormal powers and people are often recognized, real and nearly mundane, if sometimes restricted to exclusive communities. In a sense, ordinary superheroes. The secret is out and accepted to varying degrees.

An interesting progression of "what if?" in the evolution of genres and societal reaction.

24 comments:

Wavemancali said...

My wife and I love De Lint and have most of his novels. I don't think anyone does urban fantasy better than he does.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've always wondered what De Lint thought about being in on the cutting edge of a movement that has become so huge. I never read his books either because the whole idea of urban fantasy has limited appeal to me. Guess it's the country boy in me.

raine said...

Sounds like I'll be merrily tripping to the bookstore soon...

Natasha Fondren said...

I've always wondered how to handle that, in the whole urban fantasy thing. I haven't quite wrapped my head around it.

BernardL said...

I must admit I've never been enthralled with vampires in a heroic or romantic vein. I can't help picturing the human partner shuddering at the touch of cold dead flesh. I know they've meandered around that problem by giving the vampire the power of heating up his or her skin but still... eeeewwwwwhhh :)

Bernita said...

He promotes some interesting themes, Wave.

Charles, I sometimes see him as magic's social worker.

He does a lot of short stories, Raine.

Natasha, one might consider it the art of making the impossible seem possible.

Bernard, I personally cannot "humanize" vamps or weres. Fortunately there are lots of legends to choose from.

Angie said...

I'm one of the people waving the "Charles DeLint" flag over in Urban Fantasy. [nod] He and Mercedes Lackey had the territory defined way before any of the Jimmy Choo-wearing vamp tramps started cluttering up the landscape, and the subgenre is not improved by them IMO. :/ DeLint's Jackie Rowan stories were awesome, and along with Lackey's elves and bards, defined the genre for me back in the eighties. 21st century urban fantasy feels more like urban horror, with its reliance on classic horror movie monsters, often to the exclusion of classic fantasy creatures and tropes. The dark-and-gritty tone of so much modern urban fantasy is also more reminiscent of the horror genre than of fantasy.

And I can really do without all the designer shoes. :P

Angie

Lauren said...

I'm not a big urban fantasy fan although know many people who very much enjoy it. Personally I enjoy worlds that are very different, but Undone by Rachel Caine is an exception to that, but only a mild as there are no vamps etc. She's a fallen immortal who has to live among humans in modern world and there are some humans who can work magic. It's very well done, an is in first person, which might be why it is an exception (as I highly enjoy first person).

Bernita said...

I'm inclined to agree, Angie.I really dislike the popular assumption that urban fantasy = vamps and weres ( my favourite bitch, really).It limits an otherwise wide open genre.

"(as I highly enjoy first person)' Lauren, so do I!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think this has come back into vogue because of the Twilight series. There are even Christian vampire books now...imagine that oxymoron :-)

Still very glad that you are back girlfriend! Have a blessed New Year. I also saw that your sweet child is back from the war safe and sound. That's a blessing to behold.

Bernita said...

Bonnie, my heart friend, thank you.Indeed it was. A blessed new year to you.

I will admit that Christian vampire books make a lot of sense to me.

starvingwritenow said...

I don't know if I've ever read anything that qualifies as magic realism, or even urban fantasy. I'll have to think about that.

Meanwhile, I hope you have a happy and blessed New Year. Cheers!

Vesper said...

Very interesting post, Bernita. Makes me want to try to read some fantasy... :-)

All the best to you and your loved ones in the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Bernita said...

May 2010 be wonderful for you, SWN!

Bonne annee, Vesper!

Stewart Sternberg said...

I love Charles De Lint. I remember reading him and then discovered that he was a book critic for one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy magazines.

As for urban fantasy, unlike Charles G., I've always been a city boy and I've always seen a sense of wonder in the pavement and brick. The faeries are there, one just has to know how to find them.

One other thing about De Lint, I've also enjoyed his willingness to steep much of his writing in Native American lore...or is that Native Canadian? Or First People? You know what I mean.

Steve Malley said...

I do prefer the labels urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy. Magical Realism has sort of been hijacked by the literary crowd, makes me think of 'Like Water for Chocolate', 'A Prayer for Owen Meaney' and pretty much anything by Gabriela Garcia Marquez...

And Happy New Year, by the way! :)

Whirlochre said...

I get a little befuddled by genres, especially as we writers are recommended to bone up about what genre we're writing in.

Bernita said...

Stewart, he was my first introduction to the genre.I was additionally intrigued that he dared use Ottawa as his magical city in Moonheart, yet somehow avoided regionalism.

"been hijacked by the literary crowd"...Steve, that's the best reason I can think of for jettisoning the term magic realism!

Genres do cross-breed so frequently, Whirl.

Ric said...

Happy New Year, Bernita.
The whole cross genre debacle makes it hard to get your work read. If you say it is urban fantasy - the agents/publishers have a preconceived notion of what that is - but, it differs from one to another. One might be expecting vamps and weres - while the next is open to something new and fresh. It creates more obstacles, not less.

Bernita said...

Happy New Year, dear Ric!
Yes, it does.
Take Malignity for example, I am tempted to include in the query that the novel does not employ vamps and weres but does, however, include Dumbarton the Doom Dog ( Dummy, for short) and a dulahan who has upgraded from a death coach to a black SUV.

laughingwolf said...

happy 2010 to you and yours, bernita :)

Bernita said...

The same to you and yours, LW!
(And may no nor'easter chill your fire!)

Rick said...

Publishers and editors will have their preferences, but I imagine there's a fairly clear broad mental image - fantasy/weird elements, in some form, in a contemporary urban setting.

Probably dark, because of oblique spillover from hardboiled/noir, and because whoever lives in disused subway tunnels, they probably aren't Noble Elves.

Bernita said...

Rick, just about any mythical creature or magical talent you can imagine...