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BOOKS: THE POWER TO ENCHANT

BY MAGGIE MARANGIONE FEBRUARY 13, 2024


Reading, by its very nature, is a charming experience. Who hasn’t been carried off to a distant land or found solace in books? All humans are hard-wired for stories, and it is in the realm of magical realism that stories blend the ordinary with the mystical, the mundane with the extraordinary and the supernatural adds a unique layer to the everyday.


 

In novels of magical realism, miracles and uncanny events, like levitating off the ground, are portrayed with the same matter-of-factness as any other aspect of life. This natural immersion encourages and invites us to accept the inexplicable as an integral part of the universe.


Celebrating Whimsy

The fantastical and inexplicable are unmistakable traits and show up in many ways through the characters, the setting, sometimes the political climate, and a heightened awareness of otherworldly events and activities.


But within these stories, whether it is the innate abilities of clairvoyance in the character Clara of the novel House of the Spirits, the witchery and curse of the Owen family in the Practical Magic series, or the gnome filled Catskill mountains of Washington Irving, the doors of possibility are opened wide, and magic is welcome to run wild and free.

These novels, characterized by magic presented as commonplace occurrences, especially among and within the lives of women, are viewed as part of the native world and just as natural as woman’s cycles following the phases of the moon. Importantly, there is no explanation of these fantastical events as the plot continues logically, but it drapes the reader in a cloak that says, magic is normal, marvelous and common. Celebrate it!


The origins of this genre are in cultures that have a close kinship to charmed living. For example, there is the Native American oral literature tale of a girl who transforms her sisters into stars to keep them from being eaten by a bear. They become the constellation the Seven Sisters.


In the Celtic Fianna warrior tales, Fionn mac Cumhaill sucks his thumb to ease a cut and gains the wisdom of the salmon. He also marries a woman the Druids had turned into a deer.

Strega Nona in Italian tales has a pasta pot that never runs empty and Baba Yaga lives in a house with chicken legs. The world of mythology, history and enchantment often mix with the mundane.

Magic, the Mystical, and Books

In the early part of the 19th century, the Romantics embraced, celebrated and were fascinated with intuition, emotion and nature. In the tales of Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, steeps his stories in Dutch folklore, American history, dwarves and ghosts.


Nathaniel Hawthorne embodies his heroine Hester, and her fairy child Pearl, with almost preternatural gifts as she struggles to survive Puritan society in The Scarlet Letter. The poems and short tales of Edgar Alan Poe sing with magical realism. For example, the angels are jealous of Annabelle Lee.


Magic has been afoot for as long as humans have drawn breath and has probably predated us for even science has now proven that trees can communicate. For readers, can you imagine baking emotions into food as is depicted in Like Water for Chocolate? Or children being telepathically linked to India’s independence in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children?

Toni Morrison’s critically acclaimed novel Beloved is centered around a mother who is haunted by her child. Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich often marry elements of magical realism and Native American culture into their literature. These writers shaped and influenced my own writing as well as world view.


Appalachian Magic

While my novel Across the Blue Ridge Mountains is rooted in Appalachia and one young woman’s struggles and triumphs, Appalachia is no stranger to magic as it was brought over the waves with the English and the Scotch Irish.


Purposefully, I infused my story with the subtleties of magic, whether it is women with the sight (intuition and psychic abilities), Mary being able to catch trout with her bare hands and charm birds, or Luanne being able to find morel mushrooms when the fairies are hiding them.

Also, all my women characters follow their intuition, even when it sometimes takes them down the wrong path. But like many settings of magical realism, it is also the story of marginalized lives, for ultimately, the families in my book are maligned and forced to move from their homes to make way for Shenandoah National Park.


Subtly, magical realism often takes on these indignities of political, economic or cultural inequality. Perhaps the beauty of enchantment also allows us to read the literature of magical realism as subversive texts, and by the way, practitioners know that magic can also be seen as subversive!


Magical realism can often correct imbalances of power and can be used as a way to subvert dominant forces. Like a spell, magic has power, and magic realism can act and be read on many levels, but ultimately, it honors intuition, imagination, the ability to see beyond the veil and to tap into all that is unsaid and lies hidden to the mortal eye. It reminds us that enchantment has always been there all along if you know where to look.


Let’s Have a Conversation:

Where do you find enchantment in everyday living? Are you inspired to read some books in this genre? Can you think of some stories from your own life that contain a bit of magic?

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