Hello, and welcome to another great Genre Talk hosted by The Novel Approach Reviews. Today we’re delighted to have DSP Publications author Lloyd Meeker. He’s here talking about magical realism and his newest book Traveling Light.
One of the things I love about a post like this is learning new things. I have to admit I’m not as familiar as I should be with the genre magical realism. Learning about this genre from Lloyd has been a true delight.
Traveling Light is magical realism, which I think is an interesting and exciting genre now that I know more about exactly what it is.
A little about Traveling Light:
BLURB: An eye for an eye….
Ian McCandless is a hospice nurse, training to become a shaman. When his mentor orders him to make peace with his estranged family, Ian reluctantly agrees, anticipating another conflict-filled visit. On their way from the airport, Ian’s older brother Will interrupts a convenience store robbery and is shot. As he dies in Ian’s arms, Will begs Ian to avenge him.
Ian uses his shamanic abilities to track down the killer, but his quest soon becomes a hunt for revenge—forbidden to any shaman. His actions jeopardize his relationship with the spirit-world, endanger the lives of those he loves, and threaten to banish him from the path that gives his life meaning. Ian must choose between vengeance and service to community as the root of his shamanic covenant. Evil or noble, every choice is sacred to the Great Web, and every choice has consequences.
Sometimes it’s said that magical realism is simply fantasy written by Latin American authors. I strongly disagree. Although great authors from that part of the world have illuminated the tradition for us, I think the mindset that gives birth to magical realism is distinctly different from the paradigms of fantasy. I offer two particular differences
The first difference is the problem of logic. If something is unusual in a fantasy, I expect it to fit within a logical framework. The genre expectation is that a viable explanation must be provided for it to be “believable”. In Dune, the giant worms are explained. Spice is explained. The interstellar politics are explained. Within the fantasy, it’s all perfectly logical and linear.
Magical realism has no such obligation to logic. In a sense the author doesn’t care whether you believe his story or not. He’s just recounting something that happened. What MR does do, however, is ground the odd phenomenon in solid physical detail, even if the detail is of something completely absurd. The reader accepts the journey or (s)he doesn’t.
The second difference, an outgrowth of the first, is meta or micro approaches to symbolic significance. In general terms, we could call this fantasy world building, but that’s not actually adequate, since MR has its own kind of world building.
There is a stunning 4-page short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. It illustrates exactly what I’m talking about.
In the story, the father of a sick child discovers a very old man with enormous wings in the courtyard, apparently blown in by a storm:
“He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth in his mouth, and his pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had. His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked were forever entangled in the mud.”
It’s not until the third paragraph that someone calls him an angel. There is no cosmology attached to him or his presence, even though the local priest weighs in on the matter. Marquez offers no framework of great battles with demons, for example, to explain why he’s there. He’s just there. I’d call that a micro approach. Everything is immediate detail, without the slightest effort to explain why this pathetic, unbeautiful old man with half-plucked buzzard wings is there, or how he got there. His arrival, presence and ultimately his departure all remain unexplained. Those explanations are unimportant to the story. His significance is simply that he is there. That IS the story.
In a fantasy, the approach is almost certainly going to be meta, perhaps even idealized into a trope. The appearance of an angel, even a decrepit one, had better be explained. If the angel is important. Enough story cosmology about angels is required so we can understand what the angel is doing there.
In addition, the angel is likely to be more beautiful than the very old man in Marquez’ story. Maybe the fantasy angel has struggled, wounded and noble, to escape the demonic prison he’d suffered in for eons. He might be wounded and beautiful, perhaps broken and beautiful. His wings, however, would likely still be magnificent. It is highly unlikely they would be covered in barnyard muck.
Most telling, in a genre fantasy the “angel” would almost certainly have a greater role than simply catalyzing change in a little village—there would be macro events for that angel.
I’m not saying either fantasy or magical realism is less than the other. I love them both. All I’m saying is that they are two distinct traditions. Whether I do it successfully or not, I draw on both traditions in Traveling Light. I use explained fantasy to create the world of Ian McCandless, the young shaman, and rely on unexplained metaphor to animate the spirit world he travels in.
For example, there’s no cosmological reason Ian meets his brother’s antagonism in the form of a giant lizard, or a spirit-guide in the form of a rattlesnake. I don’t fully explain Ghost Woman’s behavior, either. But events and forces in the spirit world are beyond human rationale, which is exactly why the “rules” for traveling in it are so important.
I hope this article encourages you to a deeper sense of wonder in reading either fantasy or magical realism. There are so many great works of both kinds for you to enjoy!
Lloyd, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your essay. Your book sound absolutely wonderful!
As always, thank you to our readers for your continued support. Please check out all of Mr. Meeker’s books (there is a bio and links below). However, first please enjoy this excerpt of Traveling Light.
EXCERPT: “Drink. All of it.” Again, Ian obeyed. The liquid was thick, bitter. “So. Now you let the plant take you, Ian. Journey well. I will sit vigil. Maybe you need my voice to find your way back to this world when you are ready.”
Ian nodded and closed his eyes, seeking a deep breathing rhythm. Soon he felt his consciousness being taken by what he had drunk. He wanted to call out for a guide, but he knew none would answer. This journey was his only. And then he fell softly, tumbling into the voluptuous darkness that folded itself about him.
He sat on a muddy riverbank in the fading light of a sullen sun. Ian studied the wet clay and coarse grass underneath him, then turned to look over his shoulder. Behind him a parched landscape stretched—barren, marked with what looked like dead trees. Maybe one of them was a gallows, he wasn’t sure. He faced the river.
Vines thick as a man’s wrist spiraled up out of the water, reaching up to him. They wrapped around his feet, legs, torso, arms, neck and pulled him, sliding, down the bank into the river. He knew he should not resist, so he didn’t. The water was cold, thick, and tasted of mud as it filled his mouth, nostrils, and throat. As his lungs filled, he sank but did not die. The vines let go, and the sluggish current took him, rolling him slowly, heavily along the slimy bottom.
The water became warmer, the mud thicker. Eventually he bumped against something hard and large. Although he couldn’t see, he felt as far as he could reach—tree roots, maybe. Ian grabbed hold and pulled himself upward until he broke the surface. He could breathe again, but he hadn’t really missed breathing. He wiped the mud from his eyes and face and could see he was in a swamp. Wisps of fog drifted above the slick water’s surface. The stench of decay was everywhere. He pulled himself up onto the gnarled roots above water, crouching in the dim jungle heat, surveying where he was.
Thunder rolled—distant, dull. There was a badly weathered boat tied to the trunk, but it had no oars, and black water rippled in the bilge. Ian climbed in and sat—running his hands along the rotting wood, the remnants of paint on the gunwales, celebrating the textures with a rush of affection. He realized he was supposed to cast off, so he did. Drifting in the torpid water, the boat pushed silently through the mist. The thunder sounded again, closer, and there were sudden scrabbling noises and a single sharp squawk somewhere in the canopy overhead.
Ian could see he was approaching an inlet with a discernible shore—ahead of him a stony bank rose out of the water and merged into thick undergrowth. He could see the outline of trees against the sky in the dim light. On its own direction, the boat pushed farther into the inlet until the shore opened onto a meadow. A short distance from the shore a bonfire blazed, swirling its racing sparks and smoke up into the dark. The boat swung toward the clearing and nudged into the bank.
Just as Ian stepped onto land, a naked male figure approached the fire, threw his armload of wood onto it, and began a shuffling dance around the flames, arms waving as if to music Ian couldn’t hear. He stood motionless for a while, watching the dancing man, who even in the uncertain light seemed familiar. A part of the clouded sky flickered, then thunder sounded—harsher, closer. Uneasily Ian walked toward the fire and stopped at the edge of its light. The man’s ragged, matted hair and thick red beard couldn’t obscure his identity. It was himself. Wild Ian.
On the far side of the bonfire, WildIan stopped his dance and turned to stare at Ian through the twisting sparks and smoke. “So,” he growled, “you finally made it. Ian plays noble St. George, come to slay his dragon.” The man spat into the fire in disgust. “Stupid St. George, who knows nothing!”
“I’m not here to slay a dragon. I came to find you—and I have.”
WildIan guffawed. “Find me, you idiot? I was here all the time!” He shook his head. “I made a fucking bonfire for you to get here! So stupid.”
Ian stepped farther into the fire’s circle. “Thank you for your help.” Alert as a deer, WildIan watched, still, ready. “Now that I’ve found you, will you return with me?”
WildIan’s eyes widened in surprise, then he whooped with laughter so hard he had to bend over to lean on his thighs. “That’s it? Is that really how it works in the world where you live?” He cackled again in amazement. “Unbelievable. You think I am your tame little pet, to follow you when you call? You are even more stupid than I thought.” WildIan sneered. “No. That is not how it works here. You haven’t found me—you just know where I am. Big difference. Maybe not to you, but big difference to me.” Without taking his eyes off Ian, he reached to his head, then drew a long hank of hair into his mouth, chewing softly. A knife blade flashed in the firelight as he cut the wet hair and threw it onto the fire. “This fire is mine. I take it with me.” WildIan turned and strode into the darkness. Behind him, the fire crumbled to cold dead ash.
Meet Lloyd Meeker: Lloyd Meeker can’t help what he writes—stories arising from the between places, the mystical overlapping between the worlds of matter and spirit, and the sentient, unpredictable beauty that dwells there. It’s his natural habitat.
Happily ensorcelled by music, subtle energy healing, and the wonders of nature, he lives with his very understanding husband in southern Florida, among friends, family, and orchids that take his breath away every morning.
In addition to his written work, which includes novels, essays, poetry and short stories, he has served since 2008 as a final-round judge in the Queer Foundation’s annual National High School Seniors Essay Contest, which promotes effective writing by, about, and/or for queer youth, and awards scholarships to the winners. Finalists are selected from schools across the United States by members of the National Council of Teachers of English.
His novel The Companion was named a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Literary Awards, and is the author of other popular titles, including Blood and Dirt, Enigma, Blood Royal, and A Cape of Good Hope Christmas.
Thank you, Lloyd, for joining us today, it’s been a pleasure. Next up, on April 5, 2016 is Lex Chase.
Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter give away. Lloyd is offering two digital copies of Traveling Light to randomly selected readers who tweet the article. He’s keeping this contest open for one week and will contact the winners directly.
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*The Novel Approach will not be held liable for prize delivery unless otherwise specified
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