I have a hard time telling the difference, in my own work, between fantasy, and magical realism. I know the text book definition of magical realism.

Avelino de Castro

Well-Known Member
Mar 21, 2020
When it comes to defining the difference between magical realism and fantasy, Does Christopher Moore, and Neil Gaiman's work count as magical realism, and Tolkien count as fantasy? What do you think? Where do the genre's overlap? Can you recommend books that are fantasy but not 'high fantasy'. When does a story cross the line and divert too much from reality, and become straight fantasy?
I've not checked the definition of magical realism, so I may be barking up the wrong tree, but for me it lies in using the real world as opposed to a fantasy construct but in that real world magic is accepted as completely normal by everyone -- ie it's a fact of life as much as chocolate or grass. If the knowledge of magic is restricted, then to my mind it's fantasy even if set in the real world.

I've only read a couple of Gaiman's books, but to the best of my recall magic isn't universally known and accepted, it's only known to a few, so in my definition he's writing fantasy. The same for Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher -- real life and real places, but most citizens are ignorant of any magic in the world.

Kraken, by China Mieville, might be magic realism on this definition -- lots of very strange things but everyone seems to think it's all normal.

Tolkien is fantasy, not magic realism, because there's no reality there -- it's an invented world.

That help?
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Do you really need to know the difference in order to write? Would knowing it make any difference in your writing? If not, then why worry about it?
Indont know Christopher Moore , but both Gaiman and Tolkein are Fantasy. De Bernieres, Marquez et al are magic realism.
Just remember, over times all things mix and mingle. The influence of Borges and Garcia Marquez (for the latter, that may have included Bradbury, who he mentioned in at least one interview) has spread over time and the line between fantasy and magical realism is likely blurred in some works.

Randy M.
To my mind, in magical realism the magic seems normal to the characters, but to the reader it seems weird, whereas in fantasy it feels an inherent, "logical" part of the world.
I would go along with @The Judge 's definition.
The only thing I might specify is that often it includes historically based fiction in which the characters accept fictional magic elements as everyday normal occurrences.
I'm with @HareBrain: Magical realism is when there is no clear logic to the magical events in the story and the characters aren't aware of the magic being out of the ordinary or "magic". A door appears out of nowhere and the protagonist just goes through it without wonder or acknowledgement of a miraculous event. It is dream logic.

Fantasy is where the characters are aware of incongruous goings-on and take special notice of them. They see those events as dangers, opportunities or portents. The magical elements have value in a fantasy world.
Wow! So much to ponder. I wonder if there really is a difference. It seems that the general consensus is fantastic worlds where magic is part of the rules of the road is fantasy but magical realism is fantasy that sneaks into the real world circumstances and characters of the story.

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