W. P. Kinsella’s magical realism in ‘Shoeless Joe’ and ‘The Iowa Baseball Confederacy’

If you watched Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary “Baseball,” perhaps you felt the magic in the sport. PBS called the film, “An American epic overflowing with heroes and hopefuls, scoundrels and screwballs.” If you sense this magic at the ball field or even while watching a game on TV, perhaps you can understand why Canadian author W. P. Kinsella (1935-2016) used magical realism in Shoeless Joe, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, and his later novel Butterfly Winter.

If you watched the feature film based on Shoeless Joe, “Field of Dreams,” or the movie version of “The Natural,” you might ask how anyone could write sincerely about baseball without magical realism. Shoeless Joe Jackson (1887-1951) was (and is) considered one of baseball best players with the third highest batting average in the major leagues. Even now, many dispute the claim he was involved in the 1919 “Black Sox scandal” in which White Sox players (including Jackson) were blamed for trying to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson–whose participation is doubted–was banned from baseball. In some ways, the book and film redeem him even though MLB never would.

The spirit of the magic is aptly summed up in the New York Times review of Shoeless Joe that includes the following excerpt that appeared after a character was discovered to have been lying about his baseball experience: “I imagine Eddie Scissons has decided, ‘If I can’t have what I want most in life, then I’ll pretend I had it in the past, and talk about it and live it and relive it until it is real and solid and I can hold it to my heart like a precious child. Once I’ve experienced it so completely, no one can ever take it away from me.'”

This is the way of sports. When actuality doesn’t meet our needs, dreams suffice.

Wikipedia says,” The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986) another book blending fantasy and magical realism, recounts an epic baseball game a minor league team played against the 1908 World Champion Chicago Cubs” and Butterfly Winter as “The story of Julio and Esteban Pimental, twins whose divine destiny for baseball begins with games of catch in the womb, the novel marks a return to form, combining his long-held passions of baseball and magical realism.”

Great reading if you’re a baseball fan or even if you aren’t. Eitherway, you’ll suspect that magic exists by the time you get done reading the books.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism novels and short stories from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.


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