Storytelling, dreams, and magic

Life in Truth (as opposed to the “life actual” world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.” – Jane Yolen in “Touch Magic”

MRbloghop2016When we wake up from a dream, we’re aware of the fact that we didn’t realize we were dreaming while we were dreaming, but accepted what was happening as real no matter how improbable it seems in the light of day. Daydreams are somewhat the same. We’re imagining surfing in Hawaii or climbing Mt. Everest when somebody says, “you look like you’re a thousand miles away.”

Authors hope readers will react to their books like this. We want the reader to step into the story and, as the words flow forward along the pages, believe a little or a lot that the story is real. When a book is compelling, readers are often startled when the phone rings or somebody knocks on the front door and they find themselves back in “life actual” in somewhat the same way they react when they wake up from a compelling dream.

It’s said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested that when stories contain human interest and a semblance of truth, readers will temporarily suspend their judgement about the implausibility of the plot, setting and characters. Readers willingly suspend their disbelief and see the novel, short story, play or movie as life actual rather than life in truth.

A general fiction author will take us to a real place, or at least a realistic place, in our own comfortable domain of life actual (sometimes called “consensual reality”) and tell us a story that could happen (or might have happened) in the “real world.” (I put “real world” in quotation marks because both Quantum physicists and spiritual gurus have called into question whether the world we perceive as real is real.)

Contemporary fantasy authors will take you to a hidden place within the world we know where magical events occur. The Harry Potter series is a good example of this. Most of the magic within Rowling’s books was confined to Hogwarts and other magical locations. The consensual reality at Hogwarts was different from the consensual reality in London, and both readers and wizards knew that they were traveling between parts of the world with different rules.

perception2Magical realism authors bring magic into the world we know. In a magical realism story, the magic is part of the characters’ everyday life and is accepted as just as real and viable as the cars they drive and the pots and pans in their kitchens.  The characters don’t see magic as something with the world “maybe” attached to it whether that magic comes from the land, from ancestors or spirits, or from the spell casting or innate abilities of the people involved.

The authors of general fiction (or realistic genres), contemporary fantasy, and magical realism all want readers to suspend their natural disbelief in the reality presented in the novel, and accept it as real in the same way they accept dreams and daydreams as real. In some ways, readers are like those who go up on stage during a hypnotist’s or magician’s performance and say, “Yes, I’m willing to be hypnotized” or “Yes, I’m willing to be fooled by your illusions.”

Perception is Reality

Storytellers, hypnotists and stage magicians (illusionists) can place you into somewhat of a dream state in which you accept what’s happening as real because we believe that perception is reality in one or more of these ways:

  • Psychologists might say you see the same reality as everyone else, but are impacted by it differently because of how you feel about it or yourself.
  • Quantum physicists might say that reality is more than we perceive with our physical senses and that our thoughts or our presence impact it in ways we may not realize.
  • Those who study and accept what used to be called “new age” belief systems will say that our perception and our thoughts create the reality we experience and that we can be taught how to do this consciously.
  • And others will say that our perception of what is real can changed temporarily due to hypnosis, strong emotions or other traumas, alcohol or drugs, or some other life actual cause.

When it comes down to it, most authors don’t think about “perception is reality” while they’re writing. Learning one’s craft brings authors the techniques they need to tell a page-turning story that readers perceive as real while they’re reading it. Most of us want to be tricked one way or another when we watch a hypnotist’s or a stage magician’s performance. We don’t usually think about being tricked or enchanted or hypnotized when we pick up a novel, but that’s what happens if the story on that novel’s pages is well told.

Magical Realism or Just Plain Realism?

I see the world as a child of the new age. I’ve had arguments with publishers about whether my novels and short stories should be called general fiction or magical realism because I believe everything in my stories is real. But, publishers, bookstores and readers tend to like seeing the genre labels because those labels help them choose the ways they like being hypnotized or enchanted (in a magical sense) by an author.

What do you see?
What do you see?

I’ve always written about the world I perceive. Until others pointed it out, I didn’t realize I was writing magical realism. I had to ask, “What makes my stories fit into that genre?” Publishers, editors and writing gurus kept telling me, “You and your characters. . .”

  1. View the spell for creating a pillar of fire or jinxing a troublesome neighbor as no different than a recipe for mac and cheese.
  2. Assume haints and other spirits are just as likely to be in the forest as deer and raccoons.
  3. Give myths and legends just as much credence as recorded history–or suggest they’re more accurate
  4. Think trees, rocks, storms and the land itself are conscious.

I said, “Yes, of course I perceive everything that way. Doesn’t everyone?”

As it turned out, most other people don’t share my perception of reality in their day-to-day lives; however, enough of them like being lured into short stories and novels with that kind of perception to make magical realism a popular genre.

I think I was the last to know.

The world as we know it draws lines between our dreams and our waking hours, between illusion and five-senses perception, between magic and non-magic, and between life actual and life in truth. Magical realism takes away all those lines.

Malcolm

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button for a list of other blogs in the hop. Links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

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A few of my favorites: fairy tale quotations

“A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features European folkloric fantasy characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants, mermaids, or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables.” Wikipedia

Rapunzel - an illustration from the Brothers Grimm adaptation
Rapunzel – an illustration from the Brothers Grimm adaptation

Are parents reading fairy tales to their children today? I hope so. At Thanksgiving, people often tell us to ponder what we’re thankful for. That’s probably to keep us from thinking it’s all about food, football and getting stuck washing dishes in the kitchen. I’m thankful for fairy tales, the ones my parents read to me, the ones I read to myself, and the ones kept alive in all their forms and versions by those who love the stories enough to spend their lives collecting, translating and studying them.

Here’s what those lovers of the stories have to say about them. . .

  • “The more one knows fairy tales the less fantastical they appear; they can be vehicles of the grimmest realism, expressing hope against all the odds with gritted teeth.” – Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers
  • “The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put robin redbreast in a cage.” ― Philip Pullman, Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
  • “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.” ― Friedrich von Schiller
  • Father Frost acts as a donor in the Russian fairy tale Father Frost, testing the heroine before giving her riches.
    Father Frost acts as a donor in the Russian fairy tale Father Frost, testing the heroine before giving her riches.

    “Fairy tales begin with conflict because we all begin our lives with conflict. We are all misfit for the world, and somehow we must fit in, fit in with other people, and thus we must invent or find the means through communication to satisfy as well as resolve conflicting desires and instincts.” ― Jack Zipes, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre

  • Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ― Neil Gaiman, Coraline
  • “Fairy Tales always have a happy ending.” That depends… on whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen.” ― Jane Yolen, Briar Rose
  • “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein
  • “Fairy tales were not my escape from reality as a child; rather, they were my reality — for mine was a world in which good and evil were not abstract concepts, and like fairy-tale heroines, no magic would save me unless I had the wit and heart and courage to use it widely.” ― Terri Windling
  • “People need to believe in more than what they see in everyday life. Somewhere inside, we all know that there is more out there than we experience normally. A belief in the other world can help explain why things happen to us. It can give us hope. I feel that we all hope we never get to be too old to fly to Never-Never Land or go through a wardrobe into Narnia. We want to think that there is something looking back at us when we look at the stars. We want to think that just around the bend in the forest, we’ll find fairies dancing in a ring. I hope that my work affirms those beliefs,” she continues. “I want people to think of my work as a key to that other world.” – Wendy Froud
  • beasttoblonde“The child intuitively comprehends that although these stories are unreal, they are not untrue …” ― Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
  • “ Truly, I think the degree to which the bourgeoisie has appropriated the culture of the poor is very interesting, it’s very shocking. Fairy tales are part of the oral tradition of Europe. They were simply the fiction of the poor, the fiction of the illiterate. And they’re very precisely located.” – Angela Carter, author and also the translator of Charles Perrault’s work
  • “More effectively than any of the other tales, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ established Andersen’s reputation as a man who created stories for children — not just in the sense of target audience, but also as beneficiaries of something extraordinary. The lesson embedded in it is so transparent that its title circulates in the form of proverbial wisdom about social hypocrisy. But more importantly, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ romanticizes children by investing them with the courage to challenge authority and to speak truth to power.” – Maria Tatar, author of The Classic Fairy Tales
  • “I will tell you, too, that every fairy tale has a moral. The moral of my story may be that love is a constraint, as strong as any belt. And this is certainly true, which makes it a good moral. Or it may be that we are all constrained in some way, either in our bodies, or in our hearts or minds, an Empress as well as the woman who does her laundry. … Perhaps it is that a shoemaker’s daughter can bear restraint less easily than an aristocrat, that what he can bear for three years she can endure only for three days. … Or perhaps my moral is that our desire for freedom is stronger than love or pity. That is a wicked moral, or so the Church has taught us. But I do not know which moral is the correct one. And that is also the way of a fairy tale.” ― Theodora Goss, In the Forest of Forgetting
  • fairy3“Far more often [than asking the question ‘Is it true?’] they [children] have asked me: ‘Was he good? Was he wicked?’ That is, they were far more concerned to get the Right side and the Wrong side clear. For that is a question equally important in History and in Faerie.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
  • “The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.” ― W.H. Auden
  • “People who’ve never read fairy tales, the professor said, have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your sub¬conscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love.” ― Charles de Lint, The Onion Girl

The two illustrations are from Wikipedia. Click on the book cover graphics to see Amazon’s listing for them. Happy Thanksgiving and happy reading.

Malcolm

emilyebookMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, including “The Betrayed,” and fantasy short stories, including “Emily’s Stories.”

Briefly Noted: ‘The Last Selchie Child’ by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen’s collected poems in The Last Selchie Child, from A Midsummer Night’s Press, are a celebration of storytelling. Part I, Story explores the craft itself; Part II, Stories takes us to the sea and elsewhere into the distant past when the world’s once-upon-a-times were more intangible than they are today; and Part III, Telling the True, gets to the heart of the matter, the veracity of the tales a storyteller tells.

In “The Storyteller,” in Part I, Yolen writes about the fundamental essence of the art of a tale:

It is the oldest feat
of prestidigitation.
What you saw,
what you heard
was equal to a new creation.

The title poem “The  Last Selchie Child” begins Part II:

But I am the last selchie child,
my blood runs cold in my veins
like an onrushing tide.

In Part III, “Family Stories” reminds readers of the childhood stories they heard, but no longer recall:

My brother and I
are pieced together
like crazy quilts.
We keep warm
on winter evenings
with the weight
of all those tales.

Publisher’s Description:

Magical transformations, enchanted mirrors, talking animals, familiar tales in unfamiliar guises, all these and more are found in the pages of The Last Selchie Child.

Retellings of archetypal myths and fairy tales and the nature of storytelling itself are explored in this new collection of poems by Jane Yolen.

This tiny book of tales, published in a 6×4 format, grows larger and larger with each reading of its magical poems.

Malcolm

A writer’s world view: effective rather than futile

Merlin advising Arthur

How do you see the world? Looking at the major issues we face—global warming, AIDS, terrorism, overpopulation, unemployment, renewable energy, the environment—do you view the world as “too broke to fix” or still within our capabilities to drastically improve and correct?

The books writers write are often impacted by their world views. Some agree with Jean-Paul Sartre’s statement that “Man is a futile passion.” In fact, looking at most of the fiction published during the last hundred years or so, I suggest that most authors either agree with Sartre or think the public agrees with Sartre and wants to read stories that corroborate this world view.

In my latest post on Sarabande’s Journey, World of Wonder finding ‘Life in Truth,’ I wrote that “a lot of mainstream fiction has fled from wonder, pulled by science, technologies and difficult-to-solve world issues into realism, powerlessness, despair and alienation.” Some of this fiction gives us happy endings, but they’re usually small endings in a sea of troubles. That is to say, the lovers who will live happily ever after will do so as long as the screwed-up world allows it.

The alternative proposition to readers and writers who agree with Sartre is neither naiveté nor the false believe that life will save warring factions from themselves if only the parties involved will sit down and sing “Kumbayah” together. While naiveté and “Kumbayah” bring their adherents many positive moments and, perhaps the illusion of positive action, they are—I believe—taking a bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach to the problems of the world and, worse yet, to their own personal development.

In my novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, my protagonist—who is trying to create a magical cloud inside his apartment—is advised to close his eyes. Why? Because as long as he sees that the cloud isn’t there yet, he’ll become more and more convinced he can’t create it. When he stops looking, he’s successful.

Now, I would never suggest that we stop being aware of the world’s problems and thereby give up on all the logical, science-and-techology-based approaches to solving them. Instead, I prefer the approach advocated by mythologist Joseph Campbell: “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.  But in doing that you save the world.  The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”  As long as we, as individuals, focus on the huge problems of the world for which we see no viable solutions, we not only feel more alone, but more powerless as well.

Whether or not you were around or not during the 1960s, you’re probably aware that Washington, D. C. and/or the Kennedy administration was often referred to as “Camelot.” Rightly or wrongly—and regardless of political viewpoint—the Camelot we hoped for was on a par with the heroic dreams of the legendary King Arthur and his noble knights. Perhaps our hope was based on all the wrong reasons and perhaps it had too much “Kumbayah” and “Make Love Not War” in it, but it was hope. Hope has, it seems to me, become a rare commodity in both our lives and our fiction.

Looking at the rhetoric, few people believe that America as either a dream or a hope or a goal will ever become the Camelot of our imagination. Variously, it’s too late, too broke to fix, or too besieged by problems no man or woman or group can solve. In the minds of many, America is rather like the tragic world of King Arthur in Tennyson’s epic poem Idylls of the King. Epic fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson summed up Camelot, as viewed by Tennyson like this:

Tennyson’s technique is to take a genuine, honest-to-God “epic” character (Arthur) and surround him with normal, believable, real human beings who lie and cheat and love and hate and can’t make decisions. So what happens? The normal, believable, real people destroy Arthur’s epic dream.

Donaldson suggests that many of us think we’re not capable of doing anything else because we believe that since “man is a futile passion” that we are powerless and incapable of creating a living, breathing real Camelot. He writes fantasy, in part, to demonstrate that man is capable of being an effective passion.

An Alternative to Sartre

I quoted storyteller Jane Yolen in my latest Sarabande’s Journey post, so those of you who read that will, I hope, forgive the repetition. In her book Touch Magic, she says that Life in Truth (as opposed to the world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.”

My philosophy of life does not include the viewpoint that men and women are powerless or that they don’t matter or that “evil” and “blame” are independent forces out there in the real world. As an individual, I believe in Life in Truth; that is, among other things, both a Joseph Campbell approach and a Jane Yolen approach. In my contemporary fantasies, The Sun Singer and Sarabande as well as in my magical realism adventure Garden of Heaven: Odyssey, I focus on stories with intense—and sometimes horrible—personal trials. And yet, my characters also find answers, answers that focus on themselves rather than on those who would destroy them or the world they believe in.

While I write contemporary fantasy rather than epic fantasy, I agree with Donaldson’s point of view about the value of fantasy fiction. His characters look within for answers, and this allows them to see the “real world” just the way it is while simultaneously seeing their dreams; that is to say, the world as it should be.

Paradox or not, I can reconcile Life Actual (the so-called real world) and Life in Truth, and understand clearly that while I don’t have what it takes to solve the large issues of the day, I am learning all that I need to know to solve the problems of myself. One day, as long as I don’t stare too intently at the problems themselves, the worlds of reality and of imagination will become one.

Malcolm

sharp-edged fiction without the futility