Salman Rushdie on Magical Realism: True Stories Don’t Tell the Whole Truth

Salman Rushdie on Magical Realism: True Stories Don’t Tell the Whole Truth


Stories don’t have to be true, you know.
That by including elements of the fantastic or elements of fable or mythological elements
or fairytale or just pure make believe you can actually start getting at the truth in
a different way. It’s another door into the truth. And that’s why I think the thing
that is interesting about the phrase magic realism is if when it’s used people tend
only to hear the word magic. So they think it’s just about fantasy. But the word realism
is as important and what this kind of writing tries to do is to be grounded in the real,
to be grounded in an actual quite strong vision of the real and then use techniques to express
that vision which don’t necessarily have to be realistic. The thing about Magical Realm
as it’s so called is that it’s a newish name for a very old thing. And this particular
name came into being in Latin America in the late 1950s and was used to describe a group
of writers formed as Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortarzar, Alejo Carpentier and several others
who used techniques which diverged from straightforward naturalistic writing or they used elements
of fantasy and dream and included those in the text of the story as if they had the same
status as observable facts. I’ve always been as a writer from the very beginning I
was interested in this general area of fiction. I started out, you know, as a young person
long before I wrote anything I was very, very interested in science fiction and I read an
enormous amount of science fiction in my teens and early twenties. And actually my first
novel, Grimus, which was published more or less just over 40 years ago was really in
that area. It wasn’t science fiction but it was fantasy fiction, you know. Because
I think that that form what might be better called speculative fiction has always been
a very good vehicle for the novel ideas. You know if you have ideas that you want to set
in motion and interrogate and argue about science fiction, fantasy fiction has always
done that and always done it very, very well. So I always had that interest. So I mean that
interest in that kind of genre fiction combined with my knowledge of Eastern fable and folktale
and fairytale, you know, and all of that went towards turning into the writer that I became.

22 thoughts on “Salman Rushdie on Magical Realism: True Stories Don’t Tell the Whole Truth

  1. Salman Rushdie is certainly and eloquent person with a quick mind. Some of his written dialogue has an almost patios feel to it – a sound of the street. He definitely draws upon tradition too. I could stand to listen to his explanation of where he differs in his use of magical realism from other authors. What makes his take on magical realism stylistically different than say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

  2. I find it odd that this understanding is lost on many people.

    When things are set in "reality" they often rely on melodrama to entertain.
    Science fiction and fantasy allow a writer (and reader) to explore real people in extraordinary circumstances, to entertain ideas unthinkable when married to real world context.
    I find regular fiction mostly dry and boring.
    I already have a real life with real problems. Why would I want to go live there in my fantasies too?

  3. Isn't it quite odd that people like salmon Rushdie and that other lady who claimed Islam banned innovation get to be on this platform and excercise their freedom of expression while clearly ignorant on that field (Islam I mean) just goes to show how sided these "big ideas" are

  4. so, talking to someone and telling them a fictitious story can still get your point across as the one truth you intended but in a whole different way then just answering straightforward? ill have to remember this next time im asked a question and only a boring answer to give as i usually do.

  5. Tim obrien has a great book on this actually. Well, it's a Vietnam war book but it has this theme in it. The name is "The things they carried"… It is honestly one of my favorite books I've read. Thank you to my English teacher for making me read it lol

  6. When telling stories, you need to use metaphors. As in "x was like y", "that thing was like this thing", "it was like the skies opened up" etc. And popular science (from Aristotle) tells that metaphors are not science. But it is false. Science uses language to communicate, and language is full of metaphors. Metaphor is like a representation of the actual physical thing, not itself the actual hard reality. So even science is basically communicating through fiction, through metaphorical imagination. Even though science tries to hide its metaphors and represent the actual reality "as it is". That's why imagination is important in understanding reality.

  7. A really good example of this is the movie "Big Fish," where the son keeps wanting to know the truth about his father's life, but his father only talks in fairy tales, and in the end, the son realizes that the fairy tales more accurately show the way his father experienced life than if he'd just given the facts.

  8. Watched this while reading Midnight's Children. Makes many things clear. The master himself explains the trade, what's cooler than that?

  9. By using fantasy and make-believe you can get at the truth in different way. Discuss. Examples and explanations would be good. What kind of truth? Isn't a lot of magical realism escapism, fun entertainment, imaginative rambling, and sophisticated word-spinning designed to display cleverness rather than truth-seeking? Just a thought.

  10. I'm reading Grimus, and I'm fascinated by the insights, the expression of things that I can feel or see in dreams or some meditative experiences but that are so difficult to express because they are not so rational.
    There is a mixed of wisdom and playfulness.

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