Written in 1968, ‘‘Un señor muy viejo con alas enormes" ("A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’’) is typical of a style known as ‘‘magic realism,’’ which is closely associated with its author, the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This imaginative style combines realistic, everyday details with elements of fantasy, blurring the reader's usual distinctions between reality and magic. But unlike other works of the imagination such as fairy tales or folk legends, stories of magic realism lead to no clear morals or simple truths; they present a rich and vivid world of magical possibilities, while frustrating and complicating the reader's efforts to fix a definite meaning to events.
Very simply stated, this is the story of what happens when an angel comes to town. But while it is subtitled ''A Tale for Children,'' it is by no means a simple story. The setting is no ordinary town, and its visitor is no ordinary angel—indeed, he may very well not be an angel at all. In most respects, he seems disappointingly ordinary and human, despite his extraordinary appearance. Because he contradicts their expectations, the characters we meet seem thoroughly incapable of understanding him; their conventional wisdom and superstitious beliefs lead them into absurd explanations for his sudden visit, and they treat him in a manner that seems cruel, unjust, and ignorant.
Magic realism has been a popular and influential form, attracting a wide readership and a great deal of interest from literary scholars. Drawing on the stories and legends of his rural South American childhood, as well as his study of the sophisticated techniques of modernist writers, Garcia Marquez creates a rich and suggestive fictional landscape that challenges traditional modes of thought and focuses the reader's attention on the difficult, elusive work of making sense of the world.