Discuss the blend of realistic and fantastic details. Does this blend make the story more or less effective?
Does it require a different type of reading than other stories you have read that contain no elements of fantasy?
"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is an intriguing blend of the ordinary and the supernatural, of reality and the fantastic. Consider the following:
- A girl disobeys her parents (real) and is turned into a giant spider (fantastical).
- A very sick little boy was healed (real) and, among others, a blind man did not have his sight restored but did grow three new teeth (supernatural).
- A very old man (real) has enormous, and very natural-looking, wings (unreal).
- Angels (or should I say, winged creatures who are apparently responsible for at least one actual miracle) are true and respected religious symbols (real) but this particular one is kept in a chicken coop (absurd).
- It is presented as a simple story, subtitled "A Tale for Children" (real); but it cleary has many elements children would neither appreciate nor understand(unreal).
And the list goes on...and on. The piece is absolutely packed with such contrasting elements.
This type of writing, known as "magical realism," is not particularly common; when it is used, the author is clearly trying to make a statement. It's obviously more difficult to read, as it requires the reader to suspend his disbelief. (Who really thinks an old man with wings would virtually land on one's doorstep?)
As to effectiveness, this is a supposed tale for children which is found in most literature anthologies. The issues reflect human nature: how we treat others; how we put our faith into practice; how we handle greed and selfishness and disobedience and...well, you get the idea. It prompts discussion about all manner of human commonalities.
Readers have to work a little harder in a story like this, as the lines between what is real and what is supernatural are blurred. The primary struggle for the reading audience is to make sense of this world--deciding what matters and what doesn't, what is true and what is false. It does, in fact, require a different kind of reading, the kind which asks hard questions and doesn't offer easy answers.