Magical realism (sometimes called magic realism) is one of the most interesting literary trends to emerge worldwide during the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Generally associated with South American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, recent critics have also included North American writers such as William Faulkner and Toni Morrison within the genre. Dandelion Wine, written in the 1950s as a mainstream autographical novel, however, has not generally been read as a magical realist text; nevertheless, Bradbury as a self-admitted fantasist, leaves himself open for just such a reading. Indeed, an accounting of the magical elements in Dandelion Wine not only deepens the reader’s understanding of the novel, it also revitalizes the text, making Dandelion Wine a surprisingly contemporary vintage. The purpose of this essay, then, is threefold: first, to provide a working definition of magical realism; second, to identify the elements in Dandelion Wine that can be classified as magical realism; and third; to consider how this approach opens the text to the twenty-first century reader.
Magical realism, in simplest terms, is the mixture of realistic elements along with fantastic elements. Further, the characters treat elements that might seem fantastic to the reader matter-of-factly. Likewise, everyday realistic elements for the reader may be treated as something magical by the characters. For example, in García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the characters scarcely notice the flying carpets that gypsies ride into town, yet they are utterly astounded by ice. William Harmon and C. Hugh Holman, in A Handbook to Literature, write that in a magical realist work, “[t]he frame or the surface of the work may be conventionally realistic, but contrasting elements—such as the supernatural, myth, dream, fastasy—invade the realism and change the whole basis of the art.”
Dandelion Wine clearly offers examples of these elements. Its setting (or surface) is early twentieth-century, small-town America, its characters the men, women, and children of this town, all engaged in everyday, daily activities. Yet magic erupts from the first moment that Douglas climbs into his grandparents’ cupola and wills the town into existence. Even in the most quotidian circumstance, an election for the presidency of a ladies club, there is an implication that witchcraft might be involved. Likewise, the main character, Douglas, is saved from death by a magical healer.
In their classic book Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris argue that “magical realism is a mode suited to exploring—and transgressing—boundaries, whether the boundaries are ontological, political, geographical, or generic. Magical realism often facilitates the fusion, or coexistence, of possible worlds. . . .” Further, magical realist texts “often situate themselves on liminal territory between or among worlds—in phenomenal and spiritual regions where transformation, metamorphosis, dissolution are common. . . .” In other words, magical realist texts often include many different ways of interpreting the world, interpretations that often exist side by side. “Liminal territory” is something like a borderland, or the space between two places, ideas, or worlds. In boundary spaces, characters and locations can find themselves transformed, changed, or even dissolved. Focusing on these elements of magical realism offers a particularly rich reading of Dandelion Wine because it is in the geographical, temporal, mythological, and spiritual boundaries that magic most often erupts in the novel.
As Zamora and Faris describe above, Green Town coexists in two separate worlds. In the first, it is the real city of Waukegan, Illinois, the place where writer Bradbury was born. Readers know this from Bradbury’s...
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