Genre, in its most common definition, is “a class or category of artistic endeavor” (Genre), and is used in many ways to define how a work of art, literature, or anything should be categorized. However, the art of defining a genre is a hairy situation; meaning, it is very difficult to categorize something because genre is culturally defined and is much a taboo as sex and drugs are in the United States. Although genre can be hairy to define and categorize, seeing something might be one thing in the U.S, and something else in another county, it allows for an interesting analysis to take place. And some languages, like Spanish, allow for unique genres that create a more interesting analysis.
The Spanish language presents opportunities for authors unlike any other language on earth. Through its use of conditional tenses and the hypothetical past-subjunctive mood, the Spanish language is able to express ideas in ways that English would never see possible. Such examples would include a genre that one might feel is mind-boggling and hard to grasp, magical realism. Magical realism, “a style of [literature] in which fantastic [thoughts] or imaginary [thoughts] and unsettling images are depicted in a sharp yet realistic manner” (Magical Realism), is native to the Hispanic and Latin culture and has been interpreted by notorious authors such as Luis Borges, Federico Garcia Lorca and many others. Although fairly unique, the idea of magical realism was simply a mutation of fantasy and tall tales and contains limitations which limit, yet allow, the author to create a magical tale.
The single most noticeable limitation in magical realism is the contrast from reality to a world of fantasy. Some novels, like El Otro by Borges, utilize a difference in time to distinguish between what is fact and what is not. Other novels, like Aleph by Borges, utilize a characterization difference within one persona. For example, the protagonist in another novel by Lorca is a chimera and contains the antagonist within his mind. Although, several conceits and complex comparisons lay within this split characterization, there is a direct reference to magical realism. But, how is there a limitation for the author in magical realism? The limitation lays in the necessity for a steep and sharp contrast between the world of fantasy and reality. But out of the single limitation, there are several helping agents for the author of this particular genre. Probably, the most successful is the allowance of a deeper comparison, conceit and a more complex theme. Although most magical realism novels contain a similar theme, there is grand variation in each.
Another very prominent allowance in magical realism is the genre’s accessibility but not its understandability. The people of the Spanish world love to read such novels because of the world it transports them too and, yet, allowing them to remain in realistic state of mind. It is in the belief of many that this particular genre is one of the most accessible genres in the world, as it is read in almost every single country on earth. Another surprising fact, or interesting one should say, is the number two book in the world, Don Quixote which is only two under the bible, is a novel categorized as magical realism in almost every single culture on earth.
As mentioned in the introductory statement, there are several tenses, moods and elements in Spanish that allow this to happen. There are, however, translations in English that do, sadly, lose the true value of the work. The subjunctive mood, a mood to clarify doubt and emotion in the speakers voicing to the audience, is the primary culprit behind the genre. Not to be confused with the conditional tense, the subjunctive contains several tenses within itself that are most predominant in works of Spanish-realism novels. The most prevalent would be the preterite-imperfect of the subjunctive. (Also referred to as the complex-past subjunctive) This tense within the subjunctive is completely hypothetical and can be exemplified, best in English, as “I would have done this if….” This is, however, not an accurate description of the difference. Probably the most primary element of this is, ironically, the conditional clause towards the end of the predicate. With the above constraints, this genre is widely read and understood by intellectuals and people who study literature.
It is widely agreed upon by the Royal Academy of the Spanish language, the governing body of the rules and structure of Spanish language and literature, that magical realism is a quintessential stepping stone to the Spanish language and should be treated as such. And, it should also be noted that this genre is by far one of the most “magical”.