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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife and Magical Realism

I just started reading this book for the first time yesterday -I'm not even sure where I got it. I must have bought it during one of my crazed book-buying sessions. I've never seen the movie, and I'm not too far into the book yet, so I'm still just getting started. I'm certainly enjoying what I've read so far, though, and I'm looking forward to continuing.

One thing that did catch my eye was the idea of chrono-impairment as a genetic disorder. That raises some red flags for me. I'm a little wary of using science to justify magical realism occasionally, because I have seen it crash and burn and ruin books.

I'm all for magical realism -I think it's a fun genre and a good answer to fantasy, which can begin to come across as repetitive, stale or uniformly Tolkien-esque over time. However, using science to "explain" magic sort of takes away the magic part of it -that's basically what science does now: we use the scientific method to examine claims and better understand the world. It's the main reason there are no witch burnings in the developed world: we are at least skeptical and informed enough to know that magic is not actually real.

Magic is a great tool in a story that uses it well. It can definitely become a crutch, but well-written magic is just a lot of fun. However, combining modern science and magic can lead to a few problems, by:

-Destroying the mystery by over-explaining how said mystery occurs.
-Irritating scientifically literate readers by fudging the facts on certain scientific concepts (which is not always a problem, but can be really really annoying).
-Making the magic actually impossible by the rules of the universe or scientific explanations that have already been imposed by the author (I have seen this happen several times, and it will make me stop reading a book).

There has only been a very brief mention of the concept of chrono-impairment, and it looked like it's going to be well handled by the text, so I'm not too worried about it just yet. I can handle the intersection of magic and science if it's well done. I'm really hoping The Time Traveler's Wife lives up to my expectations.

What are your thoughts on magical realism and science+magic?

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