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Magical Realism, Tall Tales - Input Junkie
June 17th, 2012
12:20 pm

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Magical Realism, Tall Tales
In a recent discussion, I had a little to say about tall tales as a distinct but rare influence on modern fiction.
I agree (at least partially) with copperbadge that magical realism is fantasy without world-building. I'm not sure that the fantasy elements need to be symbolic, I think they can be included for the pleasure of strangeness.

However, in magical realism, the fantastic element might be at a realistic scale. If the authorial voice is getting extreme about the effect of the mermaid's beauty filling city districts and her tail walloping everything from sharks to sperm whales, we might be in tall tale country.

However, there's more to tall tales than exaggeration-- it isn't a straightforward grab at the emotions, it's taking pleasure in how wild the description can get.

So far, my list of tall tale fiction includes Lafferty, Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, and Helprin's A Winter's Tale. Any other suggestions?

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From:sturgeonslawyer
Date:June 17th, 2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
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When the "extended" edition came out, I realized that Stranger in a Strange Land was basically a tall tale at heart. So, of course, is "The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail" in Time Enough for Love.

Fried Green Tomatoes?
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 17th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
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What have you got in mind about Stranger?
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From:sturgeonslawyer
Date:June 17th, 2012 10:31 pm (UTC)
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The opening, "Once upon a time, there was a Martian named Smith," is significantly expanded in the "unabridged" version in a way that (to me) casts a tall-tale feeling over the whole thing.
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From:ritaxis
Date:June 18th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
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Sounds like a definite improvement in tone.
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From:richardthinks
Date:June 17th, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure what the full context is here, but when I think of tall tales I think of stories with a very definite point - they signal that they are fiction in order to highlight their payload of truth, and that their truth is detachable from the context of the tale. They are purposeful and have a take-home message (although granted here I'm thinking of Gulliver's and Mandeville's and ibn Jubayr's Travels, more than "the fish that got away" type stories).

The magical realism I've read has derived its power from ambiguity - you're reading a more or less realist story and then an element of wonder interjects and you're not sure, for a while, if what you're reading is supposed to be taken metaphorically or literally or to reflect some altered state of consciousness of the characters or what, and the moment of "heightened reality" is generally the climax of the story, where intractable problems are resolved or recast. While the tall tales I can think of tend to signal their moment of break from reality, or of pushing the suspension of disbelief, and then proceed to a punchline that results from the break.

That said, on this schema I guess Like Water for Chocolate would be magical, not tall.
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From:whswhs
Date:June 18th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)
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I actually don't think of Gulliver's Travels as a tall tale. It strikes me as having a stronger claim to be the first science fiction novel. It's more along the lines of sf as social commentary (as it often was in Soviet bloc countries, for example) than of hard sf, but it does have exact specifications for how tall the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians are, how much they weigh, how much they eat, and so on—not just wildly exaggerated scale. Then there are those orbital statistics for the moons of Mars. . . .
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From:whswhs
Date:June 18th, 2012 02:42 am (UTC)
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I'm reading Journey to the West, and the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, has a lot of folk tale hero about him. Especially when he acquires his magical iron rod which can expand to the diameter of a rice bowl or shrink to the size of an embroidery needle at his command, and which only he can lift. I compared him to a superhero, but he's more like Paul Bunyan than Superman.
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From:ritaxis
Date:June 18th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
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Some Vonnegut.
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From:catlinye_maker
Date:June 18th, 2012 03:28 am (UTC)
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I suspect these are explicitly tall tales and you're looking for more subtle versions of same, but Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories are tall tales, IMO.
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From:mneme
Date:June 18th, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC)
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I'm pretty sure at least one Raffery novel is tall tales-ish. Maybe Okla Hannali?

Also, Michael Chabon's Summerland. And there are tall tales stylistic elements in Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's "Songkiller" trilogy.



Edited at 2012-06-18 06:03 pm (UTC)
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From:nancylebov
Date:June 18th, 2012 08:05 pm (UTC)
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Okla Hannali and Space Chantey are the two Lafferty novels I'd say are the most overtly tall tales.

What I've found out from this discussion is that people mean very different things by tall tale.
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From:redrose3125
Date:June 19th, 2012 10:48 am (UTC)
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Clarke's Tales from the White Hart always struck me as tall tales.
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From:womzilla
Date:June 22nd, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
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Big Fish, a novel by Daniel Wallace made into a film by Tim Burton, is explicitly about tall tales.
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