By Sara Karlovitch

Fiction is a mirror. It serves as a way for us to examine and look at our world critically but without being, well, boring. That’s not to say that nonfiction is boring — I actually love nonfiction, but nothing really holds my interest like a good fiction novel.

I love fiction because I can draw my own conclusions. There’s no right or wrong way to interpret something, just the way you perceive it. Fiction helps to create a greater sense of empathy and understanding than any other form of writing (in my opinion).

Though I love all types of fiction, my favorite sub category has always been magical realism.

Magical realism is by far the most under-appreciated, under-read and under-taught form of fiction out there. For the unaware, magical realism is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.”

Basically, magical realism is taking little elements from fantasy novels and stories and inserting them into otherwise normal settings. Some commonly know magical-realism books include A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. As you can see, magical realism is closely associated with Southern America.

However, it would be unfortunate to limit magical realism to only Latin authors. As much as I adore Márquez, my personal favorite magical realism author comes from a family of scientologists (he denies having any part in the group), was born in Britain and is married to musician Amanda “Fucking” Palmer.

Yes, I am talking about Neil Gaiman.    

Neil Gaiman, who is the author of books like Coraline, The Graveyard Book, American Gods, and my personal favorite, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, writes in a style based in magical realism tradition. He’s mastered the genre beautifully and writes works of epic proportions.

Gaiman hasn’t just mastered long form fiction, but short stories as well. In his short story anthology, Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman takes us readers on several wild, strange and bizarre adventures.

Gaiman has always been full of social commentary. His book American Gods is very much about the immigrant experience while Neverwhere is about London’s poor. You’ll never find a work by Neil Gaiman that’s not full of hidden meaning and depth.

His short stories are no exception. In every tale, he infuses the magical and strange with ordinary life. He uses these stories to talk about the little things in life. Gaiman explores everything from love to loss (many times in the same story). He tells you fantastic stories about a married couple who were never upset with each other, a troll who eats the life from little children and how an old woman accidentally found the Holy Grail in a junk shop.

Each story is a little snippet of real life. No matter how fantastical or impossible they each may seem they all serve as a mirror, as a way to look back on ourselves and the world we live in.

As Gaiman writes in the introduction to his book, “Fantasy — and all fiction is fantasy of one kind or another — is a mirror. A distorting mirror, to be sure, and a kind of concealing mirror, set at forty-five degrees to reality, but it’s a mirror nonetheless, which we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see.”

All fiction is a mirror helping us to see ourselves a little better. We all better take a look.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at

One response to “Smoke and Mirrors: Neil Gaiman’s Under-Appreciated Mastery”

  1. […] the years since then, we’ve expanded to on-and-off-campus journalism, music and film reviews, a plethora of blogs, and analysis on politics and world events, […]

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