Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016: Northern Exposure – all things mystical in the 49th state

mr bloghop small 2016allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock ponders the value of rules in magical realism.

I’m a complete sucker for beauty. Beautiful landscape, beautiful women and men, beautiful stories. I’m old enough to know better than to tell you how old I actually am, but if I tell you I was old enough to appreciate beautiful storytelling when I saw Northern Exposure when it first aired in the early 1990s, then you can figure that out for yourself.

For those of you who have never seen this gem of innovative, creative, just really funny writing that celebrates beauty in all its forms, Northern Exposure is a classic ‘fish out of water’, ‘stranger comes to town’ story. If you’ve seen Bill Forsyth’s movie Local Hero, you’ll get the idea quick enough. Joel Fleischmann, a newly qualified doctor from Queens, ends up in deeply remote and rural Alaska to pay back the costs of his education. Not only is he far outside his comfort zone, but his down-to-earth, Jewish rationality is constantly flummoxed and defied by the apparent absence of rules in this tight knit community; at least that’s how Joel sees it. Everything is crazy, no-one seems to do anything the right way, and Joel is frequently prevented from doing or getting what he wants. He can’t seem to get on anyone’s wavelength and no one seems to share his values.

NExp logoAgainst the major driver of Joel’s attempts to survive his isolation are set a number of sub-plots, interwoven with the themes of nature, independence, native American culture, isolation and ‘being your own person’. This last is cleverly set against the strength of the community in which Joel now lives – Cicely, Alaska – for in fact everyone in town has very clear rules of their own, but these are rules which are somehow both synergistic with each other and with the environment, while also acknowledging the fundamental differences and conflicts between the perspectives of many of the characters: Maurice and Holling, Maurice and Chris, Joel and Marilyn, Joel and Maggie.

The native American elements would be an obvious source for spiritual, mystical or magical realist elements, and there is in the series a very strong undercurrent of the continuity of native American spiritual belief as a kind of rule set of its own. What intrigues me as a writer is the way this undercurrent seems to infuse everything, both ‘bending the rules’ of story telling and upholding them. I’m a huge fan of magical realism because it’s all about bending rules, it’s all about saying some stuff is possible even if it defies belief. My own hero Crash Cole is, I guess, a version of Joel Fleischmann because his rational head says ‘this is just crazy’ while he has to learn to live within the ‘crazy’ if he is to function at all. That process of compromise and attrition is kind of fascinating to me, because it’s the opposite of the process of negotiation that goes on between magical realist author and their reader. Readers of magical realism go straight into the premise open-minded and open-hearted, living within ‘crazy’ and embracing it completely from the outset. I guess they are smugly willing the hero on to ‘get it’ too.

4-13-ed-one-who-waits2A great example of the fusion and (con)fusion of rules Northern Exposure-style is found in the Series 2 episode, “The Big Kiss”. Chris loses his voice to a beautiful woman who is passing through town, and Ed gets help from a 256-year-old native American spirit to find out more about his parents: these are two essentially magical realist concepts. We are ‘permitted’ to accept the native American spirit guide because we can respect other belief systems, but Chris having his voice stolen goes way beyond a belief system. It breaks the rules of rationality, but in Cicely, anything is possible. Perhaps the remoteness helps – surely this wouldn’t happen in a commuter belt town or an inner city?

Yet whether you see these two story strands as similar or contrasting, they are both managed in the episode by elegant references to story-telling. Chris is told stories by two different people in which a hero who loses his voice must have it restored by intimacy with the most beautiful woman in the village. Ultimately, he tries to recreate the story for himself in order to see if it will work for him. Meanwhile Ed reconnects with the narratives of his native American culture: the spirit One-Who-Waits is always telling him stories or fragments of stories, but none of them actually meets Ed’s purpose of learning about his parents. But at the end, when Ed happens upon a man who might be his father, the man tells his own miniature story of his life since Ed’s birth.

We long for Ed to find what he is looking for: the rules of disruption and resolution demand it, and yet we almost don’t get it because the rule-bending of One-Who-Waits’ existence is actually more fun to watch, though our eyes water a little when Ed realises who Smith is. We long for Chris to get his voice back – the whole of Cicely does – but the sexual tension between him and Maggie means that Maggie almost can’t go through with the intimacy required, and follow the rules of the story into which she has been written.

It occurs to me though that magical realism might, paradoxically, give us a chance to ignore those rules altogether. Would we let that happen? Or are we relieved that the very rules that are flouted are also adhered to so carefully? That stories that start must also end. We need resolution, I suppose. We need outcome. But could the rule-bending of magical realism overcome the rules of story-telling?

Perhaps. But ultimately, it’s still 42 minute TV, folks.


Cadell Blackstock is the author of the magical realist novel Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, available through all Amazon sites. He also wrote a blog a couple of years ago for the Blog Hop which he thinks is worth a second read …Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' cover

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added throughout the blog hop, so do come back to read more.  


Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016: Mortality and eternity in writing

mr bloghop small 2016Magic realist novelist Evie Woolmore ponders the permanence of words and the distillation of ideas.

I have lost two people very dear to me this year, and have suffered two more bereavements of a different sort. And as so often follows witnessing the mortality of people and situations, I found myself planning my own funeral and the things I wanted to remember. Yes, that I wanted to remember, not that I wanted others to remember about me.

My personal beliefs are, in a sense, irrelevant in this context but when I lose something important, I always end up back with my writing again to remind myself of what still belongs to me and is unaltered by the passage of what others do and are or don’t and aren’t. So I re-read all my books and a lot of my other unpublished writing, and picked two passages that I want to be read at my funeral, not because I want to impress, depress or profess to others, but because they crystallise what I feel the greatest sense of possession over: my ability to capture what I most want to say in my writing, and how magic realism allows me to do that.

Magic realism is, for me, the opportunity to go beyond the limits of others’ imagination and test only my own. Can I capture the potential of an idea without constraining it? So here is a single paragraph that I think shows what magic realism does best, and what I think it has allowed me to do best: to catch the most nebulous and intangible of ideas in a fleeting moment of sense.

This extract is from the first chapter of my novel The Salt Factory, about a little girl who has extraordinary healing powers. Thelonia Jones, reluctantly returned to England to face up to her past, has just observed the girl bring a dying seagull back to life. The extract I’ve chosen however is not the healing itself, but what happens shortly afterwards as Thelonia’s worlds of wintry Colorado, an English summer, her past and her present begin to coalesce around her. Thelonia has just met the little girl’s protective relative, and the hostile reception has disorientated her.The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

I shiver in the baking heat of the yard, slow to notice that the little girl is tugging at my hand. I bend down quite in spite of myself, and feel the girl’s lips brush my cheek. The smell of the sea and the cry of seabirds blossoms and fades like a night-flowering cactus, and for the briefest of moments I wonder if this is what the gull felt like when the little girl put her hand on it.


There is nothing strikingly magic realist about the sentences in this paragraph. It could be taken quite literally that a rush of blood to Thelonia’s head has augmented her sense of reality, her senses themselves, much as I outlined in last year’s blog hop post. But for me, magic realism often relies on that very conflation I described when introducing the paragraph. It is about the layering of one thing on top of another, images, senses, ideas. Thelonia shivers in the heat. The sensations of being beside the sea remind her of something altogether more exotic from the dry heart of the America she has come to call home. She dislikes children but she allows the little girl to kiss her cheek. It is the promise innate in the contrast, in the space between the two extremes. And in magic realism, the ‘extremes’ are reality and magic, the actual and the possible. They push each other further away and pull irresistibly towards each other.

In this short paragraph from another of my novels, Equilibrium, Epiphany – an Edwardian medium – is about to conjure up the physical form of her spirit guide Rosina in front of a packed theatre and several close witnesses.

equilibriumThrough the strands of her loose blonde hair that fall in front of her face, she can see the conductor’s beady gaze peeping over the edge of the orchestra pit. He has watched her a dozen times already but still his eyes widen when he glimpses her ankles, so distracted by this enchantment that he is oblivious to what he really sees. But that is at the heart of Epiphany’s success and she has learned to be glad of it.


Do our eyes widen when we read magic realism because we want to be distracted by the enchantment? Do we wish to be confounded, transported, challenged, thrown out of our imaginative literary comfort zones into some place we have never been before? And are we willing co-conspirators in our own oblivion, determined not to see the joins between the magic and reality?

I think so. In fact I depend upon it. I relish it, love it, respect it and cannot really live without it in my writing. I’m playing a game with reality, I suppose. But that game is ultimately about contrast. It is about the eternity of ideas juxtaposed with the very temporaryness and mortality of words. There is a theory in creative analysis (I think) that suggests that art works or pieces of music only actually exist when they are seen or heard by someone. I am certain that my writing will cease to have relevance after I have died. But the ideas will live on, and for a fleeting moment when my words are read, the magic in them will become real.


Evie Woolmore is the author of three magic realist novels, available through all Amazon sites. To find out more about Evie and her writing, have a wander around the allonymbooks website searching by the tag Evie Woolmore or magical realism, or download some free samples for your Kindle. You can also find some great novels by other allonymbooks authors here too.

And if you follow this link, you can read fellow allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock’s magic realist blog on Northern Exposure.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.  Zoe does a great job curating this every year, and the blogs are always worth reading!