One of the most extraordinary ways in which magical realism mixes the extraordinary with the ordinary is the accumulation of realistic details in describing an impossible event. This technique is a particular strength of García Márquez's fiction. The trail of José Arcadio's blood, by now an icon of magical realist description, is an outstanding instance:
A trickle of blood came from under the door, crossing the living room, went into the street, continued in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
— Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Because a trail of blood cannot normally climb curbs and turn corners at right angles and does not possess a humanlike capacity to direct it's own progress, the more realistic details the trail of blood accumulates (such as the name of the street, the kind of flowers, and the exact number of eggs), the more magical its progress appears.
These details weave a textual fabric that joins different worlds, one in which such a stream of blood exists in the ordinary world of precise identities and measurements and one in which is possesses magical properties. But here, those worlds are woven together. Such a combination of the real and the magical is a central paradox of magical realism.
A Little Personality Goes A Long Way
Furthermore, because the trail of blood originates at the scene of José Arcadio's death but also participates fully in the concerns of everyday life, such as taking care not to stain the rugs and avoiding the dining table, as it traverses Macondo, it seems to join the different cosmic regions of the living and the dead. And because it brings together both the household everyday reality and the magical qualities of autonomous motions and sensibility, it also links the different discursive regions of realism and fantasy.
Ultimately, this example suggests that what we think we control may in the end control us. Individual and social wills are subject to the unpredictable forces that transcend them. Like realistic tales, with their uncanny coincidences that proclaim truth to be stranger than fiction, and God to know infinitely more than man, magical realism highlights life's surprises; but it does so with more than uncanny means.
Excerpted from Dr. Wendy B. Faris's book on magical realism and the "remystification of narrative," Ordinary Enchantments.
Published on January 20, 2004