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Reply To: The Hour Yields, with Mythologist Joanna Gardner, Ph.D.


    Stephen, thank you so much for your kinds words and your insightful questions. Your observations about the experiential and intellectual dimensions of mythological studies are spot on. Myth doesn’t happen when we discuss theory and definitions. Myth happens when we enter the image, and I believe magical realism is one avenue into that experience.

    All my life, I’ve been drawn to passages in literature where the strange or impossible irrupts into the known world. Those moments feel the most real, the most alive, the most true. Each one rings like a bell for me and gives new life to all the pages of realism that precede or follow. So when I began to write fiction and poetry, I reached for that same feeling in my own work. Magical realism, in which elements of the unreal appear unapologetically in otherwise realistic settings, offered a perfect genre to play with those techniques.

    As I wrote, I had to imagine into my characters and settings, quite by necessity. I learned what it feels like when a poem quickens, when the ending of a story reveals itself, when a character looks back at me. It always feels magical. I also kept bumping up against myth and depth psychology, which drew me in like magnets. Both fields offered so much insight and imagery that before long I found myself focusing more on them than on creative writing. To my delight, I realized that imagining into a mythic image is the same as imagining into a fictional character — the same dreamlike feeling, the same letting go, the same willingness to see and be seen.

    The practice also has much to do with Martin Buber’s I and Thou, except the sacred, beloved Other becomes a fictional or mythological being encountered in the imagination. But the work is the same as for other beloveds. Hold the space, let the beloved breathe, let the beloved act, let the beloved speak. Be silent. Listen deeply. Love the listening. And when the beloved image looks at you, hold that gaze as long as you can.

    Magical realism and mythic imagery both dissolve the hypnosis of reductive realism. They tug at the veil between our senses and the not-yet-known — that which we access through our imagination. As a magical realist, I rejoice in the reality of that magic and, by corollary, the magical nature of reality.

    Thanks again for the wonderful questions, Stephen. And to the COHO community: hello! I am beyond pleased to meet you, and am very much looking forward to hearing your ideas and experiences.