Magical Realism: A Technique to Reconstruct the World from beyond the Valley of the Dead

Document Type : Original Article


English Department, Faculty of Arts, Cairo University


The seemingly bizarre idea of the return of the dead in literary and non-literary works is by no means a totally novel one, despite suspicions concerning the infeasibility of this return, as exemplified in Hamlet’s often quoted speech upon pondering on death as “the unknown country from whose bourn no traveller returns.” Long before these works were produced, Biblical and Quranic stories referred to the same notion for a religious function to demonstrate God’s miraculous powers. I argue that some writers, affiliated to different religions, cultures and historical periods were inspired by these stories, but have deployed them for other purposes. This paper attempts to explore the rationale behind the deployment of this idea in three specimens, What 'Isa Ibn Hisham Told Us (1907) by Egyptian writer Muhammad Al-Muwaylihi, Dance of the Forests (1960) by Nigerian dramatist Wole Soyinka and The Freedom of the City by Irish dramatist Brian Friel (1973). The paper argues that the theme plays diverse functions—moral, social, political and/or ecological. Tenets of Magical Realism are used as a critical tool to explore such an idea.