By Christopher Thompson
The term “mythorealism” was coined by fantasy author Lani Thompson to describe a particular tendency in modern art and literature, the tendency to create stories in which “myth incarnates in the waking world”:
Mythorealism is what happens when myth incarnates in the waking world. Like its cousin, magical realism, mythorealism encompasses facets of reality which aren’t ordinarily perceived and brings them into the waking world. Reality is more than bones and blood. It is the spirit lurking behind stones and flesh… Myth stepping into Matter… The World being uttered… (Lani Thompson)
Magical realism usually incorporates fantastic elements without comment in a story that is otherwise set in the mundane world. The characters in a story of magical realism don’t generally react with wonder or horror when confronted with something magical; instead they take it for granted. Mythorealist fiction, by contrast, emphasizes the mystery and awe of the numinous and the wonder and horror of encountering the mythic in the “waking” world.
The art and literature I think of as “mythorealist” is not just entertainment or escapism, but a new kind of spiritual practice, free of all dogma and orthodoxy and capable of engaging with higher realities in a spontaneous and unmediated way. The humor, the poetry and the magic of this approach to spirituality represent a modern alternative to what I see as the dead ends of fundamentalist religion and skeptical materialism. This is a form of spirituality for the modern person, to whom “belief” no longer comes naturally- but wonder still does.
Rather than attempting a comprehensive survey of the mythorealist tendency in modern art and literature (which would require a book), I will focus on seven examples: the fiction of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Ekaterina Sedia, Emma Bull and Sergei Lukyanenko, the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, and the art of Zdzislaw Beksinski. These seven incorporate different aspects of the mythorealist tendency, and I’ll be exploring the implications of that tendency through a discussion of these works.
2- Terror in a Handful of Dust: Neil Gaiman and the Sandman
3- The Unbeheld’s Many Mansions: The Fiction of Clive Barker
4- Night Watch: The Gothic Noir of Sergei Lukyanenko
5- The Two Worlds of Pan’s Labyrinth
6- Photographing Dreams: The Art of Zdzisław Beksiński
7- Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks
8- Ekaterina Sedia’s Secret History
Author of A Season of Strange Dreams, an urban fantasy novel available as a Kindle e-book from Dark Quest
“An astonishing tour de force of noir fantasy, characterized by some of the most beautifully lyrical, atmospheric writing I’ve come across in a long while. Chris Thompson skilfully blends the mean streets with the streets of dreams in this highly evocative concoction, offering the reader bafflement, dazzlement, gritty hard-boiled realism, wonder and astonishment in turn – but always delight. A Season of Strange Dreams will remain in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.” (John Grant, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy)