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January / February Issue– Broken Images and Handfuls of Dust: Literature in the Twentieth Century

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Catholic Realism and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century

Are realism and fantasy really (or only “fancifully”) opposed to one another, as modern academia—even, and perhaps especially, Catholic academia—seem so often to propose? I have wondered about this question for practically my whole reading life, but it seems to me that these two great literary movements are not opposed but rather pointing to the same reality.  Dismissing the fundamental connection between the two genres—or worse, denigrating one in order to promote the other—is at best dangerous and at worst truly harmful.  Although magical realism, a literary style that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, is one solution, I would propose that the Catholic notion of paradox will better serve our end. Chesterton famously observes that a paradox is an apparent contradiction that actually conveys a deeper, and often overlooked, truth. To that end, I want to share a little story of how I grew to see these two seemingly opposing literary genres as being in harmony with one another. In particular, when a work of fantasy is compared to a work of realism within the confines of the Catholic understanding of art and literature, fantasy and realism become, in a very real sense, beautifully the same.

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