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Magical Realism in “The Bull Jumper”

August 1, 2011

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I have been  too busy working on my novel-in-progress, bringing a chapter a week to my writer’s critique group. So far, I have one-third of a decent first-draft of a historical novel. 

The Bull Jumper: A Tale of Minoan Greece takes place in approximately 1625 to 1675 B.C.E (Before Common/Christian Era.) When I first set out writing, I told myself I would not write elements of fantasy into the story.  I was striving for historical accuracy, and I guessed nymphs, gods and demons were not literally running around the Greek islands. 

But as I was writing,  my narrator–a  girl raised in the palace-temple of a great ancient city — told me otherwise.  To her, the pre-Greek myths were real, and her experiences only reinforced her cultural beliefs.

So, I changed my strategy to introduce magic early and in slowly-increasing doses. Within the first handful of pages, my narrator, Amerin, finds herself lost and frightened in the famed Labyrinth of Knossos. She has the following encounter with what may or may not be an ordinary mouse:

            Forgetful of whose sanctuary I was in, I prayed to my own patroness, Potnia, the Harvest-Goddess. Soon I became aware of a movement near my feet and I looked up. A tiny grain-mouse sat up on her hind legs, watching me with twitching whiskers. Such creatures sometimes acted as messengers of Potnia, so when she turned and scurried down the passageway, I followed. She seemed to wait for me when I stumbled. Within moments I recognized the ornately carved portal leading up into the palace. 

That night, Amerin dreams the Harvest-Goddess hands her a pomegranate. She wakes with the fruit in her hand.  Readers may decide Amerin has been sleepwalking, or someone placed the pomegranate in Amerin’s palm as she slept. But Amerin and everyone  around her believes her visitation was real because in their world, this sort of thing happens sometimes. 

Though The Bull Jumper is not per se a fantasy novel, I have found many of the “rules” for writing fantasy helpful.  The website “Women On Writing” features an article called Navigating the Fantastic  in which the writer, Sue Bradford Edwards, states ” The trickiest rules concern the magic in your world. Who can use it? When?”

I keep this in mind as I approach chapter 7, which involves Amerin’s encounter with a tree-nymph. I find myself composing a very strange list in my notebook:

 The Nature of Wood-Nymphs:

1) Nymphs have physical bodies

2) They can mate with humans, have mortal babies

3) Nymphs cannot grow old or ill

4) Nymphs CAN be injured or killed by humans

5) Nymphs were once human girls, favored by a goddess

5) They cannot leave the woods/groves they inhabit while the trees live

6) They suffer terribly when the trees are destroyed, then die  if they do not find new land to inhabit

7) A nymph can trade places with a human girl, but only if the human girl is willing…….

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