Sunday, September 21, 2008

Magical Realism is How You Map the Human Spirit

I have been watching the entire series of Northern Exposure. I used to watch it when I was pregnant back in 1992. I've never been a network TV watcher, so the only way I ever got to watch it way back when was when my friend Eve in Eugene used to videotape it for me and send it. So there are plenty of episodes I've never seen before. I love this show so much that I'd move to Alaska if I thought there were really places like Cicely. I wish there were more TV series like this to enjoy.

Unlike in '92, this time through watching it, I have a degree in literary studies; in other words, I have a different way to appreciate this kind of art, more tools at my disposal. At times like this I am so grateful for the things I've learned. For example, I can tell you that Northern Exposure is a rare Western example of magical realism, which is the element that gave the show its particular charm.

According to the almighty Wikipedia, Magic realism, or magical realism, is an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting. Lo real maravilloso. It's all over Hispanic literature, case in point: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I say this completely without authority, but I can't help but wonder if the Native element in Marquez et al and Northern Exposure doesn't explain it. All I can say with authority is that I like it very much.

More of what Wikipedia has to say: "It is a fusion between scientific physical reality and psychological human reality. It incorporates aspects of human existence such as thoughts, emotions, dreams, cultural mythologies and imagination1. Through this amalgamation, magic realism can be more exact in depicting human reality."

So el real maravilloso is the only really effective way to translate the human spirit to literature. Joseph Campbell would agree.

Thanks to the internet I was able to discover that I am about the millionth person to make this observation about Northern Exposure. In reading the posts of other people, I discovered that I am in the minority in thinking that the episode where Shelly gets a hysterical sickness during which she can't speak, only sing. The people discussing the show agreed this was the worst episode ever, the point at which the show began to decline. But I love that episode.

Particularly this song she sings called "The Snake." It is the most excellent metaphor, especially this line "You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in."

The Snake (by Oscar Brown)
On her way to work one morning
Down the path along side the lake
A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake
His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew
"Oh well," she cried, "I'll take you in and I'll take care of you"
Chorus: "Take me in oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven's sake
Take me in oh tender woman," sighed the snake

She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk
And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk
Now she hurried home from workthat night as soon as she arrived
She found that pretty snake she'd taking in had been revived

Now she clutched him to her bosom, "You're so beautiful," she cried
"But if I hadn't brought you in by now you might have died"
Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight
But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite

"I saved you," cried that woman
"And you've bitte me, but why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die"
"Oh shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin
"You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in


AJ said...

My favorite moment was at the end of 'Spring Break' when the men unexpectedly (to us) run through the snow drifts naked for the Running of the Bulls.

It was one of those perfect fusions of subject matter and song (Lindsay Buckingham's D.W. Suite).

Indie said...

Oh thank you for calling my attention to that! You're right! It's the song and the visuals (snow, cheering people, smiles, bobbing heads and bare shoulders of the running "bulls") that work together to impart that good feeling to the viewer, the comfort of traditions that celebrate. I want to move to Cicely (or Talkeetna, the little town on which the show is based).

beachcomber said...

My apologies if this comment never showed up.

I remember clearly the annual snow streak on Northern Exposure. But what about the trebuchet episode -- Where Chris ended up launching a piano in s..l..o..m..o..instead of the cow he had originally planned to catapult. Very visual. Loved the quirky folk in that show.

Indie said...

Yes, and what about when he launched his dead childhood friend Tooley into the lake using a catapult? I had to wonder if that was quite sanitary.

olmanriver said...

thanks for the reminder carol! i had forgotten about that series and will have to rent it now. i spent some of my childhood in alaska and so, naturally, took extra pleasure from the show.

Anonymous said...

I do not like apples.