From the many genres of literature, magical realism is a captivating genre in which the world is grounded in the real world but has magical elements woven into it. A great model of this genre would be The Marrow Thieves, a young adult novel by Métis Canadian writer Cherie Dimaline. The Marrow Thieves, represents the genre of magical realism through incorporating the three main elements of the genre: a real-world setting, magical elements, and political critique.
A realistic setting is the place in which the story is set that also exists in the real-world. This realistic setting is crucial to the magical realism genre as it is what sets it apart from the fantasy genre. Furthermore, this setting could include real-world people and their histories. The Marrow Thieves is set mainly in and around Ontario, Canada and the characters of the novel are from real Indigenous groups such as the Métis and Cree. These connections to the people of the real world allow the reader to envision the story in real life. “[We] lived on these lands for thousands of years...welcomed visitors who renamed the land Canada. Sometimes things got real between us and the newcomers...we lost a lot...we got sick with new germs..that’s when they opened the first schools. We almost lost our languages. Many lost their innocence...laughter...lives.” (23) Miigwaans tells the history of Canada and the people of it. The novel’s reality is identical to the real world’s in which Indigenous people were treated in unspeakable ways. Miigwaans mentions “the first schools”, which is a direct reference to the many residential schools that existed in Canada. These residential schools are a painful and shameful part of Canadian history and are used by the author to remind the readers that something as horrid as what happened in the book, happened in the real world. The story taking place in Canada, characters originating from real communities, the identicality of the novel and the real-world’s histories, align the two realities. This brings the realistic aspect from the genre of magical realism.
A representation of the magical realism genre should have magical elements layered on top of a real-world foundation. There are many fantastical elements in The Marrow Thieves. In fact, the issue that drives the main conflict between the protagonists—Frenchie and his friends—and antagonists—the Canadian government and Recruiters—is magical; everyone except for Indigenous peoples loses their ability to dream. “They got sicker...in the head. They stopped dreaming.”(88) The sudden extinction of dreams is rather supernatural than realistic. Moreover, the magical cure for this inability to dream is found in the bone marrow of the Indigenous people and is somehow extracted from their bones. “Dreams get caught in the webs woven in your bones. That’s where they live, in that marrow there.” (18) Though the dreams being “woven” into the bone marrow is fascinating, it is not scientifically possible. However, the magic doesn’t end there. One significant magical element that established one of the most meaningful and dynamic scenes in the novel was Minerva’s singing. “She called on her blood memory, her teachings, her ancestors...She brought the whole thing down. She sang...pulling every dream from her own marrow into her song.” (172) When the captured Minerva, the eldest member of Frenchie’s new family, sings a traditional song in the language, the harvesting machines attached to her collapse and catch on fire. The name of the chapter, “The Miracle of Minerva”, is quite fitting. Singing in the old language and breaking the dreadful machines is powerful symbolism but cannot happen in reality. Events such as these show the magic in the novel which is essential for a representation of the magical realism genre.
One prominent feature of The Marrow Thieves is the political critique in the book. Criticism of society, especially concerning the elite, is commonly found in the magical realism genre and this is clearly shown in The Marrow Thieves. “At first, people turned to Indigenous people...all reverence and curiosity...then they changed on us...looking for ways they could take what we had.” (88) In the novel, the selfish ways of how the Recruiters treat the Indigenous community is on full display. This acts as the foundation for the novel’s critiques of how the non-Indigenous Canadians, considered the “elite”, take from the Indigenous peoples without giving back. Their cruel nature is shown in their kidnappings and harvesting of Indigenous peoples once they find out that Indigenous people still had the ability to dream. The author’s portrayal of the Recruiters as selfish and heartless people is used to critique the relationship between the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous people of the real world by making the connection between the Recruiters and the real life Canadian government. This political critique is an important characteristic of magical realism that The Marrow Thieves uses to represent the genre.
It is clear that the novel, The Marrow Thieves, represents the genre of magical realism by using the three features of the genre of magical realism: realistic settings, magical elements, and political critique. Being set in Canada, characters from real communities, magical bones and dreams, the critique of how the Canadian government treats Indigenous people—all of these aspects of the novel illustrate how The Marrow Thieves represents the genre of magical realism. “As we celebrate Indigenous cultures and communities, we also acknowledge the oppression and discrimination Indigenous peoples have experienced for centuries. Together, we can shape a more just, more equal, and more inclusive Canada.” (Statement on National Indigenous Peoples Day, Justin Trudeau) Books like The Marrow Thieves are needed to remind of the past, especially the parts of it that simply cannot be repeated. Through literature, stories can reach out to a variety of audiences. It should be known that knowledge is a powerful tool and that it is essential in shaping a better future.