Metaphysical fiction is a growing, but little-known, genre of stories that explore, or are based on, some form of philosophy or system of thought. Such fiction includes some aspect of the inner, incorporeal, supernatural, spiritual, archetypal or transcendent aspects of human experience and may emphasise an individual’s movement towards self-actualisation. Readers may gain insight into, or be stimulated to reflect on, such things as the nature of existence, the mind, the soul, the psyche, psychology, the spiritual journey and so on.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is an excellent example of the genre. A modern example is The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Another excellent, but less well-known example is On the Soul of a Vampire by Krisi Keley.
Here are a couple of other definitions.
‘Metaphysical fiction transcends the here & now into a deeper universal spiritual truth, and is characterized by an intangible mysticism that embeds itself in the written word.’ @jordyj6
” Modern metaphysical/visionary literature often crosses genres and enters into the little celebrated field of magic realism. In this genre, the supernatural is part of tangible reality; spirit and nature are interwoven, inseparable, and unquestioned, and the extraordinary is made ordinary. Metaphysical literature tells tales of the inner life . . . Its task is to give voice to soul and its yearning to transcend the suffering of everyday reality.” Niamh Clune.
How is it different to ordinary novels about supernatural characters and events? In order to make the distinction clear, we have to understand the meaning of the word metaphysical.
Definition of metaphysical
- concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth.
- concerned with first principles and ultimate grounds, as being, time, or substance.
A common understanding of the term metaphysics is that it refers to a kind of speculative physics. Where physics is a study of the nature of reality at its most subtle level, metaphysics is speculation on, or ideas about, the nature of reality.
Therefore it is the philosophy or thought-provoking nature of metaphysical fiction that sets it apart from ordinary magical realism and supernatural fantasy.
- A story about reincarnation is not metaphysical fiction unless it presents and provokes thought into the philosophy behind reincarnation.
- In the same way, a story about a ghost is not metaphysical fiction unless it explores the nature of life after death in relation to a comprehensive vision of reality.
- A story about a soul that has no philosophical basis or component is not metaphysical fiction, whereas a story about a vampire that explores the nature of the soul is.
How does Metaphysical fiction differ from other related genres?
Visionary fiction. Sometimes the terms are used synonymously but my understanding is that visionary fiction is more obviously ‘spiritual’ in nature, and that an individual’s movement towards self-actualisation is a primary theme. In metaphysical fiction, though the philosophy underlies the story, the story takes precedence over expression of the philosophy; in visionary fiction the expression of the philosophy is more important than the story. Also in metaphysical fiction there is a supernatural or incorporeal element which may not be there in Visionary fiction. Here are a couple of definitions.
Visionary Fiction embraces spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and makes it relevant for our modern life. These gems of wisdom are brought forth in story form and in a way that readers can experience the wisdom from within themselves. It emphasizes the future and envisions humanity’s transition into evolved consciousness. While there is a strong theme, it in no way proselytizes or preaches.
Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot. http://www.visionaryfiction.org
Magical realism. Doesn’t necessarily have the philosophical aspect.
Mystical realism and mystical fantasy deal with themes and plots regarding the nature of the divine.
Spiritual fiction eg Christian fiction, deals more directly with moral and religious themes, or expression of religious values, activities and dogma.
Do you agree with my definition of Metaphysical fiction? What does the term mean to you?
My reviews of metaphysical fiction can be found here.
A list of quality independently published metaphysical fiction can be found on the Awesome Indies site.
And of course all the books in my booksh0p here are metaphysical in nature.
Very informative blog post. Don’t think the local bookstore is going to be adding a ‘metaphysical fiction’ shelf any time soon, but the idea may appeal to a significant segment of readers and writers.
Linda Pendleton says
One of best examples of metaphysical fiction is the Fourth Awakening Series by Rod Pennington and Jeffrey A. Martin. Has held the # 1 position at Amazon Mysticism in the U.S. and UK for months. The Fourth Awakening Chronicles was just published.
Tahlia Newland says
Thanks, I’ll check it out.
Leslie H. says
I have to recommend a fantastic metaphysical fiction book by author Jay Allan Luboff entitled, “Harry Pond Looks Homeward: The Spiritual Adventures of an Ohio Farm Boy” (http://harrypondadventures.com/). The book follows Harry Pond, a Vietnam Vet returning home for the first time in three years. Almost as soon as Harry settles in there is something unexplainable and mysterious happening in his hometown. His Uncle Julius has had a personality change and is now keeping company with dark companions. The book soon becomes a battle between good and evil as Harry and his sister Becky try to save the farm from those who want the land for all the wrong reasons. They take on this mission with help from guardian angels, ascended masters, and show the reader that good always prevails It truly is a magical book that weaves messages of spiritual wisdom into it that can help anyone on their spiritual path.
PJ Swanwick says
“My favorite definition is “Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” http://www.visionaryfiction.org
I think that the term is broad enough to encompass much of what you’ve described above, with a little expansion. It may be one of the best (if not the best) definition of this new genre, particularly considering Amazon already supports it as a category.
Linda, I whole-heartedly agree that Rod Pendleton’s “The Fourth Awakening” is one of the best contemporary metaphysical/visionary novels I’be found. Were you aware that he’s published a second book in the series, and a set of novellas called “The Fourth Awakening Chronicles” that will eventually become a new book? I highly, recommend all his work in this genre.
Tahlia Newland says
Agreed. Their definition is pretty all encompassing. I think visionary fiction is easier to define and recognise than metaphysical fiction because of that main thrust in the story line, and undoubtedly it can also refer to many of the books called metaphysical, but not all. The two terms aren’t interchangeable though, because in metaphysical fiction there is a supernatural or incorporeal element which may not be there in visionary fiction, (I have a review coming on my Ripples in Water blog on the 23rd May 2013 which is clearly a visionary & not metaphysical work,) and there isn’t the emphasis on an individual’s movement towards self-actualisation or as you quote ‘the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.’
For example, my book ‘You Can’t Shatter Me’ is about handling a bully, and the ‘Rule of Ten’ books are murder mysteries, but both have strong Buddhist underlying principles and include experiences that are incorporeal. These books are metaphysical and not visionary.
I guess that’s why the Amazon category is called metaphysical and visionary. I’m glad I don’t have to choose between the two for lethal Inheritance because it is definitely both.
PJ Swanwick says
Tahlia, would you like to do a review of On the Soul of A Vampire for Fiction For A New Age, since you recommended it as a good example of metaphysical fiction? Or perhaps you have some other book reviews of novels that fall into the genre that I could reprint? Thanks for considering my site – I’m really impressed with how gorgeous and well organized yours is. I’m still a newbie when it comes to designing and running a site.
Tahlia Newland says
Hi PJ, Sure I’ll do that. Not sure when I’ll get around to it though. You’re welcome to reprint any of the reviews on Ripples in Water blog http://ripplesinwater.com Just go to categories and choose metaphysical fiction & they’ll all come up. Or you could choose the book review category. All the reviews on that site are metaphysical or visionary fiction
Very helpful post! Thank you. I would only complain that there is no share buttons.
Tahlia Newland says
Whoops; there should be. Thanks for letting me know. Something isn’t working right. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.