I've been fascinated by the phrase ever since I heard Rodrigo Garcia use it on NPR this week. Think THE GREEN MILE. Magic happens in the midst of a realistic story. I've never been lured by that sort of book, probably because I find enough magic in everyday life. However, adding magic supplies an intriguing list of ways to write yourself out of and into some interesting plots. Maybe what some define as magic, others see as everyday life? A baby's smile is pure magic. Love is as well. Moral courage. Absolute honesty. I could go on and on. I don't need "magic" to push a story from the ordinary to the extraordinary world, but I venture that an element of spirituality is more common than most authors would admit. Whether that belief is in the essential goodness of man or a higher power to control the destinies of the characters, really good books (in my limited view) are driven by characters with such a core. Jean Valjean. Atticus Finch. Dave Robicheaux. Any Dick Francis hero.
Existential heroes leave me cold. Went through that phase when I was a kid (high school) and thankfully, outgrew it. The real magic comes from finding a book with characters who inhabit their worlds with honesty, morality, and a deeply abiding faith that whatever is wrong will be righted, in the end. They waver and fumble along the path to the knowledge they require to reach the end of their stories, but they get there in the end. Yeah!