Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" in 1955, and gave it the subtitle of A Tale For Children. "Very Old Man" is perhaps the clearest and most famous example of a genre that Garcia Marquez helped to create: magical realism. This style, simply put, combines elements of ordinary life with elements of fantasy and magic. One might say that a work of magical realism treats the magical as ordinary - and thus invites us to consider the ordinary as magical. Despite containing similarities to folk legends and fairy tales, stories adhereing to "magic realism" avoid the naive moral judgments found in those folk genres. Instead, magical realism creates a complex and problematic world free of moral lessons or any maxims.
"Very Old Man" can be read on many levels. On first read, it can be deceptively simple: a tale of a town dealing with a lost angel. It sounds like a children's story, which is precisely what Marquez called it. Indeed, Marquez relies heavily on the myths and legends of rural South America and draws from such folk-sources' naivite and simple style. But rather than use these folk elements in a straight-forward manner, Marquez concentrates on their openness to interpretation. The story calls into question the manner in which humans make sense of their world - through stories, tales, interpretations, conversations, conventions, etc.
This suggests, in fact, that "Very Old Man" is a story about stories, and indeed many critics suspect that the tale is a veiled allegory for Garcia Marquez's own experience with fame - after all, Marquez was world famous following the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude. These critics see the old man in the story as the artist/writer, and the village respone to his arrival as a satirization of the relationship between a creative artist and the public. Indeed, the process of reception and interpretation is a constant focus of the story.
"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is, perhaps, Garcia Marquez's most widely read work. It contains many of the elements that define his great novels - uncertain time and setting, a style that mixes the documentary with the fantastic, a purposefully open-ended conclusion - yet its much shorter length makes it his most accessible contribution to magical realism. The story is often used to exemplify types of literature: magical realism, Latin American literature, etc. Yet this tendency to contextualize the story should not overshadow its value as a story. Witty, sad, and haunting, the story rewards many re-readings.