The past few months I’ve been enjoying a number of magic books, old and new, which I’d like to share with you.
First is St. George’s Hall: Behind the Scenes at England’s House of Mystery by Anne Davenport and John Salisse. This is a fairly specialized book, but it’s very well done. It’s a history of the London theater venue run by several generations of Maskelynes, starting with the patriarch, J.N. Maskelyne, in partnership with the magician David Devant from 1905 – 1935. Devant of course, along with Nevil Maskyelene, wrote one of the seminal books about the theory of conjuring called Our Magic. That book was unique in that it understood that conjuring was part of the theatrical arts, but at the same time also had its own particular requirements. Devant and Maskelyne, perhaps more than anybody before or since, delineated just how the magician should best walk that fine line between theatrical narrative and conjuring necessity. St. George’s Hall makes clear with its extensive details and photos of thirty years of St. George’s entertainments, that the theory of Our Magic was borne out of hard struggle and daily practical knowledge of what worked and didn’t work. Many of the entertainments were short plays that were centered around an illusion that Maskelyne or Devant had created and worked into some fantastical plot. The most surprising thing in the book for me were the photos of Devant in the various costumes for his plays; it is clear from the variety of characters and make-ups that he used, that he was as interested in the techniques of acting as he was of those of conjuring, and saw them both as allied arts.
I like the idea of having little magic pamphlets to read on a subway ride, and recently I came across an old pamphlet called Bunny Bill. The booklet by Robert Neale is an easy to follow origami project that teaches you how to fold a dollar bill into the shape of a top hat. When you squeeze the sides of the hat, out pops a little paper rabbit. It’s all done with one bill without any cuts, tears or tape. Cuteness factor is high, and children enjoy it.
Magician Dai Vernon was the greatest influence on close-up magic in the twentieth century, and for over 25 years, Vernon contributed a column to Genii Magazine called The Vernon Touch. His columns have all been collected in a compilation also called The Vernon Touch, brought out by Rickard Kaufman. The Vernon Touch had an extraordinary run considering that Vernon was in his seventies when he began the column, and he was over ninety when he contributed his last one. Much of the column was devoted to his reports on the scene at The Magic Castle, where he was in residence. Lots of history and anecdotes, along with many insights into the Vernon conception of magic, but I liked the photos the best, many not published before, of Vernon with his fellow magicians, and Vernon’s Harlequin and Chinese acts. If you subscribe to Genii you can purchase the book at a bargain price.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be involved with the proofreading of a wonderful book of card magic called The Devil’s Staircase by Greg Chapman. Fans of that book will be very happy to learn that Mr. Chapman is about to release a new book of card magic, kind of a companion piece to TDS, called Details of Deception. It’s an excellent title, because in this book Chapman focuses on the fine details of what makes a sleight, and a performance of card magic, deceptive. As in the last book, most of the material is gambling-themed, but a careful reading of the book will be highly instructive for any intermediate-to-advanced card worker. There are some excellent memorized deck effects, poker demonstrations, an extensive section on estimation with information which to my knowledge has never seen print before, and a large chapter on the second deal which gives detailed instructions of how to do several kinds of push-off seconds, along with some killer tricks that utilize the sleight. While most of the effects are difficult—the ability to do three perfect faros in some routines is taken as a given—there are a few effects for the mere mortals among us, including a very clever ACAAN routine. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to improve your card magic, if you’re a memdeck guy or gal, or if you just want to see how deeply a guy like Chapman can think about card magic.