Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Book of Secrets

To become interested in magic is to become a traffiker of secrets.  When you know nothing, you become intent on learning everything.  It's not so much about building a show as it is about amassing the raw material that will, eventually become the show.

To do that means pouring over all kinds of material in order to find effects that may, or may not, be within your skill range until you find items that you think you can do justice to.

This process never ends.

After four decades I have a library of collected wisdom full of books and videos, but among my most valuable books is my copy of Dunninger's Complete Encyclopedia of Magic.

The Dunninger in the title is Joseph Dunninger.  "The Amazing Dunninger" was an magician and mentalist who pioneered the performance of mentalism on radio.

The book is a collection of columns that were prepared for the general public and which appeared in the popular "science" magazines published by pulp pioneer Hugo Gernsback. 

The articles claimed to give the inside secrets of magic although the practicality of some of the "solutions" provided is open to debate. 

Disclosing the secrets of magic is always good for selling magazines and TV shows.  A performer's life's work goes into collecting them and, when all is said and done, they are the only asset he may have left. 

In the early part of the last century, premier English magician David Devant earned the enmity of his fellow performers when illness forced him to publish a book wherein he disclosed many of his secrets.  In our own time, we can recall the "outrage" of magicians when The Masked Magician specials ran more than a decade ago. 

I love the Dunninger book because, whether or not the secrets are real, it coveys much of the romance of magic.  You get the idea that the magician is in complete control of his environment.  Every element might play a role in convincing the audience that the impossible has become possible.  Sure, it may be a perfectly ordinary deck of cards, but nothing else on the stage is.

Disclosure is bad for business and for that reason Penn & Teller are the "bad boys of magic."  They frequently tell the audience what they are going to do before they do it, or in the case of their beautiful cups & balls routine, as they are doing it and yet it is impossible to follow and ends up being just as surprising as the gold standard routine done by Dai Vernon.

Dunninger's book also holds a special place in by library because it was given to me by my Aunt Marjorie. At a time when I was serious about being a performer and taking my first steps toward doing birthday party shows, this book seemed like an affirmation. To my wide child eyes, this was the real deal: what magicians call the "real work". I imagined myself an insider in the world of magic soon to be rubbing elbows with the likes of Magic Tom.

It was a great gift and one for which I am eternally grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Well done. The personal reflection at the end was a nice touch.