Some three or four years ago, we examined (in Review No. 19) a little book by Barrows Mussey, entitled Magic. The same author, writing under another name, has now given us a new treatise for beginners in conjuring which is not only larger but far more likely than his earlier book to make a competent performer of the reader.
This book, Learn Magic is a volume of 287 (viii +279) pages, illustrated with 92 figures. There are two preliminary chapters on how to watch and how to be a magician; twenty chapters (or "lessons"), six of which deal with cards, two each with coins, balls, and silk handkerchiefs, and one each with rope, thimbles, thumb-tips, escapes, mind-reading, eggs, tricks with cloth bands and turbans, and conjuring accessories such as tables, servantes, and the magic wand; and a final chapter on stage illusions.
As is suggested by the title, Learn Magic is not a book that was written for those who are already conjurers, unless they happen to be conjurers of the "magic shop" variety who think of magic in terms of handiwork of the tinsmith and cabinetmaker. To such unfortunate souls Mr. Hay's book may be strongly recommended as proof that a moderate amount of personal skill will produce vastly better magic than hundreds of dollars' worth of suspicious-looking apparatus. The well-read magician will already have learned this lesson - and, let us hope, profited by it. For him, the contents of Learn Magic will in the main be familiar material, for Mr. Hay - like Hoffmann, Sachs, Tarbell, Hugard, and other writers of general treatises -has naturally had recourse to the common stock of principles and feats that has been accumulating for many decades.
Hence, we find in this book such well-known tricks as The Afghan Bands (which in this form might well have been credited to James C. Wobensmith), The Turban Trick, The Sack Escape, The Egg Bag, "One Ahead" Mind Reading, The Rising Cards (three methods), The Torn and Restored Paper Strip, Handkerchief Production and Color-change, The Sympathetic Silks, The Miser's Dream, The Cards Up the Sleeve, The Sponge Balls, the Multiplying Billiard Balls, A Thimble Routine, and a host of other feats. There are, in addition, explanations of dozens of sleights with cards, coins, balls, and thimbles; of "codes" used in apparent thought-transference; of black-art tables, bottomless glasses, mirror glasses, and other kinds of conjuring equipment.
Indeed, we incline to the view that more ground has been staked out here than an author should attempt to cover in a volume of this size. We feel, too, that stage illusions should have been omitted, for two reasons: (1) because the space used could have been employed more advantageously in giving fuller explanations of tricks which the reader has some chance of being able to present, and (2) because there seems to be no good reason for giving the "general reader" - the specific audience to which Learn Magic is addressed - any knowledge, however superficial, of the principles employed in stage illusions. Mr. Hay's excuse for these exposures - to give the beginner "some basis for judging the illusionists" he sees - is pretty lame.
Drawing upon the experience of many years of professional performing, we question the soundness of some of the author's statements and the wisdom of some of the advice he offers the beginner. He says (p. 12) that it is best not to memorize patter, though such famous performers as Kellar, Germain, Powell, and Rouclere took pains to be letter-perfect in their lines. He writes (p. 17): "The fear of detection and the dropping of anything you practice with will go on as long as you do magic." This is certainly not true of a number of performers with whom we are acquainted. Nor is it true, as the author says (p. 6), that "things go wrong at every performance of every magician who ever lived." Some magicians unquestionably suffer from nervousness, and things do go wrong at times, but we see little to gain and much to lose by teaching that it is normal for performers to be fearful of detection and for things to go wrong. The magician for whom things habitually go wrong (who is also the one most likely to experience fear of detection) is almost certainly the careless performer, who has not given sufficient time to preliminary preparation or who undertakes to present new effects without proper rehearsal. We believe the beginner should be taught that slovenliness leads to disaster in conjuring, and that the magician who is a credit to his art is the one for whom things do not frequently go wrong!
In speaking of the use of confederates, Mr. Hay says (p. 70): "The only objection in my eyes is that you can't be ready at a moment's notice to do the trick (and that your stooge may not be much impressed with your powers as a magician)," completely ignoring the fact that both the confederate and the performer are dishonest with the audience - the former in bearing false witness and the latter in causing him to do so. He instructs the performer (p. 26) to hold a coin between his teeth (an act that can scarcely be recommended as being in good taste); and says (p. 7) that "John Mulholland ... has a trick with two half dollars, a trick in which he asks someone - preferably a good-looking girl - to sit on his knees and hold his wrists!" We refuse to believe that one about Mr. Mulholland until we have actually seen it!
Apart from a mercifully small number of such lapses, Learn Magic impresses us as an exceptionally good book to place in the hands of the would-be magician. It is exceedingly well written, though personally we are not fond of the staccato effect produced by the frequent use of one-word sentences and one-line paragraphs. The text is unusually clear, despite the brevity of some of the explanations. The illustrations are very good - "perhaps the best ever printed in a magic book," says the author in the foreword. Finally, the book is well printed on good paper, and neatly bound in blue cloth with gold-stamping on the spine. It is so modestly priced as to be an unusual bargain, whether purchased as a first book of magic for the beginner or as a refresher course for the more advanced student.