This volume, book three in the trilogy, is all about the psychology in magic. Mechanics alone, a sleight or move, are not sufficient to produce a strong magic effect. Dexterity by itself is more like juggling. Only if misdirection, the psychological aspect of deception, is added into the mix, will one be able to create a truly magic experience.
There aren't many good works on misdirection. This is one of the must read ebooks, a classic in the theory of magic. A shorter but modern discussion of misdirection can be read in Pocket Power by Jarle Leirpoll.
Several years ago, in our examination (Review No. 49) of Dariel Fitzkee's mimeographed pamphlet Misdirection for Magicians, we expressed the hope that he would some day revise and enlarge this booklet, and have it printed and bound in a manner befitting a work of such importance. This is precisely what Mr. Fitzkee has done in writing and publishing his Magic by Misdirection - though we have no reason to suppose that it was done in response to our suggestion. Since we have read the new book only in galley proof, we do not know exactly how large it will be, but are informed that it will run some 225 pages (as against the 67 smaller, mimeographed pages of its predecessor), that it will be uniform in size with the same author's Showmanship for Magicians and The Trick Brain, and will be bound in dark red fabrikoid and stamped in silver leaf.
The importance of misdirection in the performance of feats of conjuring has long been recognized, and several well-known psychologists (for example, Jastrow, Dessoir, Triplett, and Binet) and a number of experienced magicians (including Nevil Maskelyne, David Devant, Jean Hugard, Hereward Carrington, S. H. Sharpe, and Remi Ceillier, D.Sc.) have written interesting papers on the subject, which will repay careful study by those who are interested in knowing the "why" and "how" of misdirection as employed by the modern magician. If Mr. Fitzkee's treatise lacks (as he would probably be the first to admit it does) the more technical "theoretical psychology" of some of the essays by professional psychologists, it will probably be more widely read - and understood - by magicians for that very reason. It is, and will doubtless long remain, the most exhaustive presentation in print of the "applied psychology" of misdirection; and its abundance of illustrative material (taken from scores of tricks with which nearly every magician is familiar) makes clear and thoroughly enjoyable what might, in its absence, have been pretty difficult reading.
Stated briefly, the author has carried out his task of analyzing misdirection by listing the various means for misdirecting the attention of an audience-simulation, dissimulation, pretense, disguise, stimulation, monotony, and a host of others - and then showing exactly how they - may be employed in specific instances. The Diebox, The Burned and Restored Bank Note, Kellar's Rose Bush Trick, The Egg Bag, Stephen Shepard's Vanishing Bird Cage, and Tommy Martin's Cards Into the Pocket are among the tricks that are described at very considerable length, and then examined in detail with the object of discovering which methods for bringing about misdirection have been employed, and in what ways. This procedure strikes us as an exceedingly fruitful one, since it deals in methods which have actually been used successfully, and not in those which might work out and again might not. Methods that have proved their worth in the programs of Kellar, Thurston, Blackstone, Laurant, Malini, and other magicians of standing may be relied upon to serve many other generations of conjurers. For the basic principles of misdirection are not here today, and gone tomorrow. On the contrary, they probably come closer to permanence than any other "principles" of magic; as is indicated by the fact that the methods of misdirection taught by Robert-Houdin in his Secrets of Conjuring and Magic are no less effective today than they were a century ago when "The Father of Modern Conjuring" employed them in his little theater in Paris.
It is probable that most magicians have had the experience of "working up" a new effect, or undertaking to present a feat already well known, only to find that, for some reason or other, the trick failed to be completely deceptive. There are, of course, many possible explanations of such a failure, but one of the most likely is a defect in misdirection. Without suggesting that Mr. Fitzkee's new book will offer a solution for every problem of this kind, we have the feeling that it may provide first-aid for many magicians in distress. Consequently, though this is not a collection of tricks, it may, by supplying needed misdirection, make thoroughly practicable the performance of feats that its readers have been anxious but unable to present. Indeed, we should be surprised if many a magician, after reading the detailed explanations of the tricks listed in the preceding paragraph, did not add one or more of them to his repertoire. The mechanism, rather than misdirection, that produces the illusion. Kellar's great Levitation of Princess Karnac is a case in point. We have seen this illusion presented (with the same principle employed) by Kellar, Thurston, Blackstone, Charles J. Carter, and Mr. Carter's son. In every instance, the deception was perfect - because the mechanism was perfect and not by reason of any misdirection that was employed. The effect, to be sure, varied greatly as between these several performers, but the differences reflected degrees of skill in showmanship rather than in misdirection.
We would not have the reader think that these instances of what appear to us to be exaggeration or overemphasis are very serious defects. We mention them specifically because we feel that an author may well take some pains to exercise restraint in writing a serious, technical work such as Magic by Misdirection. Mr. Fitzkee is obviously a man of vitality and energy, as is indicated by the speed with which he has turned out the trilogy of which the present book is the final volume. We cannot help wondering whether he is not in some danger of letting his enthusiasm run away with him. He is certainly aware, from his knowledge of psychology, that under-statement may be quite as effective as over-statement; and we should like to see him curb his enthusiasm somewhat in future, so that no one will venture to suggest that he has been guilty of exaggeration. Mr. Fitzkee has so many good ideas to present that it would be a pity to lessen their effectiveness by claiming more for any of them than the situation clearly warrants.
We have dealt with this author's trilogy - Showmanship for Magicians, The Trick Brain and Magic by Misdirection - at some length in separate reviews, and it is now in order, since the series is completed, to congratulate Mr. Fitzkee upon his courage in setting forth upon this undertaking and his ability in bringing it to a successful conclusion. No one who has not himself tackled such a task is likely to appreciate fully the immense amount of hard work that goes into the writing of some seven hundred pages of material of the essay type. It is particularly difficult when, as in the present instance, the author's writing in a field in which relatively little work has previously been done. Mr. Fitzkee is not the first writer to note the importance of getting a solid grounding in the methods of magic, of making magic deceptive, and of making it entertaining. But he has certainly explored these fields more extensively than any other writer up to this time, and has succeeded, on the whole, in making thoroughly practicable a type of subject that could easily have become so highly theoretical as to be of little value to the average magician. He has done some pioneering, too, in shouldering the risks of publication, for it is common knowledge that magicians seldom buy books except those which explain how to do tricks. The excellent sale enjoyed by the first two books of the trilogy may indicate a changing attitude in this respect, or it may simply be recognition of the excellence of the work done by this particular author. In either case, we hope that Mr. Fitzkee will regard it as a favorable sign and be encouraged to turn out further books on phases of magic that have been given less attention than they deserve.