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The Trick Brain

by Dariel Fitzkee
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The Trick Brain by Dariel Fitzkee

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This is book two from Fitzkee's trilogy and is unlike any other book ever written on magic. It was the first book (and to my knowledge the only book) to attack magic methods from a scientific standpoint. Fitzkee develops here a classification of effects, from appearances to vanishes, and then describes a system to invent or develop new trick plots. This is an invention system. I would say it is one way to invent new trick plots. But even if you are not of the scientific sort, the classification and discussion of magic effects and methods is a tremendous resource to expand your horizon and think in new ways about magic.

Paul Fleming wrote:

"The purpose of this book," says the author on page 225, "is to teach you to invent your own tricks. I'm trying to give you the information and equipment with which to accomplish this objective." And a little later (page 237), he makes this statement: "The Trick Brain is a mechanical method of stimulating the imagination in the invention of new trick plots or combinations. It suggests possible methods for accomplishing the desired tricks, whether the particular trick is simple or complex. Within the possibilities of human endeavor, it includes the basic methods of accomplishing all known types of tricks and effects."

The "mechanical method" devised and presented here by Mr. Fitzkee operates in the following manner. The person who wants to invent a new trick draws, by chance, a number between 1 and 19. (The author suggests a specific method for making this number, and other numbers used at later stages of the procedure, purely a matter of chance.) This number, when applied to a List of [19] Basic Effects, indicates the nature of a magical feat, such as a "vanish" or a "transformation." Now the budding inventor refers to a List of Essential Factors for Basic Effects, and discovers that the "essential factor" for a vanish is an "object" (something to be vanished), whilst there are two essential factors for a transformation - first, of course, an "object" (something to be "transformed"), and, second, the "kind of change" to be brought about (whether in shape, size, color, or other attribute - and this attribute is chosen not by chance, but after due deliberation on the part of the magician). The next step is to choose one of several Lists of Objects that are provided by the author (or to use a similar list made up by the magician himself), and, again using a number drawn by chance, to determine what sort of object IS to be conjured with in the trick that is being invented.

Finally, the magician consults the List of Basic Methods that is appropriate to the type of effect (which has, it will be recalled, already been decided upon). If the effect is a "vanish," the corresponding list provides 48 basic methods; if a "transformation," he has 49 methods at his disposal. The particular "basic method" to be used is not, however, left to chance, but (like the "kind of change," noted above) is a matter of deliberate choice; for the suitability of a given method will naturally depend upon the character of the object to be used, the degree of skill possessed by the magician, the equipment at his disposal, and other important considerations which are certain to vary greatly as between individuals. These basic methods are intentionally expressed in general rather than specific terms. Mr. Fitzkee puts them in the form of generalizations "for the purpose of stimulating your own ingenuity, to bring out your own originality. So you merely get the suggestion as to how to go about it. The specific details as to the final method must be worked out by you." The author assumes, then, that The Trick Brain will, at one or two points in the process, be aided by the magician's own brain - which is, perhaps, not too much to ask!

The lists to which we have referred are, of course, a part of Mr. Fitzkee's book. Since there are 19 items in the author's List of Basic Effects, and 52 in each of his three Lists of Objects (to which may be added as many new lists as the individual magician is able to "think up"), it will be obvious that the number of combinations that may be worked out by using The Trick Brain is very large, indeed. The flexibility of the system is still further increased by the fact that a good many (and not one only) of the "basic methods" might prove to be suitable for bringing about the effect indicated, with the object designated. Whether the actual operation of The Trick Brain will turn out to be as productive of "fun" as Mr. Fitzkee promises, and will really result in "practical, effective tricks," we shall not venture to say, for we have not put it to the test. We must confess that it seems like a very haphazard and almost childish way to build up a magical effect. Even in the face of the author's positive assurances that The Trick Brain does work, we think it probable that some magicians, at least, will continue to get their new ideas by the old, time-consuming, but extremely fruitful method of delving into books and poring over files of magical journals.

It must be noted, however, that the "mechanical method" which Mr. Fitzkee calls The Trick Brain is only a part of the book of the same name. About a hundred pages - roughly a third of the volume - are devoted to a description of The Trick Brain, the various lists which form a part of this device, and comments upon its practicability and usefulness. The rest of the book, while not unrelated to The Trick Brain, will be of interest to many readers on its own account. It would seem, indeed, to hold first place in the author's esteem; for he says, on page 307: "It is important, I think, that it be made clear just what my ultimate objective has been in preparing this work. Useful as I believe The Trick Brain section may be, this has not been the underlying purpose ... Never before has there been an attempt to marshal the elements of the mechanics of magic together. It should have been done long ago. No magician can be called truly 'advanced' in the science of magic unless he possesses an orderly and thorough knowledge of the basic elements with which he is working."

These "basic elements" (which the author at times calls "basic principles") make up the major part of the book. They include "basic effects" which later appear in the List of Basic Effects, and many examples of methods for obtaining these effects, which are tabulated in the back of the book as Lists of Basic Methods. Mr. Fitzkee states (page 22) that "the first attempt at a general classification of effects" of which he is aware was made by T. Page Wright in lp=5688 The Sphinx] of May, 1924. There was, however, a considerably earlier classification of this type, in David Devant's Magic Made Easy, published in 1903. In Chapter II of that book (entitled "What A Conjurer Can Do"), Mr. Devant gave seven headings under which, he said, could be classified "any magical effect that has ever been produced"; and in Chapter III ("How He Does It") he gave 34 pages of explanations which illustrated the application of these underlying "principles" to specific tricks. He did not undertake to classify, under "scientific" headings, the methods of producing these effects; but Nevil Maskelyne (who collaborated with Mr. Devant in writing Our Magic, which was published in 1911) did that very thing. In Part II of that classic work, Mr. Maskelyne placed all feats of magic into three main groups - manipulative, mental, and physical - and then divided and subdivided them until he had 51 "principles or methods," as he called them.

We mention these earlier efforts to systematize magic, not with the thought of detracting from Mr. Fitzkee's achievement, but partly to indicate that the desirability of trying to make magic "scientific" was recognized many years ago, and particularly to pay tribute to the work of Mr. Maskelyne, who, in the space of a hundred pages or so, presented a "theory of magic" which is just as sound today as it was three decades ago, when it won for him the admiration of the magical world. Mr. Fitzkee has drawn up the most elaborate list of "basic effects" we have ever seen, and has cited scores and scores of "basic methods" for bringing about these effects. There is no doubt that he has labored long and diligently at the task, and we do not question that, as he claims, he has included "practically all of the principles in use at the present time." We have enjoyed reading the many thumb-nail descriptions of the methods that may be employed for obtaining the desired magical effects, and are frank to admit that they recalled "principles" about which we have not thought seriously for many years. This section proved to be, in effect, a "refresher course."

Because the author does so extensive a job, the explanations are in many instances exceedingly brief - so brief, indeed, that we cannot help wondering how clear they will be to a student of magic whose range of reading has been rather limited. Will they, by reason of their conciseness, befuddle and discourage the magician who is not widely read, or, on the contrary, impress him with the vast array of methods at the disposal of the serious lover of magic and inspire him to search diligently until he finds the details of the methods, which are necessarily lacking in Mr. Fitzkee's treatise? The question will, of course, be answered differently in different cases, but there is at least a fair chance that this "stream-lined" presentation will stimulate further study - and this would be all to the good. In any event, it should be remarked that the book (as is pointed out in the introduction) is "a work on advanced magic," so that the author is doubtless justified in assuming that his readers have the background required for grasping ideas that are suggested rather than explained. It should be added, further, that in some (though not many) instances the methods are described in sufficient detail to be understandable even to the beginner in magic. A part of the book that will doubtless prove useful to searchers after the best way to bring about a desired effect is the 30-page section entitled Lists of Basic Methods, in which are cataloged, under appropriate headings, the basic methods which were dealt with and illustrated earlier in the book. To the extent to which Mr. Fitzkee has succeeded in actually covering the field of magical methods, these lists contain the distilled essence of the explanations to be found in the whole literature of magic.

The text of The Trick Brain begins on page 21 and runs to page 316. From these 295 pages should be deducted ten blank pages, eight almost blank, and four "half-title" pages of questionable utility which introduce small sections of the text. On the whole, the book is acceptably written, though the author has perhaps gone a little further than necessary in carrying out his promise, made in the introduction, not to be "the slave of words and grammatical construction." The statement that "thin black, or suitably colored otherwise, cords, strings, threads and hairs furnish the most common type of invisible connection" (page 144) does not seem to us to gain strength by reason of its peculiar construction. And we find it hard to believe that Mr. Fitzkee's departure from orthodoxy really results in what he calls "more effective emphasis" in the following remarkable sentence (page 41): "There are probably nine hundred and seventy-five thousand ways this principle of secretly loading while attention is elsewhere might be disguised, cloaked, counterfeited or otherwise camouflaged." A first-rate example of inadequate punctuation, and the confusion it brings, may be found in the first sentence on page 161 - and there are others. The proofreader, too, has missed a good many typographical slips, among which is the obsolete spelling (with an extra "n") of the word "canister" which Mr. Fitzkee consistently employs. We have no desire to overemphasize such lapses and have consequently cited but a few, for we know from experience how difficult it is to keep a book wholly free from blemishes; but we feel keenly that the purchaser of a ten-dollar book has a right to expect that a great deal of care will have been given it by both author and publisher.

In general make-up, The Trick Brain is similar to Mr. Fitzkee's Showmanship for Magicians. We note two important differences. The type used in the present volume seems to us to be definitely more attractive than that in which Showmanship for Magicians was set. The cover, however, is disappointing. It is sturdy enough, and should wear well, but for some reason (possibly the fortunes of war!) a dark green cloth was used, and the title printed in black ink. The result is a dull, uninspiring cover which does not compare at all favorably with the blue and silver binding of the author's Showmanship for Magicians.

  • INTRODUCTION
  • CHAPTER I - Classification Of Effects
  • CHAPTER II - Upon These Fundamentals We Stand
  • CHAPTER III - The Beginning Of Appearances
  • CHAPTER IV - Appearances, Continued
  • CHAPTER V - Appearances, Again
  • CHAPTER VI - Appearances, Still Going On
  • CHAPTER VII - The Vanish
  • CHAPTER VIII - Vanish, Continuing
  • CHAPTER IX - Transpositions
  • CHAPTER X - Transformations
  • CHAPTER XI - Penetration
  • CHAPTER XII - Restoration
  • CHAPTER XIII - Animation
  • CHAPTER XIV - Anti-Gravity
  • CHAPTER XV - Attraction
  • CHAPTER XVI - Sympathetic Reactions
  • CHAPTER XVII - Invulnerability
  • CHAPTER XVIII - Physical Anomaly
  • CHAPTER XIX - Spectator Failure
  • CHAPTER XX - Control
  • CHAPTER XXI - Identification
  • CHAPTER XXII - Thought Reading
  • CHAPTER XXIII - Thought Transference
  • CHAPTER XXIV - Predictions
  • CHAPTER XXV - Extra-Sensory Perception
  • CHAPTER XXVI - Pseudo Skill
  • CHAPTER XXVII - The Invention Of New Trick Plots
  • CHAPTER XXVIII - Methods For New Trick Plots
  • CHAPTER XXIX - The Trick Brain
  • CHAPTER XXX - Techniques Of Invention
  • CHAPTER XXXI - Sleight-Of-Hand Translations
  • CHAPTER XXXII - New Lamps For Old
  • CHAPTER XXXIII - The Ultimate Objective
  • CHAPTER XXXIV - Glossary Of Definitions Of Fundamental Expedients

1st edition 1944; 311 pages
word count: 97091 which is equivalent to 388 standard pages of text


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