The Best Magic Essays of 2011

One of my favorite parts of the New Year is downloading the best non-fiction “longreads” of the previous year.  I don’t keep up with all the reading I’d like to  throughout the year, so it’s a treasure trove of good reading material, all saved up in one nice package.

Most magic articles aren’t available on-line, and we’re well past the New Year – but I thought it still might be fun to compile my thoughts of “The Best Magic Essays For 2011”.  Here’s my take:

  • “Siegfried, Roy, Montecore, Penn and Leather Pants” in Jillette, Penn. God, No! Signs you might already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2011. 231 pp. Cover | Full Title

Far and away, my favorite part of the 2010 release Siegfried & Roy: Unique in all the world  was the essay/interview “Standing Naked” by Penn Jillette. I excerpted part of it in my review last year.  Whether Penn was already working on this piece, or the interview prompted him to do so, I do not know.  However he delivers here another touching tribute to Siegfried & Roy.

And while you’re at it, read “What’s the G on the Joint?”  Together, the two articles provided the best lessons in magic, for me at least, written in 2011.

Siegfried and Roy would walk onstage to huge applause (beefed up by prerecorded applause over the loudspeakers) in their goofy, sparkly, rhinestone-skin coats and leather pants with codpieces. Their hair would be perfectly frosted and layered and they’d be wearing almost as much makeup as Bill Maher. They looked out at their audience, and we could see deep into their hearts. They were completely naked onstage.

 

Mr. Demarest lays out the case for Wilbur Edgerton Sanders as S. W. Erdnase, the long-hunted author of The Expert at the Card Table.  Despite the criticism that followed, notably from Erdnase-ist David Ben at Magicana, it’s a fascinating, compelling read.

There aren’t too many secrets left in magic. Steinmeyer laid out Houdini’s Elephant vanish. His Conference on Magic History seems to knock off another long-lost secret each year.  Just the knowledge that someone knows the secret of theHooker Card Rise is enough to lose some of it’s luster for me.  And so it came as a shock out of the blue to me, when Genii arrived in September purporting to tell me the secret of Erdnase’s identity.  Better yet…Mr. Demarest may just have gotten it right.

Cards were everywhere in Montana during the late 19th century. As one first-hand observer remembered, “Books were rare; the stage coach and the saloon were our forum, our Johns Hopkins University, and someone remarked a year or two later that the Territory of Montana was organized around a gaming table in a saloon.” The author of this statement was Wilbur Fisk Sanders, and the “someone” he quoted was himself.

 

 

  • Lax, Rick. “Keeping secrets in the age of oversharing: How the Internet is transforming the business – and philosophy – of magic.” in Feldberg, Sarah, ed. Las Vegas Weekly. Dec 8-14 2011. Pp. 20-23. Cover | Full Text

A Theory11 trick creator explores magic on the internet, the escalating availability of secrets, and it’s impact on the art – to the general public no less.  With commentary from Johnny Thompson, Stan Allen, Marco Tempest, Jim Steinmeyer, and Jonathan Bayme.  Not bad for a free Vegas Weekly.

Dai Vernon was a young father, and he needed money. He wasn’t broke, but he sure wasn’t rich. He wanted to perform magic, not get a proper job. And back in the 1930s, proper jobs were hard to come by, anyway.

In 1932, Vernon teamed up with fellow magician Faucett Ross, and together they penned a booklet of Vernon’s best tricks. Mind-blowing tricks. Tricks that still fool professional magicians today. Vernon wrote individual letters to 50 prospective buyers. He promised them he’d only sell 12 copies of the booklet—each typed by Ross’ girlfriend and hand-illustrated by Vernon himself. The selling price: $20—the equivalent of about $319 today.

Still, the book sold right away. Professional magicians and wealthy amateurs jumped at the chance to learn such well-guarded secrets.

It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today.

 

  • “Eye of the Last Dragon” in Stone, Tom. Maelstrom. Seattle: Hermetic Press. 2011.Pp. 97-107. Cover | Full Title

Tom Stone takes on the Multiplying Billiard Balls.  While the essay raises many more questions than it attempts to solve (as with most of the book, actually), I found that Mr. Stone was saying all the things I have come to believe in about this trick.  The concept of billiard balls as a blank canvas, bringing with it no baggage or association, and the value of the trick for just this very reason – is something that has resonated with me for some time, but I wasn’t able to articulate well until completing this essay.

As the balls themselves don’t say anything, I must do it for them, through my stage persona. This is a great opportunity. I can charge the balls with anything I want, and use them to amplify my stage character. But what do most of us do? Pluck the ball from behind an elbow. Make the balls vanish or reappear in a pocket or your mouth. Even though we have the chance to make something central for our characters, we use routines that force the audience to stare at the balls, even when no value has been projected onto them, when the balls are still meaningless objects.  Odd.

(I should point out, I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read Jamy Ian Swiss’ Devious Standards, which I’m certain would have had contenders as well.)  Feel I missed your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments…

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