How many tricks do you know?

Over dinner with Jolyon Jenkins of the BBC, now a good friend, we got discussing our passion: Magic. After deliberating on what makes good magic, Jolyon left me to my thoughts, while he caught his next flight.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a courier from Jolyon: Jim Steinmeyer’s treatise – Hiding the Elephant; A book that peruses the annals of magical history to illustrate “How magicians invented the impossible”.

Only halfway through the book, I have no qualms adding this to my list of must-reads for the serious magical entertainer. Do remember: This is NOT a book of magical secrets.

Steinmeyer takes you on a time-travel back to the days of the first magicians: the pioneers of stage magic, be it Houdin, Davenports, Maskelene, Houdini, Kellar, or Devant. We learn how some invented, others bought, yet others stole – the greatest creations in the field of magic.

Steinmeyer brings up the ghosts of the past, literally, to haunt and guide the present. For if not anything else, we learn how the morals set by these forefathers are influencing our lives and actions today.

Let me leave you with this anecdote from the book:

[David Devant once] interviewed a young magician backstage at Egyptian Hall. He casually asked the young man how many tricks he knew. His visitor responded by making a rapid calculation. “About three hundred,” he said. Devant furrowed his brow, explaining, “Actually, I know about eight myself.”

Devant appreciated the difference between knowing how a trick is done and knowing how to do it.


PS: This article originally appeared in the April 2006 issue of VMN.