Mike: You may have heard this story before. There is a reason for retelling it.
My mother says that she would sit me at the piano when I was four years old or so, and I would try to plunk out little tunes. When I was six, I received a magic trick for a birthday present, and the bug bit and held. So for 6/7 of my time on planet earth, music and magic have been an important part of my life.
I started to make money from music when I was in high school. I played cocktail piano in restaurants and bars, and I worked with a wedding reception band. My degrees are in music, and I have plied my trade in just about every commercial venue possible.
It became apparent to me early on that when you make your living from the commercial possibilities of an art form your attitude about that art form changes. You may still love it, but you think about it differently. And a lot of times, you stop loving it, because of what you have to do to make a living from it. Because of this, I never wanted to make a living from doing magic.
So, during my first 20 years in magic, my goal was to amuse myself, my magic buddies, and my friends and family. I spent hours in front of the mirror practicing moves and tossing things into my lap. I worked through hundreds of variations of tricks, so I would have some new thing to fool my buddies at the magic meeting. And I "oohed and aahed" when someone brought in the latest prop, which we would play with for hours. It was a happy time and I loved every minute of it.
Then, in 1978, I started to do magic in restaurants and everything changed. I discovered that a lot of what I knew was useless in a real-life performing environment. I became less interested in learning a new variation than in learning how to "sell" the original handling. I became more interested in "why" then in "how." It is still a happy time and I love what I'm doing, but my perspective is different.
I mention all this because I am going to be reviewing products. For you to decide whether my opinion has any validity, you need to understand where I'm coming from. I am most interested in books, videos and props which offer new, useful information, and which are practical and performable in the real world. For it is this type of product which moves magic forward. But at the same time, I promise not to forget the magician that I was for 20 years, when the worth of a product was in its self-amusement value. So for me, the game plan is to try to make you aware of those products that educate, enlighten or enrich, while remembering that, for many readers, the only person who needs to be entertained is the one whose reflection is in the mirror.
Mac: And here's a little bit about me, Mac King. I have been a professional magician for over 13 years. I got talked into this review deal by my friend, Stan, because I told him I was out of ideas for my "On The Road" column. I think what Mike Close and I are trying is an interesting concept. Here's how it works. Mike and I both take a look at a product. We decide who will write the main review for that item, we link our computers up across the country, and then we have a little discussion about the pros and cons of that particular item. Kind of a Siskel and Ebert on the information superhighway thing. Oh, and I'm a Sagittarius.
Roberto Giobbi's Card College Volume 1 By Roberto Giobbi
Mike: Every now and then, I will be asked what book I would suggest for someone who is new to magic and who has an interest in sleight of hand. I would usually suggest Royal Road to Card Magic. I am delighted to now have another option. Hermetic Press has released the first volume in Roberto Giobbi's monumental work, Card College. While this has been available in Europe for several years, this is the first version in English. Richard Hatch has produced a wonderfully readable translation and the original text has been augmented with additional details and information.
Beginners who have found the "Royal Road" to be a bit bumpy should find the Giobbi course to be more user friendly. The instructions for the sleights and tricks are accompanied by hundreds of illustrations, and most explanations are followed by a series of "Check Points," which serve to reemphasize important details or to offer variant handlings. The material is effectively organized from a pedagogical standpoint; each new item builds on skills acquired in earlier chapters.
If I were to slap a label on the material in the first volume, it would be Basic Card Technique. With the exception of the Top Change and a Ken Krenzel's One-Card Middle Pass, the sleights explained rely more on neat card handling than great finger dexterity. In other words, the cards (and the actions of the cards) are responsible for the concealing of the sleights. Since Mr. Giobbi, like Erdnase, is a proponent of "uniformity of action" he spends much time teaching the proper finger positions and grips for legitimate actions. The first chapter, "Fundamental Techniques," discusses such things as Dealing Position, Squaring the Deck, Spreading Cards in the Hands, Dribbling Cards, Dealing Cards, and the Little Finger Break. He continues with chapters on the Overhand Shuffle, False Cut Techniques, Card Controls, Force Techniques, Transfer Cuts, Riffle Shuffle Techniques, and the Glide. Within each of these chapters, Mr. Giobbi explains simple but effective stratagems (for example, how to hold the top and bottom stocks during a riffle shuffle), while emphasizing the importance of correctly mastering the basic handlings so that the difficulties in learning more advanced techniques will be reduced.
In comparing Card College Volume One and Royal Road to Card Magic, it is interesting to note that Mr. Giobbi does not discuss the palm or the pass, and that the double lift which is explained is used basically to establish the concept; the student will certainly discard this handling when others are taught later in the course and more adroitness has been acquired. Delaying the explanations of these sleights until later in the course is an extremely sound decision.
Tricks accompany each of the sleights explained, and they are good tricks. Each explanation contains not only the method of the trick, but comments on audience management and a possible patter approach.
Some parting shots. Don't assume that just because you are not a beginner there will be nothing of interest for you in this book. One of Mr. Giobbi's goals was to gather and collate the most up to date information possible. I discovered techniques and stratagems in this book that were new to me and which I have immediately added to my arsenal. Study this book as you would study your homework. Get a yellow highlighter and mark it up. Make notes in the margins. Pay very close attention to the "Check Point" section. Often the information in there is vital.
Acquiring skill with a deck of cards is not simple. It requires an investment of time and the active participation of both the hands and the brain. This book is the finest example I've seen of attempting to organize a vast amount of material into a structured program that will make the learning process as efficient as possible. I wish it were available when I was a kid. The Roberto Giobbi Card College will become a standard text. Buy your copy now and get started.
Mac: I, too, thought the book was good and that you should buy it, but there are some questions. You pay all this money to learn card magic basics and yet there are no descriptions of the pass or the palm, two of the most useful sleights. What about that? Would you still recommend this over Royal Road?
Mike: One problem we have as reviewers is that we can't see the big picture of the entire card course. In Europe, I believe that the first two volumes were released at the same time, and that these moves are in Volume Two. I do think that delaying the teaching of the pass, palm and double lift until the student has acquired some finger dexterity is a good idea, since these are difficult moves.
Mac: Agreed. But he doesn't delay the teaching of the double lift. He teaches a relatively bad one.
Mike: That's true. The chapter on the double lift should probably have been removed, since anyone who learns that method will drop it as soon as they learn a more natural and convincing method.
Mac: So back to my original question. Since this course is four volumes and thus at least $120, would you say that this is for the serious student or the beginner?
Mike: The serious student will probably want to "stay the course" and invest in all four volumes. Royal Road is a great book, but there has been much improvement in card technique over the 46 years since it was published. The Giobbi books try to incorporate the latest techniques available. As for the beginner, there is enough information to keep them interested. If they choose not to continue, then at least moves such as the palm and the pass haven't been tipped to them.
Mac: Maybe in your role as Mr. Card Magic you should mention some of the incorrect credits.
Mike: One thing I forgot to mention in my review is that there are several credits that are incorrect. For example, the "Whoops" control should be credited to U.F. Grant. Publisher Minch has been made aware of this, and asks that readers contact Hermetic Press if they find other errors, so that the Card College books can be made as accurate as possible.
Mac: Actually, I think that the second trick taught is also incorrectly credited. It is a spectator cutting the aces effect.
Mike: Yes, and I have been using this method for a long time. By the way, here's a tip: When I used to do this at the restaurant, I would have a child do the cutting, and they would cut to their age. What I mean is, if they were eight years old, they would cut to four eights. With the techniques given in the Giobbi book, this is easy to do.
Mac: That is a good tip. Actually that's another of the things that I liked about this book, even some of the tricks I was familiar with had interesting twists. And Giobbi does a good job (better even than Royal Road) of instilling in the student that all of this stuff comes from living breathing human beings, and doesn't just appear from nowhere.
Mike: Exactly. Any final thoughts?
Mac: Enthusiastic thumbs up.
Mike: Make it two.
Magic and Meaning
Mac: Robert Neale and Eugene Burger are, in the words of that esteemed philosopher, Dan Fogelberg, "twin sons of different mothers." Eugene Burger has written a lot of truly fine magic books about the theory and practice of magic. If you are a student of magic, you've no doubt seen some of them and probably even read at least one. Robert Neale is perhaps not as well known to you. He was a professor of psychiatry and religion for many years. In the magic world, some of his published items are the really cool "Bunny Bill" manuscript, and the fascinating book Tricks of the Imagination. He currently writes a column for The Linking Ring Magazine and is something of an origami genius. Their book, Magic and Meaning, is a discussion of, among other things, the quest for self-discovery (who am I?), the history of magic and its origins, the definition of magic (and what the different kinds of magic are), "Sawing a Woman in Half' and, of course, card tricks. In addition to these discussions, there are also some actual tricks you can do. As Max Maven says in his Foreword to the book, "the discussions range from the sublime to the goofy."
First, the "sublime." I didn't agree with all the stuff put forth in this book. But, please don't take that to mean that I didn't enjoy it. Just the opposite. I received great pleasure from reading it. Every one of the 11 essays got me thinking; sometimes about my place in magic, sometimes about my place in society as a magician, and even about a new money-making scheme to actually use in my show. As a matter of fact, I found that what interested me most were not the points where I agreed with the authors, but the places where I disagreed with them. I mean, you may not agree with Robert Neale when he says, "A real magic show is a place for us to experience the sacred," but you've gotta admit that it gets you thinking. My favorite of the essays was Neale's "Matinee Magic," a discussion of the "Sawing a Woman in Half' trick and the reasons for its popularity. Also, in the category of sublime would be some of the six Robert Neale tricks that are used as examples of applying his theories of magic to tricks. Two of them seemed especially good. "Real Jokers," his blending of Jeff Busby's "Into the Fourth Dimension" and Paul Harris' "Ultimate Rip-off' is my favorite. But, if you are familiar with those two tricks and you respond, "Yes that is a really good combination," you'd be missing Neale and Burger's whole point. They contend that because the presentation you are given touches something that is deeply shared by all humans, this mere card trick takes on a metaphorical meaning that it might not otherwise possess. My other favorite trick is "Sole Survivor," a pretty ghoulish story, and not the kind of thing I would normally perform. I must say, however, that the times I've performed this item for my friends, the dialogue given by Mr. Neale has never failed to elicit a satisfyingly uncomfortable reaction.
And now my picks for what constituted the "goofy" parts of this book. There are probably people who would find any book that concerned itself with the themes presented here goofy. I happen to be a fan Eugene's previous books that deal with some of these same subjects. So, for me, there were only two sort of goofy parts. The first was the fact that Eugene's overly long discussion of the origins of magic includes a (blessedly short) section on "Deception in the Animal World." The second was that I found Robert's three gospel magic tricks to be a bit weak. My only other real complaint was that there is no actual dialogue or discussion between Eugene and Robert. While this does not technically fall under the heading of "goofy," it is a bit disappointing. Three of the essays have seen print before, however, they were in small publications and have been considerably revised for this publication.
One unexpected pleasure was how funny I found parts of the book to be. I heartily recommend this book. At least once during every chapter I found myself stopping to write down something I'd never thought of before. We reviewed this book in pre-published galley form. I liked it so much that I may even buy an actual copy when it becomes available on June 1.
Mike: I, too, enjoyed this book very much. One of the things which helps revitalize and stimulate magical thought is to bring in elements from outside of the magical field. There are a lot of books mentioned in footnotes that I'm going to track down and read.
Mac: I'd also like to track down that movie short, "Matinee," featuring the "Sawing a Woman in Half," that Robert writes about.
Mike: You mentioned in your review that you thought the part about "Deception in the Animal World" was a little goofy. I think I see where Eugene is coming from. In this chapter, Eugene asks whether there might not be reasons for human beings becoming interested in magic other than the standard economic-political theory put forth by Mulholland, Christopher, and Randi, which states that the early magician "performed not to entertain but to impress or frighten those who watched into giving the magician extra privileges in the tribe."
Mac: Sort of a Neanderthal Bob Farmer?
Mike: Exactly. Eugene's essay attempts to seek out alternatives to the "magician as power hungry con man" theory. It is in this regard that the animal world is discussed.
Mac: So early man sees that animals can use deception and sees that he can use it to protect himself, too? Okay. But to me that's still kind of a goofy thing to write more than a paragraph about. I mean I understand that he's trying to offer alternative beginnings for magic but...
Mike: Anyway, I agree with you that there are a couple of terrific routines in the book, especially the one called "Sole Survivor." I was a little surprised that you felt that this routine was "pretty ghoulish" and not the sort of thing you'd perform. Aren't you the guy who gave the magic world the "Fork in the Eye" trick?
Mac: I say ghoulish because that is the reaction that it gets when I performed it. But I have performed it in the same situations where I do the fork trick - sitting around with my friends, not in my act. I could, however, see someone else doing this in a more formal atmosphere.
Mike: There were parts of the book that I disagreed with - the essay on card tricks, for instance - but the importance of a book like this is not that you agree with everything, but that it stimulates you to think.
Mac: Exactly. As a matter of fact the essay on shamanism... Mike: Which I had a hard time relating to.
Mac: It got me thinking about the shamans of today. I believe that comedians have become our shamans. The audience comes in as a group. They sit in the dark. They all do the same drugs. The comedian speaks of universal events, and the audience responds, "Yes, that's just how the world is! You are so right."
Mike: I can see it now... "Howdy, I'm Shaman King.
Mac: I'm Shaman King and the gods inform me that you should buy this book.
Mike: The only fear I have about Magic and Meaning is expressed in the first sentence of the introduction "This is a book for those who enjoy thinking about the art of magic." My fear is that these are the only people who will buy this book. That would be a mistake. This is a wonderful book, and anyone who claims to be interested in magic at all should read it, study it and, yes, think about it.
Mike: I'm not a prop guy. Every time I see a magician bring out some oddly decorated piece of equipment which could only exist in a magic shop I can not help but think of Pat Hazel's wonderful patter line for the "Television Card Frame" ("I have here an ordinary deck of cards, some ordinary rubber bands, two ordinary sheets of glass, and.. .an ordinary one of these."). But I will admit that there are extremely ingenious pieces of apparatus, and magicians who would love to use them in performance, but don't, because they lack a good routine. For such magicians, Robert Parrish's new book Great Tricks Revisited will be like manna from heaven.
This book is the second in the "Magic in My Lifetime" series, published posthumously by David Meyer Magic Books. (The first was the delightful book of recollections Words About Wizards.) Robert Parrish was a charming man who gave considerable thought to any trick he tackled. As anyone who studies the routines in this book will discover, his cognitive powers were impressive. The book contains routines for many standard props including "Die Box," "Spirit Dial," "Nest of Boxes," "Mirror Glass," "Coin Jar," "Japanese Box," "Ellis Ring," Owen Brothers' "Watch Box," and "Sand Frame." In all cases, the goal was to develop routines that would be performable in real life conditions. Two are worthy of special notice: the routine for the "Rapping Hand" is the best of its kind I've ever read, and the "Card in the Orange" routine is sensational.
There are also several card routines included (a courtesy, I suppose, for those of us who don't own any props). My two favorites are a handling of the "Milton Sympathetic Clubs," and a humorous demonstration of "expert" card handling using only two cards. The last chapter contains several routines created by the late Joe Scott of St. Louis.
In the introduction to the book, Mr. Parrish writes, "Magic is a minor art because both its emotional and its intellectual content are necessarily limited." This is not a fact, it is Mr. Parrish's opinion, and it is on this opinion that the presentations of the routines are based. These presentations are "sketches" in which the props are introduced, explanations are given to justify their odd existence, they do their "thing," and then they are put away. I
have the feeling that this presentational approach will be very comfortable for most magicians, who will be able to adapt the patter to their own personalities without much problem.
This is a terrific book and reading it reminds me how much poorer the world is for Mr. Parrish's passing. There are two groups of people, though, who are going to be ecstatic over the book - those magicians who already own the props, and the dealers in used magic who are going to wonder why "Die Boxes" are suddenly such a hot commodity.
Mac: I, too, loved the book, especially the "Rapping Hand" routine. I must admit that I had never read a Robert Parrish book before, but this made me want to go out and get the other 16 of 'em.
Mike: I only had the chance to spend time with Mr. Parrish on a couple of occasions, but he certainly had the ability to routine a trick to maximize effect and minimize hassle. And he must have certainly loved cases.
Mac: Yes, you mentioned that in every trick the props are taken out, use and then put away. But you didn't mention that every apparatus trick is taken out of it's very own carrying case (in full view of the audience) and then put back into that same case. I found that a bit silly, but I must admit that in many of the routines this carrying case fixation turned out to greatly simplify the handling.
Mike: So, I say: Prop guys are going to be happy, used magic dealers are going to be happy, and leather workers are going to happy. How bout you, Mac, are you happy?
Mac: Yes, I'm happy to have gotten a chance to meet Robert Parrish through his work. I think there is great value here. I can see people performing these tricks exactly as written.
Mac: When I was a kid I was an Abbott's man. Most of my friends were Tannen's men. They said the Tannen's catalogue had more tricks and it was hardbound. There was an actual picture of a magician on the front of the Tannen's catalog, whereas Abbott's pretty much just had the word "Abbott's." But the main reason I was an Abbott's guy was the Abbott's Get-Together. A seven- or eight-hour bus ride away, this was my Mecca. Because I was concerned with everything Abbott's, I was a Tops subscriber. Every month I awaited more news regarding all the real magicians out there in the real world. Judging from the articles in Tops, chief of all the real magicians was Karrell Fox. Karrell had a column called the "Fox's Den," which was also the name of his house. There was a photo of the house every month, and you could tell by looking that miracles were born inside that house. I loved that column and I loved Karrell Fox.
When I finally got to an Abbott's Get-To-gether and saw Karrell Fox, I was not disappointed. He was funny. He was charming. He knew a lot about magic. And when I actually met him face to face, he was really nice to me. I would say that we are friends. Well, my friend, Karrell Fox, has released a new book of magic tricks. I knew when I agreed to take on this review job that I would have to comment on some books that were written by my friends. I also assumed that one day I'd probably have to say something negative about something a friend had written. I just didn't know that it would be so soon.
I think there are a few decent items in Much Ado About Something, but in order to find anything useful in this, the latest of Karrell's ten books, you are going to have to do some digging. The things I like best are "The Static Tie," which is a great addition to the old pop-up tie gag, and all the photos of Karrell and his friends, which are inserted haphazardly throughout the book. The later is a feature of many of the earlier Fox books published by Supreme. If you're looking for great Karrell Fox material, I'd start with those earlier Supreme books. Help me out here, Mike.
Mike: I'm afraid I have to agree with you, Mac. And I'll try to explain why. If you are familiar with Karrell's previous books you know that he doesn't go into great detail with his descriptions. He gives you ideas, tips, quick tricks and presentational ploys, and then leaves the rest up to you. Unfortunately, in this book, there are many items which have seen print in other people's books. In addition, the drawings by Ed Harris and the various personal photos and memorabilia take up about 84 pages, or 51% of the book. The remaining 80 pages contain the trick descriptions and technical photos. Concerning the Harris drawings: While they may give you the sense of what a particular trick is about, they are often totally incorrect in terms of the techniques of a routine. So read the text carefully.
Meanwhile, let's be realistic. After all, even Mozart wrote some stuff that wasn't so hot. I do want to mention one trick that I think should have carried some type of warning. There is a routine that involves igniting a sheet of flash paper 12 inches square. The paper is on a piece of poster board that lies flat on your hand. This strikes me as a dangerous thing to do.
Mac: I know. That's why I'm typing so slowly. I can only use one hand at the moment.
Mike: Our recommendation: Try some vintage Fox. There is some very fine wine in those old bottles.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.