The Microcosm Of Magic

Alexander Elmsley

[This short article was written by a young Alexander Elmsley (age twenty-three) for the Gamagic Catalogue, New Series No. 5, issued around 1953 by the famous Gamages toy store in London. It is reproduced here not only for its interest as a rarity of Elmsleyana, but because the observations it makes on the world of magicians are as amusingly true today as they were when first composed.]

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Magic is that it is a complete little world on its own. It has its own history and literature. It has its own language, in which magicians talk to each other of shifts and steals, fekes and foulards. It includes within itself nearly every other profession and hobby, for every magician who has other interests applies those other interests to his magic.

There are magical antique dealers, magical journalists, even magical politicians. There are magical Tories, who insist that what was good enough for Maskelyne and Cooke is good enough for them. There is the magical avant-garde, who sit by the hour in cafes remaking the magical world. I have never yet met magical existentialists, but I am sure that they exist.

Everywhere there are magical societies, where the most different types of magicians meet, because they cannot bear to be without someone with whom to talk about their hobby; magical socialites, whose dream it is to be seen talking to some famous magician, and to rub shoulders with magical cynics who contend that no magician who is famous can be any good. In the clubs, a man is judged solely as a magician, or as an audience. It matters nothing who you may be outside magic. If a dictator, or the Devil himself, came to a magical society meeting, they would be welcomed with the same words: "Take a card."

The magical world has its own idea of fame. A man who is a nobody outside magic may be famous to magicians the world over. Amateur magicians who are famous in other spheres of life, like Orson Welles and Douglas Fairbanks today, and Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling in the past, ar e regarded indulgently. There is a feeling that if they had time to become famous by other means, they cannot have given as much attention as they ought to their magic.

But the magical enthusiast, despite his twisted outlook, and his capacity to talk magic unceasingly for days, is not really crazy. He is simply devoted to the most manysided, most catholic hobby in the world.

Can anyone direct me to a good magical psychiatrist?

Note on Dating

Following the pattern of the first volume, many of the articles contained here are closed by dates. Dates without brackets indicate the first appearance of that item in print. Further information on published articles can be found in the bibliography at the end of this volume. Dates that appear in brackets signify dates of notebook entries or letters from which unpublished material was taken. Mr. Elmsley was never concerned about dates in his own notes, so not every unpublished item could be dated in this manner, and for such items no dates are given. Listing the publication dates of many items may in one way be misleading, as these dates often vary greatly with the true time of Invention. Those items published in the late 1940s and the 1950s generally followed the time of their Invention fairly closely. However, many items that appeared after this period were actually conceived years, sometimes decades, earlier.

Chapter One: Flourishes

There has/or years been a sporadic but intense discussion among magicians about the use of flourishes. Some contend thatflourishes, being an open display of skill, diminish the sense of magic and cast the performer more in the role of juggler than magician.

Others defend the intelligent use of flourishes as visual seasoning to the magic; and as credentials of the performer's expertise, which otherwise might go unrecognized by much of the public, who, seeing no evidence of skill, relegate the magician's ability to the use of gimmicked properties and secret arrangements. Those who work professionally cannot afford to have their craftsmanship go unappreciated.

Jamy Ian Swiss has wisely observed that hiding one's skill is much more difficult than displaying it, and that only a consummate actor can successfully do so. Therefore, some magicians have chosen a middle road, one from which they eschew blatant flourishes but exhibit a professional facility in handling their tools. In the same sense that one can't be "a little pregnant", it is debatable whether the evidence of such skill is any less harmful to the magical quality of the effect than the more flamboyant maneuvers of flourishes; and in the end one can cite expert, respected and successful exponents of our craft who subscribe to one or another of these views on flourishes.

In 1949 Mr. Elmsley summarized his opinion on the subject with these words: "About the advisability of using flourishes in a presentation of card magic there are at least two points of view. Manipulators, in any case, may use them without a qualm. It is my view that audiences like to see a little obvious skill, and if this can be demonstrated with grace, then so much the better

Forty four years have passed since these comments were published. Today he adds this further thought: "Flourishes are a matter of style and personality. For me to make rules to govern another's style would be impudence."

Mr. Elmsley has intelligently made use of flourishes over the years in his performances. Several of his own invention are presented in this chapter. The first is a pretty flourish cut. Mr. Elmsley observes, "It's not much, but I remember it sentimentally as the very first thing J ever got published. I sent it to Abrafrom Austria, where I had been posted during my military service."

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