It is unlikely that a single reader will agree with this article. Mentalism (horrible word!) is a very contentious subject among magicians. Many of them look down on it from a great height, little realising that "thought reading" and that sort of thing has a wide appeal, especially for women.
Whereas the tricks with boxes, handkerchiefs, hats and apparatus may appear miraculous, the tricks of the mind are uncanny and have a mystery all their own. It is this difference which creates a danger. In my view, a mentaiist using faked envelopes, flap slates, codes and similar methods, who seriously suggests that his performance is based on telepathy, extra-sensory perception, hypnotic influence and supernatural influences is no better than a fake medium at a Spiritualistic seance, or a man who uses religion so!ely for commercial purposes.
In any case, it is foolish. All the intelligent members of the audience know such claims are false, especially if the performer uses playing cards and apparatus usually associated with conjuring. The less intelligent— that is, the majority—are often led into a dangerous frame of mind.
To show how ready some peop!e are to accept such performances as supernatural, think of the thousands who regarded the Piddingtons as having abnormal powers, although these excellent performers never made such a claim. In my own experience, I have had a clergyman propose a vote of thanks to me in which he seriously said "tonight we have been on the verge of the Great Unknown". (Pathetic, isn't it?). A daily paper once had the heading "John Bourne has more than normal powers" (which I haven't); and quite recently, after a show, fifteen women gathered round me and argued that the exhibition my daughter and I had given could not possibly be done by trickery. One of them went so far as to say that she knew for certain that we had been helped by outside influences since she had seen a Presence standing behind me! Such is the credulity of emotionally governed people in 1952.
The magician with mental tricks has a great opportunity to debunk such nonsense. But, as a rule, does he? Last year, I attended a lecture in connection with one of the best-known magical clubs in which we were urged to play on the sensitiveness of people's feelings. We were even to!d to look "queer" and to behave strangely. One of the most disgraceful books I have ever read suggested ways whereby anxious and worried people could be traded upon.
What, then, ought we to do? First of all, I would eliminate the name "mentaiist", if only because it suggests a defective or an abnormalist or both! Next, I would frankly talk about tricks of the mind, or magic of the eye, or anything to avoid audiences thinking that the spirits had been let loose. Most important of all, I would make this kind of magic more entertaining. Never have I been so bored as when, in a large theatre, one of our leading exponents drifted about longwindedly with pencils, bits of paper, little stacks of envelopes and phoney starings into the eyes of volunteers. Surely we can pass this specialised art off amusingly and with an element of surprise rather than frightening revelation.
There should be more tongue-in-the-cheek about if, too, so that nobody goes home feeling that his thoughts aren't safe or that he has been watching a genuine scientific experiment. Particularly should he not be inveigled into believing that he has had some sort of spiritual experience. Far better to intrigue an audience and make them puzzle how it's done—which is the line with true magic—than to give them shivers and apprehensions, or wrong ideas on psychic lines.
On the lowest grounds, it is fatal for the mentaiist to give the wrong idea of his act. If he does, he is quickly given away by somebody and is then put down as shoddy—not clever or even smart. Why mentalists should parade the stage looking like Mephistopheles or dreary professors, I cannot imagine. They have up their s'eeves immensely mystifying tricks which, properly presented with a smile, can make grown-up children's eyes pop out. Because of the questions and choices they invite, they can so easily get in the subtle comment.
Instead of fiddling with billets for people in the front row, they shou'd take the whole audience into account and, by keeping their act as visual as possible, establish themselves as quickly and resolutely as the other type of performer who, in a similar but more physical sense, stands on his head.
NEXT ISSUE.—A Week with Dante.
A New Series by Tan Hock Chuan!
Magic Magazine has especial pleasure in offering a number of new ideas from the pen of one of the most original inventors of tricks. They were first published in the "Magic Fan", the official organ of the Malayan Magic Circle.
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