Now you see it …

If you ever decide to become a magician, you must learn The First Law of Magic, which is this: There’s no such thing as magic.

Huh? What?

No such thing as magic?

Am I toying with you?

Not at all.

There’s a very good reason magicians never reveal a secret: namely, to spare people from disappointment. It’s a sad fact of life that when most people learn how a trick is done, the fun is over.

When they don’t know how it’s done, it stays an entertaining little mystery. But if they do find out, it becomes just one more ugly reality. And let’s face it — most of us have had about all the reality we can stand.

Now let me clarify something. No magician worth his wand cares about fooling people. If they did, they would’ve used their powers of deceit to gain more money and status by going into really lucrative fields like politics, advertising or religion.

The magician’s raison d’etre is to delight and entertain, not to fool. And thus the First Law of Magic. And because there is no such thing as magic, magicians have their work cut out for them, giving people the joyful sense that what they’re seeing is indeed magic.

Here’s the weird part. Even though magicians know magic doesn’t exist, they themselves fall prey to believing it does. And you can blame that on magic dealers. Or to give credit where it’s due, on the peeps who write the descriptions about the magic the dealers sell.

What you pay for in a trick is not the trick itself but its secret. And the secret will never be revealed in an ad. Instead, only the effect will be described. Actually, to be precise, the effect will be over-described. A typical description could read:

“The magician borrows a bill of any denomination from an audience member. Then, holding the bill in his palm and making no movement, the bill changes into a full-size brick. Next, as the magician slowly passes his hand over the brick, there will be a huge puff of smoke. And after that clears, in its place will now be quart bottle of your favorite beverage. No mirrors, wires or secret pockets are used.”

Of course no trick in the world could be performed like that. There’d have to be all sorts of sneaky stuff going on. Still, the magicians who drooled over that description and immediately forgot TFLOM can’t order it fast enough.

When the plans for the trick arrive, the magicians find out that, yeah, there are no mirrors, wires or secret pockets. Instead they’ll need a hydraulic lift, special lights and backdrop, and at least five assistants. Immediately after that, the plans get tossed in a bottom drawer where they’ll gather dust unto perpetuity, along with all the other plans and impossibilia that’ve been thrown in there.

This is why I don’t buy tricks, only magic books.

But even with books you need to keep TFLOM in mind. All sorts of tricks will be explained in each book, but in reality, you might want to learn only a few of them. Or in the case of my latest magic book, only one.

At long last

The trick was one I did about 30 years ago. It always went over well, people loved it, and so did I. But what I didn’t love was the method itself. It was too “magicky.” By that I mean it had too many extra moves, was too showy for my tastes. I like magic to appear natural, that what I’m doing is perfectly logical, until suddenly it’s not. So I quit doing the trick. I thought about doing it again, this time with a different method, but I never found one till a couple weeks ago.

It was in a book written by an old-time magician who was famous for his direct, unpretentious handlings and smooth technique. I found the book and ordered it.

A quick word about magic books. As you might expect, while magic books still get published, most magic today is in DVDs, which I avoid like the plague. To me, learning from a DVD is just a pain in the prat. You have to sit in front of a computer to watch them, and in order to get the tricks down, you have to replay parts over and over, which, far as I’m concerned, is a waste of my precious time. With a book, I can read the material at my pace, reread it over and over (also at my pace), and interpret the moves in my own way, rather than follow someone else’s way of doing them. Beyond that, I can copy the pages and take them anywhere, to go over them when I want — without needing anything electronic.

Plus, ultimately there’s only one way to learn a trick, which is how we learn anything — by dogged, repeated practice. Shortcuts may exist, but after 40-plus years of doing magic, I haven’t found any. So video, shmideo, far as I’m concerned.

Drawing a blank!

The book arrived a few days later, but I didn’t immediately open it. Instead, I let it sit on the kitchen table for a bunch of hours, savoring the idea of what a Wonder Worker I’d be once I learned this new method. Finally, after dinner I sat down, book in hand, ready for Enlightenment to arrive.

I checked the table of contents. My trick was on pages 45-48.

I was on 45 in a trice.

The introduction was clear, and in it the magician said this trick was one of his classics and essentially was the flagship of his act. Greatness would be mine in only a few pages!

The rest of page 45 told of the set-up, which was perfectly clear to me. No magicky nonsense in this one, I can tell ya.

Then, after I’d gone over the set-up a bunch of times, I flipped the page and — Yowie Zowie! — I stared at page 46 in complete slack-jawed shock.

There was no page 46!

Well, strictly speaking, there was page 46, since that number was written at the bottom of the page. But that’s all that was written. The rest of the page was as empty as a pauper’s pockets. Nothing. Nada. Bupkes.

I thought maybe I’d find good ole 46 somewhere else in the book, but I didn’t. Clearly, that sucker was blank, and was gonna stay blank.

How this happened, I’ve no idea. But, ultimately, it didn’t matter. The company I ordered it from is owned and run by two professional magicians, and they are scrupulous about their wares and their service. I knew they’d make good on it.

I immediately whipped off an email to them, explaining the situation and sending pics of the book and pages 45-48. Shortly after, I got a reply telling me they had no idea how it happened, but they’d make good on it and send me another book, which they did.

As soon as that package arrived I tore it open and first checked pages 45-48. All was as it should be, as it was with the rest of the book, making a happy ending all around.

Knowing nothing about publishing or printing, I’ve no idea how a book could have only one blank page. And I’m sure I’ll never find out.

But I do appreciate the irony of it: I buy a book from a magic company and, in classic magic fashion, one of its pages disappears.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t ironic. After all, the company’s name is — cross my heart — Vanishing Magic.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)