The Magic Commonplace Book Part. 1 // For Magicians Only
I have been subscribed to The Marginalian, a weekly newsletter filled with meditations, good books and magical literature - brain pickings, as Maria Popova, the writer, used to call them, for about 5 years now.
In one of her posts from 2 months ago, I came across this wonderful new concept "a commonplace book" which really piqued my interest. Maybe some of you have already heard about this, but for those of you like myself who've never encountered this notion, here's a definition of what this is, in Maria's own words:
"Long before there was the Internet, there was the commonplace book — a creative and intellectual ledger of fragmentary inspirations, which a writer would collect from other books and copy into a notebook, often alongside his or her reflections and riffs.
These borrowed ideas are in dialogue with the writer’s own imagination and foment it into original thinking. Over long enough a period of time — years, decades, often a lifetime — the commonplace book, while composed primarily of copied passages, comes to radiate the singular sensibility of its keeper: beliefs are refined, ideas incubated, intellectual fixations fleshed out, and the outlines of a personhood revealed."
I read this and I thought, "I should make one for magic as well!"
And here you have it guys. The first part of what I hope is a beautiful adventure through many books to come. Without further ado, here's the first book chronicled in the Magic Commonplace Book.
For Magicians Only by Robert Parish
This was a wonderful book to read as it was filled with insights into the world of magic from the 20th century. It was gleeful to compare the magic world today with what magicians had to go through back then. I actually wrote a full article about this called "Would you survive in the 1940s?". You can read it in full here.
Since this was a book meant for those wanting to pick up magic as a hobby or a profession, Mr. Parish filled it with many pieces of advice and warnings for those brave enough to sign the deal with the 'devil'.
Nonetheless, there are also many other meditations that Mr. Parish shares with his readers regarding what it takes to be a good magician and perform a good magic trick.
p.16-17 "the mechanics of the trick is a casual sequence, the true portent of which is masked. Only certain points in the sequence being emphasized and these points alone remembered by the audience."
"the secret of successful magic lies in the employment of every mannerism, every seemingly unimportant action, every movement and word, to mislead the spectator."
p. 22 "The only way to learn to be a magician is to start doing magic."
"The first trick should not be a difficult one, but should be a good one. It should be a trick that can be performed without preparation and upon almost any occasion, so it can be used frequently."
p. 23 "Since what appears to happen is more important than what is really done, it is a good idea to visualize first what seems to take place."
Mr. Parish also had a very peculiar way of teaching magic. He would reveal to you how it was done and tell you what you had to do without explaining the exact mechanics. Then, after you'd understand all that he would explain each sleight in detail.
p. 29 "The strongest aid to misdirection is the element of surprise."
p. 30 "... strive never to telegraph your punches."
p. 39 "it is remarkable how many people know a few card tricks and how few know or can do a good one."
p. 40 "it takes quite some time for ones hands to become adequately practised."
p. 50 "When a trick is performed in which sleight of hand is involved, it should seem to the spectator that no secret manipulation was possible. On the other hand, in a trick in which no actual manipualtion takes place, it is desirable to lead the spectator to believe that considerable skill has been employed."
"one of the secrets of successful magic is to allow no pauses of any length between your mysteries."
p. 51 (regarding placing a dagger between your teeth) "This is what is called in theatrical langauge "business", meaning almost any kind of effective action. Remember, "business" must not be overdone."
p. 71 "A REAL MAGICIAN should be able to take any small object near at hand and do a little trick with it."
p. 76 "The test of whether a man is a good magician comes not at the moment when the little cheat comes, but at the moments when nothing is really done and eveerything is pretended."
p. 95 "Magicians are often so interested in tricks themselves that they forget that audiences are not so much conccernet about how they are fooled as about how well they are entertained."
"The way to thing about a trick is to imagine just what one would do if he could really accomplish the effect without skullduggery and then try to develop a method that requires no violation of the imagines actions."
p. 99 " I prefer to [...] do a simple little trick that cannot possibly go wrong and that gives me an opportunity to talk a little and get acquainted. " (about doing a magic show somewhere)
The following is my favorite part from the book. I feel this applies to social media magic nowadays and all the popular descriptive magic that is abundant everywhere.
p. 105 "Whether one's talk is lengthy or short, one important point to remember is that a performer should never simply describe what he is doing. Everyone should be able to see what is going on; explaining what you are doing will at the best bore your spectators and possibly even arouse suspicion about what you ARE doing."
"For example, do not say: "I put the walnut in the glass. I cover the glass with the handkerchief." Instead, if you wish to emphasize the action that is taking place, say: "You all can see the walnut in the glass, possibly to the embarassment of the walnut. This handkerchief will give it a decent amount of privacy."
Mr. Parish says this is advantageous when something goes wrong, like the walnut falls from your palm on the floor. As you have not made any claims, this can be passed off by saying, "I'm afraid I'll have to be more careful. That walnut's pretty lively."
p. 106 "If, however, you had made claims about the whereabouts of the walnut at each stage in the operation and then slipped up, you would not only have been caught at your sleight of hand, which is forgivable, but you would have been caught lying. After that it would be difficult for you to persuade your audience to believe the things you tell them."(all illustrations are taken from Robert Parish's book)