Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone (New York: Harper Collins, 2012. 291 pp)
Magic and Me
The Magic Olympics
|Photo by Steven Depolo|
Fooling Houdini begins with Alex Stone competing in the Magic Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. Yes, the Magic Olympics. Already a member of the oldest magical fraternity, The Society of American Magicians (once headed by Houdini himself), Stone simply wishes to showcase his skills in competition. He, however, is humiliated, getting “red-lighted” during his act, disqualified for dropping a deck of cards, and putting his hands beneath the table.
“McBride likes to call his school ‘Hogwarts for grownups,’ and what happened on the first day was straight out of Harry Potter. To begin with, we were asked to congregate around a flame burning at the center of the room atop an iron pedestal. The shutters had been drawn against the January light, and it was murky inside. As we rose to our feet the flame trembled, casting a ripple of shadows on the walls. Contorted by the shifting play of light, the masks seemed to flicker awake in a momentary flash of borrowed life” (35).
“One weekend turned into many. Saturdays at the pizzeria became my newest ritual—harking back to the one that began in my early childhood, when my father would take me to the magic store on the weekends. My friends and family soon learned not to call me on Saturdays; I observed the magic Sabbath more faithfully than the Hebrew one. (I may be half Jewish, but I’m all magician)” (52).
Breaking the Code
|Photo by Steven Depolo|
On his journey of magical education, Stone learns to read minds (or fake it), to count cards, and then, he does the unthinkable. He breaks the magician’s code: the promise by working magicians not to reveal the basis of their tricks, or else risk getting blackballed by fellow magicians.
“Keeping a magic trick secret clearly isn’t the same thing as hiding a childhood trauma or an extramarital affair. Nonetheless, the double-edged nature of secrecy goes a long way toward explaining what makes magic, and the people who practice it, so unusual” (135).
Fooling is Bliss
“[T]he biggest draw is that it’s just plain fun to fool people. Anyone who claims otherwise—that fooling people isn’t one of magic’s central joys, one of its primary pleasures—is being dishonest. To truly astonish someone, to freak them out so badly they can’t sleep at night, to blow their mind and make them question their sanity—that, to me, as to all magicians, is heaven. It’s one of the chief upsides to becoming a magician, aside from the fact that black is very slimming” (172).
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson
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