The story of magic: how narrative destroys conjurers' effects, or elevates them to transcendence

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True in many things, not just stage magic.


You seem to acknowledge that bafflement is the best place to leave a spectator when they’ve seen a magic trick. So why did you tell your family about the marked deck? You took away their amazement, and left them with embarrassment instead.

That’s why magicians keep secrets. Not from a sense of superiority (“Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone, you’re an idiot” is the standard (?) trope), but because telling the spectators ruins the magic.

I think this is why I’m pretty ambivalent about magic.

I have no interest in being fooled, I know it’s a trick. I’m more interested in the mechanism of how the trick works and the skill of the magician. But once you know how it’s done, the trick isn’t so interesting.

Movie makers used to use that same thinking and kept special effects, stunt men, singing stand ins and more secret. Today, behind the scenes documentaries are a staple of the industry. Knowing how the special effects in movies work is amazing, and I still can’t tell solid visual effects from reality, even knowing “the trick”.

Time for magic to grow up. If magic can’t survive the audience knowing how the trick is done, then maybe the trick, or its presentation, isn’t good enough. I’ve seen Teller deconstruct a trick where he drops coins into a container (not one of the phony reveals P&T sometimes do), yet I’m still fooled, just as I continue to be fooled by optical illusions.


Pretty sneaky, sis!


A good con always needs a good narrative!

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If you want to show that magic audiences will benefit in the same ways as movie audiences do from deconstruction, you need to show that the audiences react in the same way to magic as they do to film.

They don’t.

No but the magicians skill at performing it is. I love close up magic for this. The french drop is a terribly simple misdirection but when done well I still find it wonderful to watch. When you know exactly what they are doing it and still miss it and are amazed then it is good stuff.


I saw Penn and Teller do the classic cup and balls trick but with clear cups. It was insane how seamless it all was. Even though you could see what was under each of the cups it was so fast it was hard to keep up.

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That’s a very interesting point. Oh, by the way…

Is THIS your card?

Citation needed.

I already pointed out that I enjoy watching well done magic even if I do know the trick. Your premise is false.

Oh my gawd - I’d LOVE to see Gilbert Gottfried do a stand-up routine combined with magic.

This only holds true if the methodology of the effect is as, or more interesting than the effect. It all depends where the mileage is. I do a mind reading effect where a card is freely chosen, genuinely shuffled into the deck and then whilst the spectator deals, I infer what the card is and stop them at their precise card. It absolutely kills. It’s also so painfully easy to do that the methodology might be exactly what you think it is, but because of subtleties and other little bits, it adds layers of subterfuge.
I once showed someone how it worked and it deflated them massively and took it from something that blew them away to nothing but a joke.
Axel Heclau has a viewpoint that performing magic for someone is to give someone a gift. Wonder and surprise are gifts. If you then explain the method you take that gift away from them.
People always cite the Penn and Teller cups and balls, but that isn’t a fair comparison. That is interesting because the mechanics of seeing a two person cups and balls with clear cups is interesting in itself. It’s juggling and choreography. It’s the same as their routine “looks simple” where they do a normal action using over the top sleight of hand. It’s great because the actions are beautiful and funny. They don’t explain all the tricks they do for good reason, there’s no entertainment, no humour in showing that off. Blast off is funny the second time, if shadows or goldfish were shown then they would lose something.
Magic is special. It doesn’t live in the moment, it carries on beyond that, getting better and better in the memory. A number chose between one and ten often later on becomes more impossible when it’s remembered that the magician have a completely free choice. A prediction pulled out of an envelope in the top pocket becomes a prediction that was on the table the whole time that was never touched. To give explanation kills that. And if a spectator truly wants to know how an effect is done then the means are out there for them to learn it and perform it for themselves.

Again, this is the same reasoning used by movie studios to keep stunt performers and special effects secret, because it “ruined” the illusion. Same with revealing the rigged nature of pro wrestling. But today movies freely talk about stunt performers and visual effects. And pro-wrestling admits it is fake. Yet the movie industry and pro-wrestling are doing just fine. So, while I understand your argument and sympathize with it to a certain degree I also think it is time for magicians to stop thinking magic is a special delicate flower. It isn’t. It is just as subject to spoilers as many other forms of entertainment.

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