Mangoes In Magic

by Mark S Farrar

On a recent visit to a Thai restaurant, the following was printed on the front of the menu:

"Guidebooks and cookbooks persist in describing Thai cuisine as a cross between Indian and Chinese. But that is like placing a mango somewhere between a plum and a peach. The comparison is of interest only to someone who has tasted all three; the simply curious will be led no further to the truth and probably further from it."

So what has this got to do with magic?

Well, before I get to that, what I think this quotation does highlight is man's compulsion to categorise things and to place people and objects into neat little "pigeonholes."

However, the problem with "pigeonholing" things is that it tends to force us to overlook other, less obvious attributes by narrowing our focus; once a person or thing has been categorised, we are satisfied and do not investigate any further. The apparently unfamiliar object has been made familiar, and we lose interest in it and any other unique qualities it may possess.

The same principle applies to magic: we categorise effects as close-up magic or parlour magic or stage magic, as children's magic or mentalism or illusionism, as card magic or coin magic, etc.

This approach is all very fine up to a point; for example, it lets magic dealers organise their catalogues into some recognisable order and, at a very high level, informs potential audiences about the type of magic we perform.

The problem with this is that it is too easy to forget that certain tricks and sleights can be performed in ways other than those indicated by its "category." This fact was highlighted at the recent talk by Roy Gilbert, who uses a close-up coin effect for children and has taken a standard children's trick for the parlour called "Wandering Rabbits" and transformed it into a large, colourful, stage-size effect.

Both of these examples show an element of "lateral thinking" which refuses to be bounded by the normal constraints. I can't remember who it was who said that the first thing you should do when you acquire a new trick is throw away the instructions, but the intentions are exactly the same.

Other options include:

Performing standard card effects as mentalism
Turning prediction effects into coincidence or mind control, and vice versa
Alan Warner's creation of micro-magic, turning larger tricks into miniature versions
Adapting sleights devised for one type of prop for another (e.g. card sleights for coin sleights)
Adapting tricks for use in a business situation
Combining hobbies (I spent a lot of time trying to devise tricks with a teddy bear theme, when Carol and I used to attend teddy bear collectors' meetings).

By taking such an approach, we stand a better chance of performing routines that are truly unique, because the "instructions" are not documented anywhere except in our own heads, and, indeed, it is thinking such as this that has allowed our art to grow.

The possibilities are only limited by our own imagination, but we must not constrain ourselves by restricting our view of tricks to the section of a dealer's catalogue in which it happens to appear. Let's not have any mangoes in magic!


Mark S Farrar July 2000