This week I acquired Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott.
As a writer Bruce Elliott had many faults. His ability varied on each work he wrote and the stories he wrote for The Shadow Magazine, when Walter Gibson would be on holiday, are considered the worst of all the Shadow stories in style and content. The phrase ‘Homer nods’, which refers to when a writer’s standard slips down to far below his or her best, can be applied to Elliott’s work with an unkind frequency. This would not be a big deal with the many magicians who write magazine articles about magic or pen their on book on the subject. They are magicians first and writers second. Elliott, however, was an author who wrote mystery fiction, science fiction and television screenplays. He was also one of the editors of the magic magazine The Phoenix. It is reasonable to expect a more consistent standard in his writing. To throw even more mud, he was published by main stream publishers who should have pointed out his lapses before they were published, providing Elliott with the opportunity to correct them.
So, with these faults, why are his magic books of any value? Quite simply, it’s the magic they contain. Once in a while, not too often to be a problem, his explanations can be as clear as mud but, usually, overall the magic is good quality. In this particular book Elliott’s few unclear moments are made even worse by the illustrations that accompany them. A lot of magic books in the past have ‘stylized’ or cartoon style artwork. This is usually not a problem except when sleight of hand is being illustrated. The unnamed artist (possibly Stanley Jaks) uses an unrealistic style where fingers appear to either be made of rubber and form strange contorted positions or the fingers are bizarrely long as if illustrating sleight of hand for orangutangs. A small number of the illustrations are just plain wrong in what they are supposed to depict and so it is best to rely on Elliott’s text.
Despite its faults, I like this book. It goes over some of the classics of magic and provides, what were then, up to date additions to their performance – as well as the handling of various tricks by (his then) contemporary magicians. The latter, of which I wish there were more, provides details about the acts of performers of that time and their personal ‘twists’ to some well known magic tricks.
Although I’ve criticised Elliott, don’t be put off reading his material. In the greater part of his writings he explains quality magic with an easily understood straightforwardness. The rare hiccup in meaning can be overcome with a little thought and the correct props at hand to follow his words.
Tragically, Elliott was only in his fifties when he died. He was hit by a taxi and the accident left him in a coma. He died about four months later.