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Biblio File

Magic, a Fantasy... Plus Some Sources

[Note: The following is an imaginative work of fiction. For some decidedly non-fiction resources for your own fantastic feats, see below.]

The opening article in the 1836 The Magic Show, 1974-1975, Digital ID 2027502 , New York Public LibraryThe Magic Show, 1974-1975, NYPL ID 2027502 edition of the Magician's Yearly Trust, published then by a British organization of the same name, entitled "On performing magic in the most frozen parts of the world" caught my eye. It was the word "frozen" in the title that made me wonder what the article really was about. So I began reading the article and learned that there was a small group of professional magicians based in London, about 18 to 24 in all (members were unsure just how many of them there were since some members were constantly disappearing at various intervals of time but not always reappearing), each over the age of 55, and making trips to the coldest regions on earth, several times a year, to perform their magic to the inhabitants of that particular region.

The Magician’s Yearly Trust was started by Sir Anthony Darvich, the author of the article, a highly-respected magician at the time, in the cold winter months of 1818. Monthly meetings were soon held to discuss the history of magic as well as to “invent” new and spectacular feats unknown and unimagined by magicians at that time. Soon, as recorded a decade later by Sir Morris Stone of the Royal Magician's Society, members of the Trust were performing such unbelievable feats of magic that their audiences literally couldn't believe their eyes. (It is a known fact recorded by the Birmingham Optometric Society at the time that the sale of eyeglasses greatly soared during the years 1818-1824.) And each of the member magicians seemed to have a specialty. One of the magicians, Sir Albert Gripp, the inventor, so they say, of tomatoe soup in Britain, would show the audience a live carp, a small one, according to records about 6-7" long, and put it in a sombrero that he purchased while touring Mexico City. The audience, of course, would see the flapping of the tail (the fish's, not Sir Albert's) until the flapping suddenly stopped. Sir Albert would then turn the sombrero upside down and amazingly no fish. "Where did the fish go?" the audience would shout in unison. Then suddenly a spectator from the audience, definitely known not to be personally acquainted with Sir Albert, would start jumping up and down as he or she soon discovered that the carp had appeared in that person's shirt or blouse. There would then be a roar from the audience and the spectator involved in the trick would be invited to take the carp home provided that the carp agreed to accompany that person with the promise of fresh mayonaise sandwiches twice daily. Otherwise the carp was to perform the next day with no guarantee of mayonaise sandwiches. (What a dilemma for the carp!)

It was, though, in the year 1822 that the idea of performing in the coldest regions of our planet took hold. Sir Frederick Bobble, a member magician of the Trust and the tallest, standing at 6'7", traveled with his wife to her birthplace, Holsteinborg (now Sisimiut) in Western Greenland. Upon arriving, Sir Frederick noticed that the residents were all performing magic tricks to amuse each other. Sir Frederick was, of course, deeply interested, especially since the tricks were being performed out of doors in this icy terrain. Sir Frederick also noticed that the performers developed frozen icicles which hung from their clothing and which collided with each other like windchimes, forming pleasant musical sounds. Sir Frederick soon learned that the most proficient of these performers were able to accompany their magic tricks with actual folk songs from the region, the music of which was created by the hanging icicles. And the most proficient of these performers were allowed accomplished singers to accompany them. All this, of course, did not develop overnight. Sir Frederick soon learned that performers, both magicians and singers, practised their art day in and day out over many years. Legends were created and schools were set up to carry on these traditions. Elder performers lectured to younger hopefuls. Competitions began, magicians and their singer accompanists throughout the world made pilgrimages to these frozen regions to learn the secrets from the holiest and most accomplished of these performers. And so Sir Frederick was taken under the wing of one such performer and, in the course of two years, with incredibly strict adherence to the rules and traditions demanded of him, became a very fine practitioner of the art of performing magic with musical accompaniment made possible by master singers and frozen icicles.

At this point, Sir Frederick realized that this would be the Trust's destiny. Upon returning to London and relating in detail his two-year stay in Greenland, the member magicians welcomed the idea of learning the necessary techniques for creating sublime musical magic and traveling to the world's coldest climates to accomplish this. The member magicians eventually learned to pull a dozen spotted water-melon seals and the seals' three uncles from a top-hat, learned to make walrusses suddenly lose their teeth while on their way to the white house in Washington D.C., learned to thaw out ancient frozen blindfolded penguins, and all to the harmonious blend of the chiming of the icicles and the sweetness of the human voice.

Performing magic can be loads of fun and you don't have to travel to the Arctic Circle to do it. The New York Public Library has books and DVDs on all levels to help you learn how to do magic tricks as well as learning about the TRUE history of magic. Looking in the catalog under MAGIC TRICKS will lead you to the call number 793.8 which is a great place to start. There are some other places to look for the subject of magic such as histories and biographies. Perhaps you may be interested in stores in New York City that sell magic tricks or magic clubs in the area that you could join. Ask any librarian who will be glad to help. In the meantime, here are a few books that might be of interest.

Magic for Beginners was written by master magician Walter B. Gibson who learned his art from the great magicians of the past such as Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston and Harry Blackstone. Although some of the magic tricks included seem at first to be perfect for the somewhat seasoned magician, as the title states, the novice could succeed pefectly well in learning the over 100 entertaining tricks. Chapters include learning card and coin tricks, tricks involving the power of suggestion, tricks using strings and various other types of tricks to amaze your audience.

Mysterio's Encyclopedia of Magic and Conjuring by Gabe Fajuri is a compilation of techniques that shows step-by-step instructions for card, rope and coin tricks as well as mind-reading magic and stage illusions. The Mysterio in the title was a well-known and well-respected magician performing under the name Mr. Mysterio. Before his untimely death in 1936, Mr. Mysterio (Alphonse Zenobius Rekulak) began writing an encyclopedia which was to contain all of his stupendous and incredible tricks for the education of would-be magicians. But, because of his sudden death, the work only existed as notes stored away in a trunk. Gabe fajuri, the author of this and many other books on magic, saved these notes from obscurity and used them to create the present work in honor of the great magician.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Street Magic by world-reknown magician Tom Ogden offers "Mind-blowing tricks and awe-inspiring illusions anyone can learn" (cover). The street magician actually performs tricks on the street where props are few and where the performer works closely to the public. This book teaches you all that using everyday objects and illustrations. The author frowns on silly, ordinary tricks such as pulling colored cloths from a hat and also frowns upon "fake" tricks performed for the television audience which is so often edited. Chapters are offered by "theme" such as "Defying gravity" and "Technotrickery" rather than the usual chapters such as "Rope tricks" and "Card tricks."

Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic is just that. This hefty book, with over 500 pages, first appeared in 1975 and covers chapters on all aspects of magic including rope, card and coin tricks as well as mental magic and illusions. The author has the destinction of being the first major magician to perform on television (1955). Wilson's advice to magician hopefuls are stated in these three rules: "Practice, more Practice, and still more Practice." (p.15)


Stand-up Magic and Optical IIlusions by Nicholas Einhorn, a volume of the Inside Magic series, contains fun magic tricks that anyone can learn. Tricks such as pushing a needle through a balloon are illustrated with easy step-by-step instructions. There are even pictures showing the reader what the audience isn't suppoesed to see. The author, a world-reknown magician, has won numerous competitions and awards and has appeared on television many times.

And so it goes. Now, please, if you are going to pursue the art of magical illusion, have fun but take it seriously. And always remember the trials and tribulations of that wonderful group from London during the early years of the 19th century, Sir Anthony Darvich, Sir Albert Gripp, Sir Frederick Bobble and the rest, who, really, without a thought to personal safety, ventured forth to all the frozen regions of the world to learn, to develop, to hone, to accomplish something very special for the art that they so dearly loved.


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Magical icicle music...

Thanks, Stephen, for an enjoyable and informative post! I'd love to read more about the fictional Magician's Yearly Trust, and the list of introductory magic sources in the library will be a helpful starting point for novice magicians. I wish we could really hear the music of the icicles, though! Do you by chance have any recordings? Have you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke? She does an amazing job of weaving centuries of invented magic scholarship into her story, complete with footnotes.

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