moab is my washout

Stephen Fry the Magician

Sat down to watch the Christmas special of the M series of QI with a wonderful surprise at the end involving Stephen Fry and the president of the Magic Circle, Scott Penrose.You'll need to watch until the end, and knowing QI, you'll probably learn an interesting thing or two along the way! 

It's no secret that Stephen Fry has an interest in magic. In fact, QI has magic tricks sprinkled throughout the episodes. He also wrote about his experiences with the seminal text Expert Card Technique by Frederick Braue and Jean Hugard in his memoir, Moab Is My Washpot.

Why does the universe...

Why does the universe continue to do these bewildering things to me? [1] I wrote earlier about my decision to bump Moab is my Washpot to the top of my reading list. Somewhere, more or less in the middle, the learned author digresses into his early love of magic.

In particular, he talks about one of his favourite magic books, Expert Card Technique. This is considered one of the great twentieth century collections of card magic, something I own, something I have spent quite a bit of time with, and something which is still available today as an inexpensive Dover reprint.

I know many people have had a passing interest in magic when they were young. Mr. Fry seems to have had a much deeper understanding that most and his thoughts on the subject were inspiring to me.

Magic, in the form of close up sleight of hand in particular, is an art-form I venerate... My 'chops' as magicians call technique, are not of the first order, it takes the kind of practice a concert musician is prepared to put into his music to perform just the standard pass with a pack of cards...

One particular passage struck me:

I suppose those who not like or approve of magic sense firstly that magicians are the kind of disreputable or vengefully nebbish outsiders who relish putting one over on others and secondly that they themselves, as the victims of a trick, are not quite confident enough in themselves to take it laughingly.

While I don't expect absolutely everyone to enjoy magic, I always marvel at that small percentage that seem to resist enjoying a trick.

I hope it's not that someone has had a bad experience, being picked on or aggravated by a magician in the past. I wonder if I've done something to rub them the wrong way.

I suspect that no one ever explained real magic (the stuff of Harry Potter) isn't real and real magic (the stuff that magicians can actually do) is actually fake. We're not out to convince anyone that we have supernatural powers; we just like to have fun pretending we do. But it sets the stage for a weird metaphysical logical fallacy:

If I can't explain how the trick works, that must mean that it's real magic.

Of course it's a false dichotomy. If you don't consider "I don't know" to be a valid option - certainly most of us are uncomfortable admitting we don't know things - then you back yourself into a corner. And if it's a particularly skillful magician (meaning you won't be able to figure out how anything works) then you are forcing yourself to feel uncomfortable.

Of course, that's not bewildering, that's just a happy coincidence that I would share something neat like that in common with a longtime role model. The bewildering part is that the discussion of magic, is strangely close to a deep and thoughtful discussion of buggery...

The jokes just write themselves. Feel free to leave yours in the comments below.


[1] Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy