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On 2010-01-17 23:57, Mick Ayres wrote:

“Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurors” – Henning Nelms

“The magic of drama is infinitely more powerful than the magic of trickery. It is as available to the conjurer as it is to the actor. The only difference is that actors take it for granted, whereas few conjurers are even aware that it exists.” (p. 3)

I just wanted to put that quote back up on this thread. It bears repeated readings.

And did I mention that it teaches you how to grow hair on a Billiard Ball?

ACE Smile
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"And did I mention that it teaches you how to grow hair on a Billiard Ball?"

I think it says somewhere in Magic And Showmanship that a joke tends to be funny to an audience the first time, not so funny the second time and a bit annoying the third time. Perhaps I am mistaken but I think a more complete reading is in order.

Seriously, this is still my favorite book on presentation and structure. Some of the tricks are a bit lame, and seem to me at times to be used for illustration purposes, but the overall book is superb. The stuff on developing a consistent character, structuring a routine to eliminate departures, scripting and subscripting, and paying attention to the tiniest details were valuable lessons to me. Forget the arguments about "are we actors playing the part of magicians?" stuff and focus in the fact that at some point you are going to be handling a gaffed deck, or a rubber egg, or a gimmicked book or envelope as if it is a normal, or 'guide' a participant through an equivoque sequence as if each option chosen was the 'right' one to be chosen or eliminated. You need to be convincing and natural to pull it off. The alternative, IMHO, is the endemic 'overproving' and 'please examine everything' before and after that is quite distracting and tells everyone this is a 'catch-me-if-you-can' trick instead of mentalism demonstration.
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Thanks for pointing that out. I was going to keep posting until someone said something. Yes, some of the tricks are lame, but you are right in that the meat of the book is the presentational aspects, and the tricks do help illustrate points. Or as Nelms points out, not tricks, but experiments!
I noticed the other day, 2 beginner magicians used the Svengalli deck, and the way they held it, you could tell they had a trick deck.
Then if you watch the 25 tricks video of a pro using the same deck, he handles it like it is an ordinary deck.
I still see "magicians" call rags "silks". When I was a teenager I pointed out inconsistencies to at least two very well known magicians during their teaching lectures. But they hated me for it, and one went as far to embarrass me in front of everyone. So now I learned to keep my mouth shut.

Or not, Smile

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When I ran across this thread, my Nelms book was sitting right next to my computer.
I got mine in the 70's. I just started re-reading it, and there is so much in it that I always took for granted and I did not realize I got from this. It is always good to re-read and refresh ones memory. I've applied so many of these techniques over the years subconsciously. Now I see where I got them from. Maybe that is why I ask "WHY?" when I see lecturers teaching magic.

And yes, Nelms admits in the forward that the tricks were intended primarily as examples. He said to take them as models and invent your own routines.
Maybe I will grow mold on a billiard ball.

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Or a bowling ball?
I did the bowling ball appearance tonight and I thought of this topic. Smile

Bill Cushman
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Wow, I'd been blowing this thread off for some reason, despite Magic and Showman ship having a strong influence on me since I was around ten. It, along with Hay's Amateur Magician's Handbook, was one of the first "serious" books on magic I read. Up until then, I read the typical books for children. Not that some of them weren't well done but I certainly don't recall their names.

Hay & Nelms, allowed me to enter the grown up phase of magic and consider it from entirely new vantage points. I remember feeling like now I was into the real "stuff" of magic. Hay was definitely my favorite and had a more profound influence than Nelms.

I have both in front of me and see that they are editions I bought in book stores. Nelms is the 1969 Dover edition and is the only copy I've ever owned. I'm on at least my third AMH but recall my first was also a paperback reprint. Though most likely also sold in the magic stores of that day, think how many kids were influenced by finding Nelms and Hay in the bookstore or public library! This is congruent with my philosophy on exposure, technological advances and time.

Just flipping into Nelms quickly and I can see the seeds that would take root and become my passion for mentalism. Psueoo-hypnosis as a thematic approach comes up right away! Calling all future Derren Browns, calling all future Derren Browns!

"Sniff Sniff," "The Singing Glass," the latter of which may say something about my fascination with pendulums. And I never could get the glass to sing reliably! One more random turn and....The OM Billet Switch Box of all items.

Then turning back, on page 7, an essay, "The Magic of Meaning!" No wonder I like the quote from Kenton Knepper, "Meaning is the best misdirection," so much! And this is followed by an example effect, "Dial Information," a version of The Wizard using coins. My entire journey through magic and mentalism is being mapped out and I'm only on page 8 other tha the random flip to the OM Box! I will definitely add Nelms to my re-read/scan queue.

I won't get into AMH too much here though that was the book that taught me about practice, rehearsal and scripting. I was fascinated with the stories of they young Hay and his trials and tribulations. "The Magic State of Mind" and "Hard Easy Tricks and Easy Hard Tricks," right there in the beginning were two chapters I read and re-read. Hay gave me any sense of discipline I've ever applied to magic as well as a firm grounding in coins, cards and the basics that always made me welcome among our peers for such a young kid. I will have to re-read the chapter "Mental Magic," towards the end of the book and see what seeds for Dr. Bill were planted there!

Another part of this thread I would have missed out on are the reminescences of the Fort Lauderdale magic scene. I just missed "The Diamond Era," arriving in Ft. Lauderdale in 1983.

Paul's store was still there but he was already off getting his online business going. Whoops, make that mail order business, not online yet. At least I don't think so. Once in a while he'd come in and "hold court." These were always interesting experiences! I didn't have much personal interaction with Paul but do recall how impressive his demos were when he deigned to do one.

Two young men a bit older than I were running the store near the Searstown. David and Brett, I can't recall their last names. I think David had become Paul's accountant and then took over the day to day operation of the shop, having had a long interest in magic.

Brett was the far more talented of the two and we got along fairly well. He invited me join him for a magic lecture, my first. Some guy named Eugene Burger! I pretty much stopped performing for a while after that, reassessing how I could live up to the standards so evident in Burger's work, not to mention his performance.

Brett asked me to come to another lecture not too long after Burger. This time I was very familiar with the lecturer, Paul Harris, as I'd read all of his books and was a major fan. Another wonderful lecture and between the two has set a standard that has been very tough to meet for anyone I've seen since!

When it comes to recommending books, I always recommend Amateur Magician's Handbook but Magic and Showmanship less so. The modern books I recommend in terms of structuring and strengthening both magic and mentalism are "Strong Magic" by Darwin Ortiz, Ken Weber's "Maximum Entertainment" and Tommy Wonder's Books of Wonder" trilogy, as well as the DVDs by Tommy.

This latter recomendation often surprises other magi, especially the hardcore magicians not into mentalism (are there a couple of those left?). I think they might also be a bit territorial about Wonder as well. However, I think his example of paying meticulous attention to every detail sets a standard we can all strive towards. And his obvious passion is contagious.

The other book I always recommend when I can tell someone is serious about performance is Stephen King's "On Writing." This non-fiction book by the horror master is a joy to read and has had a profound impact on how I script my own routines.

I also agree with Iain and others that we thrive when paying attention to our inspirations outside of mentalism. And some of my best and fondest remembered conversations with professional mentalists have been around just such topics. I always love to find out what inspires anyone that might be "lateral" to their vocation or avocation.
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Henry Hay mentions the Nelm's book in AMH. That is probably how many of use ended up with both. Great memories and strong influences. Nelms was first published in 1969 so that must have been a later addition to AHB.
Mick Ayres
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On 2010-01-24 10:36, Bill Cushman wrote:
The other book I always recommend when I can tell someone is serious about performance is Stephen King's "On Writing." This non-fiction book by the horror master is a joy to read and has had a profound impact on how I script my own routines.

I agree, Bill. The advice I have gleaned from both Nelm's and King's books always lurks at the back of my mind when writing scripts for my acts.

THE FIVE OBLIGATIONS OF CONJURING: Study. Practice. Script. Rehearse. Perform. Drop one and you're done.
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This book has been invaluable to me over the's like an old friend.
Even less known as David Kidd

Baltimore, Md. Curator of

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When I started being serious about magic, a very wise magician told me "every magician should obliged by law to read this book!" --and I agree. I believe it's the very first book that should be studied.
The Lynx deck / The Lynx deck - alt. site I'm lousy at maintaining sites Smile


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For all you anoraks out there, Henning Nelms wrote a forgotten classic of crime fiction under the fishy pseudonym Hake Talbot.
The book was Rim of the Pit, published in 1944.
It has a great opening line:

"I came up here to make a dead man change his mind."

A strong point is made by one of the characters when the group are baffled and threatened by a series of impossible, inexplicable events:

"You speak as if there were a formula for solving problems of this kind."
"But there is."
"I should like to learn it."
"I can put it in one sentence. Look for the unnecessary."

"We must ask ourselves what was done during the course of the trick that would not have been needed if the demonstration had been genuine?"

Look for the unnecessary...The Achilles heel of most magic tricks.
Jon Allen made a similar point to Dan Harlan in his recent DVD collection Connection.
Christopher Taylor
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I read Brown's "Pure effect" not long ofter reading Nelms; I was startled by the similarities between the concepts presented in the two books.

Christopher Taylor

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I met Henning Nelms in 1969 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and had the pleasure of giving him a ride home. He was an extremely nice person and had a great sense of humor. And, when it came to theater, he certainly knew his business.
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I had never heard of this book, but picked it up in a 2nd hand book shop about 3 years ago, also found Dunnigers Complete encyclopedia of magic in the same place, I got both of them for $10, love them both. Everytime I read the Nelms book I end up taking copius amounts of notes as every second page has nuggets of gold. It's allways interesting to reread my notes and see the different things that have resonated with me as I have progressed.
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One of these days I'm go,n ta. read these books.
Not clever enough to come up with something orginal, or did I.
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Probably like everyone else here, I'm just happy to see the book mentioned at all by people who love it as I do.
I bought my copy in 1967. Started reading it on the toilet and almost injured myself because I just couldn't
put it down and was in there hours!

The first time I heard or read another magician praise it highly was in the mid seventies when Tommy Wonder
mentioned it by name at the start of his lecture. (tongue in cheek, he said that directing the audience to
this book WAS his lecture.)

The dalai llama in exile I believe once told his European sponsor, in response to a question,
that the "secret" wisdom of his form of Buddhism was "secret" because people simply weren't interested.

It is, of course, unique. Even at this late date, fifty years later, there is still nothing like it.
And that's a shame. I'm sad that there haven't been a dozen books covering the same territory written since.
After all, different authors speak to different readers. No doubt Mr. Nelms book won't speak to everyone.
I just count it fortunate that I responded to his way of talking about his extraordinarily coherent overview
of the art in all its aspects. I wouldn't have even thought it possible. Leonardo once said with reference to
Giotto, some centuries prior, that "art declined after him". I feel the same way about Nelms and magic "theory"
by this I mean no disrespect to a few extraordinary books by Carney,Wonder and such.
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