Fully Booked | Designing Miracles
By Harpan Ong - Sunday, June 30, 2019
One of the biggest names in magic, especially when it comes to magic theory, has to be Darwin Ortiz. And of course, his name is now synonymous with his most famous book on magic theory, Strong Magic. Now, Strong Magic deserves an entire review all by itself, because it is truly one of the most comprehensive and influential books ever to be published on the topic of magic theory.
However, today I actually want to talk about the little brother of Strong Magic - Darwin’s other book on theory, titled Designing Miracles. I would say that this book is lesser known, but in my personal opinion, I enjoy reading Designing Miracles a lot more, and find a lot of the ideas in this book much more applicable to my own interests in magic.
To call Designing Miracles the “little brother” of Strong Magic is apt in some ways - physically speaking, it is a much slimmer volume, but that’s because it focuses on one particular theme: the concepts and principles important to constructing a magical effect. And as someone who likes creating magic and who feels that they are more scientifically minded, I feel that such a topic relates to me much more as it is more relevant and is presented in a way that I can easily absorb and understand.
There are a few reasons why I like Designing Miracles so much.
The contents of the book are very well organised and formatted. Each chapter is clearly titled and centered around one important principle in magic construction. Hence, Darwin makes it very easy for this book to become a reference book for all magicians looking to construct their own routine.
The content itself is excellent, of course. Darwin has this knack of putting these universal concepts of magic into words that are easily understood, and his labels for each principle are clear and unambiguous. Reading through the book, I often find myself nodding my head in agreement with what Darwin is saying because certain concepts like Temporal Distance, The False Frame of Reference, Manipulating Memory and Making Patterns are things that I have (and I am sure you, the reader, have) come across when learning magic. However, to see all of these concepts compiled and organised together in this manner really provided me with a solid framework for understanding how a routine should be put together.
Last but certainly not least, I am so grateful that Darwin has actually put a lot of detailed examples to substantiate the theories that he is describing in each chapter. He calls these examples “case studies”, and each case study focuses on one particular routine by either himself or another magician. For example, he will focus on how building an “information barrier” can help elevate the impossibility of Dai Vernon’s The Trick That Cannot Be Explained, or how he used “The Rule of Three” to improve on the shortcomings of Francis Carlyle’s Homing Card routine. These case studies are absolutely invaluable to the understanding of all the theories in Designing Miracles, and I have to salute Darwin for being so detailed in this aspect.
Another thing I find quite interesting about the writing style in Designing Miracles is that compared to other theory books, where the author might prefer a more “let’s explore this concept together” soft approach to espousing theory, I find Darwin prefers a more “top down” approach, where he lays out these theories in clear, no-nonsense manner. That’s not to say it is a bad thing necessarily, but just as an example of what I mean, in the Appendix of this book is a section titled Darwin’s Laws. It is a list of 27 statements that Darwin feels summarises the important principles of designing a magic trick. Just to extract a few as examples:
Darwin’s Law Number 5: Eliminate the correct theory before it occurs to them.
Darwin’s Law Number 11: The obvious explanation is usually the last one to occur to magicians but the first one to occur to laypeople.
Darwin’s Law Number 14: If you can get them to ask the wrong question, you’ll guarantee that they’ll never arrive at the right answer.
Finally, one of my favourite chapters from the book is the chapter on Visual Magic. I think this chapter is a must-read for the magicians of today, considering the shift towards video content and the shift towards making magic more and more visual in order to fit the constraints of video. Darwin analyses the strengths and weaknesses of visual magic, and gives concrete examples on how to make visual magic more impactful and magical.
All in all, Designing Miracles is a must-read for every magician, regardless of whether you are interested in creating magic or not. It will give you brand new insights into the inner mechanisms that magic work, as well as give you a new framework for thinking about the routines you already do.
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