Fully Booked - Prism

By Harapan Ong - Monday, February 4, 2019

Welcome to the very first Fully Booked article here on the Vanishing Inc. blog! Perhaps a self-introduction is in order: my name is Harapan, and I am a magician from Singapore. I have been passionate about magic books ever since I started learning magic about seventeen years ago, and I have always wanted to find a platform to share my interest with the larger community. Hence – Fully Booked!

Fully Booked is not exactly a brand new project of mine. It started out as a video series on my Instagram page where I review various magic books in my collection by performing a trick from the book (or sometimes my variation of a trick from the book), and then a short video of me explaining what the book is about. Each segment lasts only one minute, and the whole series is targeted at the young magician who grew up in the Instagram era of magic, where attention spans are short and magic comes in digital downloads instead of text on paper. Its aim was to encourage more young magicians to turn their attention towards magic books when it comes to their magic education, and perhaps help demystify the notion of buying magic books. From my experience, many beginner magicians are intimidated with buying magic books because they feel it is a big investment, and they are never quite sure which book is good.

Although my target audience was the young magician, it found its footing with both the young and the old (who were getting to grips with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram). I got a lot of positive feedback from magicians around the world – young magicians were happy that they were getting good recommendations for books they should check out, while older (and more well-read) magicians were happy that I was shining a light on the masters of the past.

In an effort to expand this project into a more detailed and fleshed-out book review series, I have decided to move on to this blog on Vanishing Inc., where I feel very much at home! I will have the opportunity to post longer performance videos, do longer and more detailed write-ups about each book, and as well as not be limited by the 1 minute restriction on Instagram. So, I hope that you, the reader, will continue to tune in to Fully Booked right here on this blog! Let’s begin our journey into the world of magic books with a book on mentalism.

A Little Blue Booklet…

In 1976, a certain mentalist by the name of Phil Goldstein published a little blue booklet, titled The Blue Book of Mentalism. It was his first book on the subject, and people began to take notice of this person because of how good his published material was! The mentalism in that booklet was revolutionary and genre-defining.

Blue Book or Mentalism

Over the next few years, what began as a single book turned into a series of differently coloured booklets. Four new additions, including the Red, Green, Yellow and Violet Book of Mentalism, were published, each jam-packed with top quality mentalism routines. The methods are deviously clever, and the routines were practical and the strength of each effect in these booklets was incredible.

That mentalist is of course now known by Max Maven, described by Orson Welles as “the most original mind in magic”. This may not be hyperbole, considering how prolific Max is in his publication of original material. Unfortunately, those booklets were produced in very limited quantities – fortunately for us, these booklets were eventually compiled into a single book, titled Prism.

It’s All About The Variety

The best thing I like about Prism can be described in one word – variety. For those interested in mentalism, I think this book is a great compilation of the different methods, plots and presentations a mentalist can make use of. It has routines in here for close up, parlour and even stage performances, and cover various types of effects possible in the realm of mentalism. Mind reading, clairvoyance, predictions and even metal bending, is all covered in this book. When looking at the methods, the book covers pretty much all the different types of methods a mentalist can take – even including routines that require stooges or pre-show work. (For those cringing at the thought of using stooges, don’t worry. The routines that require stooges are in the minority and the effects based on stooges are strong enough to justify their use, anyway.) Hence, I think this is a fantastic book for anyone who wants a good introduction to mentalism and its many different effect genres, presentations and methods.

Some highlights for me were:

Disposable Color: I have actually used this effect as an opener for my shows before, when I used to perform for paid gigs. Imagine this: at the start of your show, you choose a random spectator by throwing a scrunched-up ball of paper into the audience behind your back. The spectator who caught the ball of paper comes up on stage, still holding onto the piece of paper. You get them to name the first color that comes to mind – for example, they name the color blue. You have them open up the piece of paper (in their hands the entire time, you never come close to it after you threw it out initially), and on the piece of paper is written, in big bold letters – BLUE. The idea is simple, the effect is clear and utterly baffling.

French Active: Easily one of my favourite items in the book, just for the clever plot twist at the end. Essentially, you show the flags of six different countries. A spectator randomly selects one of the flags, and you show (in a very surprising manner) that you have correctly predicted their choice. I don’t wish to spoil the surprise, because it is SO good, you have to see it for yourself.

Predixion: Being a card geek, I had to include a trick that involved playing cards. A deck of cards, still in its box, is given to spectator to keep. Using another deck of cards, a card is freely selected – for example, the Five of Hearts. Yet when the spectator opens up the deck he or she has been holding on to the entire time, the Five of Hearts is seen to have a huge X marked on its face – all the other faces are clean with no markings. The magician never handles any of the cards at any time, with the spectator doing all the work and the magician getting all the credit.

Now, mentalism has gotten a new boom in popularity nowadays – I attribute that to public figures like Derren Brown that have changed the face of how mentalism is performed, and raised the awareness and appreciation of such an art form amongst the general lay public. Hence, I think it is a fair question to ask if the material in this book is outdated, having been first published in the 1970s (which is four decades ago, mind you). To that question, you can probably guess my answer already – no, it is not outdated.

It seems that nowadays, there are many wanna-be mentalists who essentially, in an effort to match Derren’s brilliance, all perform in the exact same way, with the usual presentations and mannerisms that Derren employs in his shows. To me, this may work for now, but in the long run simply isn’t a sustainable way to ensuring the longevity of the art in the public eye. While I love Derren’s work and contributions to mentalism with all my heart, I think reading this book has given me a wider perspective on what has been done, and more importantly what CAN be done with mentalism. Going through this book, I constantly found myself thinking:

“Wait, this is SO good! Why isn’t anyone doing this nowadays?”

There is just so much stuff that I feel has been forgotten or ignored, simply because magicians like to follow the trendiest way of performing a particular genre of the deceptive arts – in this case, mentalism. To me, it’s like that saying: a lot of the material in here is old, but it’s so old that it’s new again. I think if you are interested in getting into mentalism and want a fantastic resource that provides a really broad look at the different methodologies and concepts available to a mentalist, and as well as be armed with a whole repertoire of strong, impactful effects, look no further than Prism.

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