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Fully Booked | The Complete Walton Vol. 1 & 2

By Harapan Ong - Sunday, March 31, 2019

In 2013, I was hanging out at Davenports’ Magic Shop in London when I heard from my friends Daniel Young and Daniel Stanbridge that Roy Walton was just in the shop a few weeks ago, signing books for the latest reprint of The Complete Walton Volumes 1 and 2.

The only thing I could ask was, “Wait, he’s still alive?”

Sometimes, these legendary figures in magic that I have read about can seem so elusive and so far in the past, that it really came as a shock to me to know that Roy Walton, creator of the Collectors Plot and Card Warp, was just a train ride away from me.

Needless to say, I bought a train ticket to Glasgow and visited Tam Shepherds, where I spent an afternoon talking to Roy about card magic and his life in magic. It remains one of my fondest memories of my journey in magic.

Of course, while I was at the shop, I picked up both volumes of the Complete Walton. I pride myself in giving honest reviews about these books here at FULLY BOOKED, so I’m going out on a limb to say this…

When I first read these books, I didn’t like them at all.

Before you get your pitchforks out and the hate comments posted, allow me to finish this review first and explain myself. (This review ends on a positive note, don’t worry!)

Firstly, it is important to note that these two books are very thick. Most of the tricks do not have any accompanying illustrations, so the pages are indeed very densely packed with tricks as well. And it is safe to say that with so many tricks, it is impossible to expect every single trick to be a blockbuster effect.

Most large compilation books like these follow the Pareto principle (or the 80-20 rule) - about 80% of the tricks are usually not that great, whereas the remaining 20% of the tricks are really, really good. However, as an avid magic book reader myself, I do not ignore those 80% of the tricks that aren’t good - instead, I usually take these tricks as an inspirational jumping board to improve on them and create my own versions of these plots.

While The Complete Walton certainly follows the 80-20 rule as mentioned previously, I feel that the 80% that’s not that good is not even particularly inspiring or interesting. Here are my main problems with the typical trends you see in Roy’s style of card magic:

The tricks are often a little too procedural, hence muddling up the overall clarity of effect and weakening the impact of the magic. The sleights employed are often used at the wrong time in the routine (when there are very little opportunities for misdirection), and the self-working tricks often involve too many steps for a pretty weak payoff.

Speaking of sleights, Roy has this tendency to take a sleight that he likes, and milk it for all it is worth in a single routine until it is dry. While this approach to creating routines can sometimes create very streamlined and interesting effects, the result is often just plain confusing and unmagical. For example, an effect titled “The Cannibal Cards” in Vol. 1 is a simple, direct Cannibal Cards effect using only the Second Deal over and over again. The effect is clear, the method is economical and very satisfying.

However, compare that to an effect titled “Fleeting Image” in Vol. 2, where Roy uses the Spread Half Pass over and over again to achieve what I can only describe a series of disconnected effects that are both hard to follow and meaningless. Two cards are selected, two other cards are used to sandwich one of the selections, then one of the sandwich cards moves to a different part of the deck, in the process changing into the other selection, before changing back into the indifferent card it was, before the magician produces that second selection from the pocket. Not only is the effect convoluted and unclear, the repeated use of the Spread Half Pass is often done at weird timings when there is little chance for misdirection.

Now, that’s not to say that these books don’t have any excellent tricks in them. Just to give two examples that I feel are particularly outstanding.

Jefferson’s Jest (Vol. 1): A variation on Alex Elmsley’s classic Point of Departure plot. A freely chosen card is openly placed in a plastic sleeve, which is then sandwiched between the two red Aces. The card then vanishes from the sleeve completely, leaving only the two red Aces.

Travelling Man (Vol. 2): A really great, simple handling for Dai Vernon’s Thought Transposition. A packet of red-backed Kings and a packet of blue-backed Kings are shown. A freely chosen King transposes with its counterpart in the other packet twice. The method is simple, the effect is clear and it really is my favourite version of this plot.

Hence, for these reasons, these books have remained on my shelf for the longest time. I rarely looked through them because of my initial bad impression of the tricks in them. I felt that as much as these books were touted as must-read classics, I just did not see the brilliance of Roy’s card magic.

And now, to end on a positive note.

While looking for books to review for FULLY BOOKED, I spotted these two books on my shelf and decided to give them another shot. And boy, was I correct to give them a second chance.

I am not sure if it is just because of my poor reading habits back then, or perhaps my taste in card magic has evolved over time, but upon a second reading, my opinion on these books have changed to a large extent. I still feel that quite a number of tricks are still too convoluted or too weak for my tastes, but I’m discovering more and more hidden gems the more I read. Even that 80% I had condemned now seem, upon a second review, much more redeemable and can be easily improved upon.

I wish to end by highlighting one of the more spectacular hidden gems that I had somehow missed on my first reading many years ago. It is a routine called “Travellers in Time” from Vol. 1. It is an absolutely brilliant take on the Triumph plot with probably the best take on the “Back in Time” type of presentation I have ever seen. It is also one of the rare tricks where the finale of the routine is not a colour separation of red and black cards, but actually a mixture of the reds and blacks.

I think there is a lesson to be learnt from all this - it is important to read magic books for seeds of ideas, and not always just for full routines. Because if you were to insist on trying to find tricks in The Complete Walton that you can lift off the pages and fit straight in your repertoire, you’ll be sorely disappointed for the reasons I have listed above. After all, these tricks may have worked well for Roy, but they won’t always fit your taste or performance style.

However, my current opinion of the tricks in these books is this: When the trick is good, it is really, REALLY good. Often, I’d go so far as to say it is simply the BEST version of that plot I’ve ever read in a book. The effect and method seems to just click together perfectly, and the magic is just beautiful. However, when the trick is not so good, it can be rather disappointing. Some can be improved on, but most of them are so dependent on some complicated method that the overall effect is just not worth it.

My suggestion, therefore, is to treat these books like a treasure hunt. Within the pages of these books are a lot of hidden gems that require careful reading and searching to uncover them all. You will have to learn to filter out quite a number of tricks that don’t fit your taste, but that’s kind of what to expect with large books like these. Learn to focus on the key ideas and concepts within each trick - it could be just a novel method using the faro shuffle, or maybe a simple twist on the presentation for a classic plot. Take these little seeds as inspiration for your own creations, and I think you will find these books to be an invaluable resource in your library.

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