Card Stories by Ariel Frailich
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 1996)
In the preface to this thoughtprovoking book, the author, Ariel Frailich, cites those
creators whom he says have "dared to question our long-held views on magic," including
Eugene Burger, Robert E. Neale, Juan Tamariz, Rene Lavand, Peter Samelson and Punx.
That is an impressive list of magical thinkers and stylists, and if, like me, you too have
enjoyed the work of these distinguished authors, then you will doubtless find this
volume of interest.
The book contains descriptions of 17 card routines, all with complete details of handling
and, most importantly here, presentation. Many of the plots will doubtless be familiar to
most close-up card workers, including The Collectors, Point of Departure, Ambitious
Card, Card to Mouth, Cannibal Cards, and even the Insurance Policy.
Mr. Frailich's taste in methods is reasonably eclectic, and so you will find material here
that is mostly in the reach of the average sleight-of-hand worker, but an occasional item
may sweep you into waters demanding intermediate skill. The author's approach to
credits seems sincere if sometimes naive: Lin Searles' Cannibal Cards is credited to Roy
Walton; a handling of a spread cull control seems to essentially duplicate one of Frank
Simon's approaches that was described in Earl Nelson's Variations (now sadly out of
"Worry and fear are part of the human experience as much as joy and
laughter are; just check any movie listing and you'll see plenty of both."—Ariel Frailich, Card Stories
But what is most interesting is Mr. Frailich's constant attempts to bring new and
interesting stories and presentational approaches to these familiar props, and these
attempts will provide much useful fodder for the thoughtful reader. Thus the hoary
Insurance Policy, for example, becomes a lesson in acting, and not simply the revelation
of a forced card. Much of the magic here is far more interesting than the Insurance
Policy, so don't let that put you off. The author is serious about his card magic, but the
Insurance Policy is perhaps one of the author's most notable contributions, because in
fact he has done nothing but adapt the standard presentation to himself, and carefully
thought about what is required to successfully present it as a piece of theater. And when
it comes right down to it, that isn't nothing, it's merely everything.
Those of us who wrestle with these kinds of problems on a regular basis will find the
usual range of solutions here, and readers will thus be faced with the usual round of
questions: How do we feel about presentations in which the cards are personified? Do
stories always improve performance, or can they sometimes get in the way of the effect?
Does a skillful location of aces and kings work best as a story, or as a direct
demonstration of skill? Does a miracle like the Benzais Card Through Table benefit by
an accompanying story about spies, or does it distract from the purity of the magical
Of course, while these are terribly important questions, and while Mr. Frailich does a
good job of presenting the material to the reader in a useful and instructive manner,
there are no clear answers to any of them. Some of the greatest and most famous
performances in card magic personify cards, as have some of the worst. Stories often
improve the performance of card tricks, but the author concludes his book with an item
he describes as "not only the best trick in the book, but the best trick in my entire
repertoire." And the only thing this trick lacks is... a story. Go figure.