Circle Without End by Edwin A Dawes & Michael Bailey
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2006)
Speaking of the Magic Circle centenary, in honor of that noteworthy milestone, the Circle has produced this beautiful book, providing a thorough accounting of the organization's history, from its founding in London up to the present. Following lists of officers and honored members, the book opens with a section of pro-files of the 10 men who have served as presidents of the Circle, beginning of course with the legendary David Devant, up to and including the current president, the veteran professional magician, Alan Shaxon. Next comes the book's lengthiest portion, describing the 100-year history of the Circle, written by the eminent magic historian, Eddie Dawes. This typically impeccable Dawsian account takes us through those earliest meetings with Devant et al; the birth of The Magic Circular, now the longest-running magic journal extant; and stories of Circle members and officers featuring notables like Nevil Maskelyne, Nate Leipzig, Louis Nikola, Ottakar Fischer, Edward Victor, Edward G. Brown, Sydney Clarke, Lewis Davenport, Cecil Lyle, Geoffrey Buckingham, David Nixon, Robert Harbin, and, well, on and on; this is merely a brief sampling of the Who's Who that has comprised the Circle's long and colorful history.
The story also includes delicate mention of various peccadilloes and amusing oddities in that history, such as the Circle's long very long resistance to the admission of women (despite the fact that the medium and eventual professional entertainer Anna Eva Fay was an early "Lady Associate"), and its obsession with exposure, which, while accomplishing little (the Masked Magician special aired in the UK with great success), managed to put the organization in the embarrassing position of forcing no less than David Devant perhaps the greatest magician England has ever produced, as well as a founder of the Circle and its first president—to resign. Twice. For those looking for such entertaining turns of a more recent nature, there is the case of Anthony Owen, the youngest editor of the Magic Circular (you can read about his contributions in that role on page 100), being forced to resign from the Circle in 2003 for being, well, a bad boy or something (you can read about that on page 75). And note that the current editor of the Circular is Genii alumnus Matt Field good show, old boy!
Subsequent chapters, contributed both by Professor Dawes, Circle past-president Michael Bailey, and several other writers (and I would have preferred seeing their names in the table of contents rather than only finding them buried at the end of each chapter) examine the intersection of the Circle with British Royalty (a subject of endless fascination to the natives which leave some of us Yanks scratching our heads; by the way, the famous remark attributed here to Sir Paul McCartney was actually spoken by John Lennon); the history of the Magic Circular, the tale of the lengthy quest for permanent headquarters for the club, which concluded with the magnificent quarters it inhabits today; the Circle's muse-um and the marvelous collection it houses and displays; the Circle library, a fabulous resource for members; a chapter about the many and varied public performances the Circle has presented over the years; magic on television that the Circle has been involved with, be it directly or indirectly; British stamps produced with the support of the circle that commemorate magic; the Magic Circle in the media and the news; accountings of club awards; Circle members who have won contests both within and without (such as FISM); the Circle's "Young Magicians Club"; the business structure of the Circle's foundation and operations; and finally a list of "one hundred mile-stones" in the Circle's history.
Above all, what renders this book a treasure is not merely the detailed record of the Circle (which at moments, I confess, can read like the world's longest Ring Report and not unlike those accounts in the back pages of the Linking Ring, will in parts doubtless be primarily of interest to those who were there in the first place, checking to see if they are mentioned). Rather, it is the physical production of this book, designed by Anna Christensen, that is simply fabulous and a pleasure to browse. Page after page is filled with gorgeous images, beautifully reproduced in vivid colors on heavy glossy paper. Photos of the new headquarters, of memorabilia, posters, books, of the museum ... these are all outstanding, as is the overall design and layout. The price may appear high for a paperback at $65, one wants a book to last but keep in mind that every page is in color, on heavy glossy stock. The result is a beautiful and evocative tour through a century of British's venerable magic club.