Darwin's Inexpensive Illusions by Gary Darwin
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 1996)
Gary Darwin is the doyen of the Las Vegas amateur magic community, which now
numbers in excess of 10,000, or perhaps only seems to—or perhaps that's the number of
books he has written about the thumb tip. Here is an interesting entry into his sizable catalog of instructional material, being as it is a beginner's manual of illusion
technology. This might well be regarded as a companion volume to Grant's Victory
Carton Illusions, a manuscript which no doubt graces the shelves of every illusionist
who's ever built him- or herself an oddly decorated box in which to tightly stuff other
humans in hopes of deceiving the onlookers.
If you're a budding young conjuror and haven't yet got the bucks for that Johnny
Gaughan Flying rig, here's a good place to start. Well, okay, you won't learn about flying
here, but you'll be surprised by the range of material covered. Essentially what Mr.
Darwin has done is explore two timeless illusion principles, the Black Art table and the
"mummy illusion," in which "the illusionist wraps a man in a cloth and then unwraps
him to find that the man has changed into a lady" or other person.
Mr. Darwin applies these two principles to every standard illusion you could possibly
conceive of, and even a few that you couldn't. Thus, after several pages about the simple
technology and staging of the Black Art table, the author then begins to apply its
principle to various productions, vanishes, transpositions and transformations; you will
find applications here from the de Kolta Chair to shadow illusions to the Doll House, the
Artist's Dream, and even a levitation. He then proceeds to adapt the mummy illusion to
plots as diverse as the Vampire illusion, the Cremation, the Cargo Net illusion, the Sub
Trunk, even a sawing and, yet again, a levitation of sorts.
For the sheer quality of ideas and inspiration this is a worthwhile little manuscript, not
only to young magicians who may find this to be their first introduction to many of these
classic plots, but even to a working pro who needs to add something of size on stage or
for a special event, without adding too much weight and size (and expense) to his
Note that in many cases, while the idea of applying these two principles to a given
illusion is clever considering the proposed constraints—i.e., the cost and simplicity—
nevertheless, the reason many of these illusions rely on other methods is because those
methods are, frankly, superior. Also, one must point out that despite the quantity of
material presented to the reader, the instructions are scant in the extreme, and the
entire booklet of a mere 25 pages is hand-lettered. A trip to the magic shop will quickly
demonstrate that these are meager pickings for the price in comparison to even the most
mediocre of desk-top-published hardcover texts. This book will be worth it if you're
actually going to use some of these ideas, expensive if you're just going to read it for fun.
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