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 baggage.

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. Note to the computer illiterate: You have four years left to make it into the 20th century.

8 - 1/2" X 11" saddle stitched; 25 pages; extensively illustrated; 1996; Publisher American Printing