Effortless Card Magic by Peter Duffie

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 1997)

Peter Duffie is a prolific and inventive Scottish cardician who has produced 21 previous books, lecture notes and other solo works. His most recent work prior to this new book was the under-appreciated Duffie's Card Compulsions (Kaufman & Greenberg, 1995), notable not only for its unusual physical dimensions but for the most delightful illustrations to hit conjuring literature since Ricky Jay's Cards As Weapons.

Mr. Duffie points out in his preface that he agrees with the comment of Gordon Bruce (another worthy cardician of Scottish descent), that "There is no such thing as a self-working card trick." Yet while the author's definition of "self-working" appears to be rather narrow—an interpretation I applaud—his definition of "effortless" seems bewilderingly broad. In the same preface, the author claims that "there is not one difficult trick in this book," and he adds that some require the use of "a few basic moves."

Several questions spring to mind, however, with Mr. Duffie's latest book. Is there such a thing as effortless card magic? Should there be such a thing as effortless card magic? Is this a book of effortless card magic?

The answers: Nope. Negatory. Nada.

Once we acknowledge, with the author and others who have made the point before him, that every trick requires effort in practice, rehearsal, presentation and performance, then what is the distinction between self-working and effortless? If such diligence is necessary for any trick, even those that are sleight-free (in Ken Krenzel's wise parlance), then how can any one of these elements, much less any combination of them, be deemed "effortless?"

Nor do I understand why effortless magic—or any such endeavor—should be a desirable goal. In an essay in these pages some years ago I once quoted an ancient bit of wisdom: "Nothing easily gained is worth having." Effortlessness seems to me solely the goal of the lazy.

But the hell with life in general; is this issue relevant specifically to card magic? Well, it seems pretty clear to me that effortlessness in this context refers not so much to the effect of magic—all magic should look effortless, after all—but rather to method. And yet it is an old saw of conjuring that the best magic is driven by effect, not by method. Here we have an entire volume assembled not on the basis of effect, but of method. I'd settle for a book entitled "Pretty Okay Card Magic," if I at least knew the author was primarily interested in the effect!

Yet before I belabor this discussion any further—and before you think that my intent is to trash this book—STOP! Because in fact this is a good book with some fine magic, created by a qualified and creative author. But some of my favorite tricks in this book utilize triple lifts, quadruple turnovers, buckles from small packets, tabling a double card, the Braue Addition, the Double Undercut, the occasional Faro, and at least in one case even the use of the Pass is recommended. Needless to say, the Double Lift—one of the most difficult sleights to execute with complete deception and naturalness in all of card magic—is used heartily throughout the text. At one point we are even told to "Look at the audience and obtain a break below the top three cards," as if the instruction to "look" thereby renders such jiggery-pokery as effortless, much less deceptive. Such material is certainly not "sleight free," it is not even "semi-automatic" (to use Steve Beam's clever term), and even if these are so-called "basic moves," in the author's parlance, when did "basic" become a synonym for effortless? And so to my third question: Is this a book of effortless card magic? My answer is a resounding: Nada!

Brethren and sistren of the conjuring consuming community, please understand that the only people who will claim that magic is easy are those who have a vested interest (read dollars) in claiming so. Anyone who tells us that any kind of good, effective, entertaining, beautiful magic which is worth doing is anything akin to taking candy from a baby, falling off a log, or easy to master, is lying to us. Lying is a critically important element of our expertise; not only the ability to do it but also the ability to recognize when we are being done to. Now hear this: Not only is magic not easy as pie, as any baker will tell you, even pie isn't easy!

Now, having sufficiently examined the title of this book, let us briefly consider the remaining contents. Following a typical hilarious introduction by Bob Farmer and the author's preface, the book is comprised of 14 chapters containing a total of 78 entries. The first chapter, with four entries, contains a simple control and three simple false shuffle and/or cut procedures. These will be effective if executed casually and are worth the investigation of anyone doing memorized deck work. The remaining 74 items are all complete tricks, loosely organized into chapters around common themes, be it of effect (i.e., lie detectors, revelations, matching effects, etc.), or in some cases sources of inspiration (i.e., Hofzinser, Hummer). Many of the plots will be familiar to the knowledgeable card worker (those very readers who might be less than enamored of effortlessness), but there are novel plots here as well, and even in the known plot department, this is not simply a compendium of "how to accomplish any standard card plot with the use of just an Elmsley and/or Flushtration Count." These methods are clever and thoughtful and frequently interesting solutions to the problems posed.

Which again brings me back to my problem with some of this material: I like methods that are efficient. I don't like a lot of process in my tricks if I can help it. Reverse Faros induce in me symptoms of intense gastrointestinal distress, and Duck and Deal procedures make me feel faint. When I see such strategies mentioned, I turn the page immediately—that is, when I don't have to simply lie down. And so if you are interested in inventive solutions to a wide assortment of card problems wherein one of the stated conditions is simplicity of method regardless of its impact on the effect, then there is a great deal of material in these pages that you will find extremely stimulating. If you are, on the other hand, primarily interested in powerful card magic accomplished by the best available method, which may or may not at any given time be difficult, easy, and/or gimmicked, then you will still find material worthy of your time and attention in these pages, but you will have to look a little harder for it. This is a book that indisputably demonstrates the wonders that can be achieved with a minimum of technical ability (although if you've been watching magic on TV lately you already know that). And so I would like to tell you about novel plots like Torn, Folded, and Sealed, or Double-Stuck; potent miracles (50 percent of the time) like Gone; magician-foolers like The Short Deck Baffle; direct effects like Weird Image; elegant magic like Four Card Monte (which could have been titled, "Effortless, My Ass"); and clever methods that yield strong effects like The Diary of Delusion and An Interesting Use of That Principle. I'd like to tell you about Mr. Duffie's clever touches on low-tech methods like the Cross Cut Force or how to shuffle a Svengali Deck. I'd like to tell you about all these things in detail, because Peter Duffie is a nice guy and a fine magician and thinker and writer, and this is a totally okay book with some outstanding material—I'd like to tell you about all of that but if I did then all this would be an effortless experience for you, and how much would that be worth?

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardcover with dustjacket; 164 pages; more than 300 line drawings; 1997; Publisher: Kaufman & Company