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Hocus Pocus Junior by Unknown

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


In the past year, I have obtained Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft [page 190], Ady's Candle in the Dark [page 305], Pinchbeck's The Expositor [page 237], and now, hold on to your hats, Hocus Pocus Junior—and, remarkably enough, I have not spent a fortune. What a grand time it is to be a fan of magic books! The book that has become known as Hocus Pocus Junior was first published in 1634, and while like many books to come it drew heavily from its predecessor, Scot's Discoverie, nevertheless this is one of my very favorite texts of this era. I could not be more thrilled that I now have the opportunity to peruse it at my leisure, whereas my previous experience with it was restricted to limited visitation at the Library of Congress. While a hard-to-find 1950 reprint of an eighth edition does exist, this is the first reprint of a 1634 edition (provided by the Henry E. Huntington Library).

Although Hocus Pocus Junior was notably preceded not only by Scot's Discoverie but then also by Samuel Rid's Art of Jugling in 1612, and Hocus Pocus Junior also cribbed heavily from both books just as subsequent texts would copy from all three titles, nevertheless Hocus Pocus Junior exerted significant influence on the literature of conjuring throughout the rest of the seventeenth century and beyond. Publisher Steve Burton, in an accompanying commentary, posits a reason: The Scot and Rid works were "written from the point of view of an observer," while Hocus Pocus Junior was "the first English book written by from the viewpoint of a performing magician, amateur though he may have been." In support of this thesis, Mr. Burton points out that while the explanations of the Cups and Balls in Scot and Rid were "terse and have the performer working the effect with the hollow bases of candlesticks," Hocus Pocus Junior describes a complete and logical routine utilizing cups similar to those used by some magicians today, and are accompanied by relatively thorough illustrations of props and their positions (but, typical of illustration of the period, not of the accompanying sleights). Even here conjurors had set out upon the long evolution of solving problems unique to conjuring illustration, for example rendering the cups transparent to clarify for the reader the location of their otherwise concealed contents.

The book is full of interesting magic. A card-in-impossible-location plot consists of the vanishing of a card which then appears inside a walnut, to be cracked by the audience. Rather than vanish the card from the deck as we might do today, the magician rolls the card up and apparently vanishes it from his hands (in "the usual manner convey it away"). This may not be as odd as it first sounds, since the writer seems to have been incorporating a nod toward internal consistency; that is, the card was first rolled up and then vanished, hence the card then reappears in the same rolled-up condition in which it first began. Of course, while sixteenth century audiences were no doubt satisfactorily deceived with a simple force and the planting of an unsigned duplicate, expert contemporary magicians prefer the use of signed cards before riskily challenging the tenets of the Too Perfect Theory.

Especially notable herein is the debut of the Cap and Pence (a.k.a. the Stack of Quarters), presented here as the effect of the Coins Through the Table (a single coin through table appears in Scot). The routine is accompanied by a delightfully bawdy tale of an encounter between the magician, the operator of a lodging house who doubles as a "madame," and a prostitute. In brief, the magician first asks the lodging manager how much it will be for food, drink and lodging, and asks the prostitute how much for her "entertainment" services as well. "Three crowns," is each operator's reply. (Not corrected for inflation.) The magician then proposes a bet of sorts, asking how much will it be if he can successfully pass his six crowns through the table. Both targets reportedly reply that they will offer their respective services for free if the magician can accomplish the impossible task. You can guess the outcome; contemporary performers might wish to conclude with the punchline, "Your place or mine?" It should be noted that the author relies on extensive use of the lap as a servante here.

Other entries include the Ring On Stick; Cut and Restored Rope (or "tape" in this instance); the use of a coin secretly sewn into the corner of a cloth to effect a vanish; the Rattle Bar principle (applied to small bells); the Coloring Book (from Scot); a waxed copper/silver coin (again from Scot); the barehanded vanish of a full glass of beer (a possible precedent to the Glass Through Table, minus the paper form); and the now almost unknown but until only recently quite popular Bonus Genius, the vanish of a small wooden doll. There is a betcha relying upon the typically deceptively careful use of language, and some other various bits and stunts intended to "procure laughter," including the kind of thing that might have appealed to Dick Himber: How about filling a walnut shell with ink and inducing the victim to bite down on it, thereby spraying himself with the contents? What a kidder, that H.P. Jr.! And the book concludes with an offhand, apparently dismissive acknowledgment of the many uses of confederacy, and the remark that the author will "leave them that intend to practice to their further invention."

Steve Burton closes this volume with an 11-page commentary. A significant portion of this material addresses the oft-raised question of whether Hocus Pocus Junior was actually intended as the title of the book, or in fact refers to the author. While acknowledging that he does not consider himself to be "any kind of authority on the matter," Mr. Burton then offers some excellent analysis of the issue, and concludes that Hocus Pocus Junior was most likely the author of a book entitled either The Anatomieof Legerdemain or The Art of Legerdemain Discovered, depending upon your interpretations of the evidence. While I do not entirely agree with all of Mr. Burton's supporting evidence, nevertheless I do accept his conclusions. This book has likely become known today by its author's stage name, rather than by its intended title.

Whatever the title, and whatever the author's name, that distinguished mage provided us with a truly wonderful book, and Mr. Burton has done a superb job of reproducing it. Printed on 60-pound acid-free paper, the publisher has painstakingly cleaned up the aged type, doubtless a formidable task. While I'm not completely thrilled with the textured vinyl cover—I would have liked cloth, and a quick look at the Stevens Magic production of The Expositor would, I propose, serve to support such a preference— nevertheless the overall production, complete with gold stamping and marbled endpapers, is to be commended. Especially notable is that, after all of this hard work, Mr. Burton is limiting this edition to a signed and numbered run of only 300 copies, at the relatively bargain price of only $60.00, a value that can only go up given the quantity. (Note that a deluxe edition of only 25 copies is available for $150.00 plus $3 p&h, if any still remain.) Thank you, Hocus Pocus Junior, whoever you were, and thank you Mr. Burton, for a fine job done by all.

"Legerdemaine is an operation, whereby one may seeme to worke wonderfull, impossible, and incredible things by agilitie, nimblenesse, and slightnesse of hand. The parts of this Art are principally two. The first is in the conveyance of Balls, Cards, Dice, Money and etc. The second is in Confederacie."Hocus Pocus Junior

5" X 7" hardbound w/gold stamping 72 pages; 22 woodcut illustrations; 1997; Publisher: Steve Burton Magic