Jinx Companion by Craig Conley, Gordon Meyer & Fredrick Turner
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2011)
Considering the overwhelming popularity of mentalism these days, I wonder how manyself-styled mentalists, professional and amateur alike,have read much of the Jinx, the legendary journal produced by Ted Annemann from 1934 through 1941, until his death by suicide in January of 1942. Surely most of them have read Annemann's Practical Mental Effects,much of which was drawn from the journal's pages.Sure, you've all heard of it, but ...
Three fans of the Jinx decided to spend a year reading the entirety of the journal, engaging in an ongoing discussion throughout the adventure (via a private weblog). When they were done they had amassed some 40,000 words, which they decided was a foundation for a book. "An additional 35,000 words and nine months later, in October 2010, we privately published One Jinxed Year," as they explain in the introduction to the volume at hand. In turn, with further work assisted by Lawrence Hass (formerly of Muhlenberg College, where he created and shepherded the Art and Theory in Magic program), they created The Jinx Companion. "Part reader's guide, part personal journal, in these pages you'll find the items that resonated with us and several explorations that we were inspired to pursue."
It's clear that the result of their labors is by no means an exhaustive review or annotation of Annemann's journal. Rather, it is a personal and subjective exploration by definition eccentric, not unlike its subject—no claims are made beyond this. But these collaborators, while not serving up a definitive or authoritative work, have certainly turned out an interesting one. With a typographic and illustrative design that echoes and respects the original Jinx, they look at highlights based on a catalog of categories: "Jinx Debutants," for example, include first publication of Stewart James's "Miraskill" and "Sefalajia," Vernon's "Brainwave Deck," and indeed, "Pseudo-Psychometry."
Other categorized chapters include Living-and-Dead tests, Forcing, Forgotten Rope Tricks, Bar Betchas, Hidden Gems, Emcee Magic, and Handkerchiefs. Another section includes categories that have more to do with distinctive editorial and stylistic elements of the magazine, including Masthead Secrets, Annemann's Editrivia column, Comedy Stylings, Trivia (about the magazine) Stumpers, Hollywood Celebrities (some of those who published pet tricks in the Jinx included the film stars Barbara Stanwyck and James Stewart, among others), and a lengthy section of truisms ("There are many who do tricks, but there are few magicians." Another: No art is safe in the hands of one who is merely looking for his bread and butter in the practice of it." Go write that a hundred times on your spirit slate.).
A third section includes categories such as Self-Workers, Trick Decks, Smoke, Mirrors, Transparent Tape, Two-Person Mind Reading, Cards-Across, Coin Magic, Coded Messages, Full Acts, Stacked Decks, and frankly, more, more, and still more.
But more importantly than these lists, which are provided to help communicate a sense of the contents more than the specifics, what is most interesting and, in my estimation, valuable, is that these authors are not doing the work for you. This is no "world's greatest" or "best of or "easy to master" kind of "we do the work so you don't have to" project. Rather, it's an approach that is designed to inspire and assist you in doing the best part yourself, which is the firsthand explanation. And so, in these pages you will not find the methods of the referenced tricks. In some cases, you may not even entirely find the effect. You get some highlights and some things to look for and some pointers and guides and such, you will be lured, supported, encouraged, and intrigued but you will have to actually go to the pages of the magazine to find out what's good about these ideas and why they are being recommended to you.
At a recent convention I saw a marvelous lecture by Levent about the inestimable value of reading old magic books, among other reasons to find thousands of tricks that are perfectly serviceable but that no one else is doing. Similarly, I recall Penn Jillette often remarking that Teller spends a great deal of his time reading old magic books, for similar reasons. You can get your hands on the Jinx any number of ways these days, including online and on CD-ROM, as well as bound hardcover sets. Regardless of whether you agree with the artistic sensibilities and tastes of the authors of this book, they are to be commended for being such enthusiastic readers. And as a longtime book critic, I can say this with absolute confidence about the Jinx Companion: If it gets new readers, or old readers reading again, then I'm surely for it. This is like taking a jungle safari with a guide who loves the terrain. It's a trip you shouldn't miss.