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Sleightly Tricky by John Shryock

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii July, 2005)


Mr. Shryock is a fresh-faced lad who, according to the back cover of his recent volume, has been performing close-up magic professionally since he was 16 years old, in restaurants, trade shows, conventions, cruise ships, and "many times at the world famous Magic Castle in Hollywood." Now he has apparently turned his young and as yet ungnarled hands to lecturing, equipped with an instructional video and this manuscript.

I'm not sure how long ago Mr. Shryock celebrated that fateful 16th birthday, but the event is likely still reasonably fresh in his memory. In that time Mr. Shryock has obviously devoted a great deal of enthusiasm and energy to his magic, and has managed to produce some reasonably good ideas in the process. There are 14 items in this booklet, all with cards and coins save a routine with the cups-and-balls. Most are variants of well-worn plots, including Cigarette Through Quarter, Reverse Matrix, a combined Triumph and Color Changing Deck, a triple-change Spellbound, a four ace revelation, and a multiple selection routine, a la Fechter, Eason, et al.

Some of these ideas are quite good, some of them are not, and some of them are generally in the range of acceptably sound but not terribly distinctive. Do we really need to see another assortment of one performer's choice of revelations in a multiple selection routine? Do we really need to see another reverse four card matrix, even if it does work acceptably well for the author (and considering David Arthur's eminently practical method in Kaufman's Coinmagic, which does not require a re-counting of the coins before the climax)? Is Vernon's Triumph actually improved by the addition of a color-changing deck climax, or might these two plots be best exploited separately—as Vernon himself did?

While I have my opinions in these matters—and you may already have guessed them— they are nonetheless interesting questions, the consideration of which can involve some complex and subtle thinking. This brings me to what I find most striking about the material in this manuscript. I find myself relatively unconcerned with whether this material is good, bad, or merely indifferent—all of these qualities apply to at least some of Mr. Shryock's ideas. However, the thought which struck me most strongly upon considering this material, and which continues to return to me since, is this: are both Mr. Shryock, and the community of magic, best served by his venture into the world of instructing and guiding other magicians?

I would propose that the answer to this question is no, but I do not say this as a damning criticism of the quality of his work. In fact, I must apologize to Mr. Shryock for appearing to single him out with these remarks, for the fact is they are applicable to countless other creative performers and instructors. Mr. Shryock's enthusiasm and energy fairly jump off the page. So does his youthful naivete. These attributes no doubt lend some charm to his performance, and quality to his thought. But is he qualified to lead us, and if so, where will he lead us to? And of perhaps greater concern to Mr. Shryock—where will he himself be led to in such a course of action?

Again, I do not mean to denigrate Mr. Shryock as a magician, much less as a person. But to be completely frank and clear about the matter, it does seem to me that Mr. Shryock, first and foremost, would be far better served as an artist by continuing to explore and refine his art in front of real audiences—say, for several decades— whereupon he quite likely will have much to say of great value if he was inclined to return to his colleagues and share his wisdom and experience with us. Performing and lecturing for magicians will barely improve his performance skills, if at all, and in fact they may well suffer by the experience. The point, again, is not whether his ideas are good or bad—or even which ideas are good and which are bad—but rather, would that Mr. Shryock held his instructional tendencies in check until such time that he above all could tell the difference, and then explain it to us. I assure him that, given twenty years more or less, some of his best ideas will remain in his repertoire and likely be improved, while some will fall away as he discovers their flaws for himself. But I offer an important caution: if his future contemplations are influenced as much or more by the community of amateur magicians and lecture audiences than by the public and perhaps masters older and more experienced than Mr. Shryock, then he runs the risk of never achieving the requisite wisdom to be able to best make those choices for himself. And, given all of these implications for Mr. Shryock's personal future, the rest of the magic community must consider these issues for ourselves, as well. Who shall we choose to guide us and be our mentors? Granted, the greatest artists—the greatest human beings regardless of specific pursuits—remain students of a sort throughout their lives. But mightn't we best draw our inspiration from such "students" who long ago graduated, rather than those who have barely completed the fundamental course of study?

Specifically, it would be nice if the author learned that it is Tom Ogden, Fred Kaps, and Eddie Fechter—not Ogdon, Kapps, or Fletcher. Mr. Shryock's use of the Vernon Depth Illusion (aka "Tilt") would no doubt be improved—as would the reader's—if he was aware of Mr. Vernon's advice of lowering the deck rather than raising the card when getting into position. While the author's crediting is clearly sincere, it is just as clearly naive—he tells us what he knows, but at times he does not know enough. While it is perhaps gracious to acknowledge David Roth's Hanging Coins in Mr. Shryock's trick by the same name, in fact, the idea of hanging an invisible coin goes back to John Ramsay, and what made Mr. Roth's seminal routine so distinctive (and revolutionary) was the technique and concealment, which allowed for the display of the apparently empty hands as the coins vanished. Mr. Shryock's entry is a far cry from this, if he stopped after the third vanish and asked his audience where the coins are, my money would be on the likelihood of them offering a correct answer. On the other hand, Mr. Shryock gives us his routine for the Cups and Balls, designed to solve some problems unique to the particular set of miniature cups that Mr. Shryock uses. Apparently one is unable to easily conceal three balls under one of these cups, and this presented some challenges to Mr. Shryock in developing his routine. (While he does not specifically identify the cups, I believe them to be an interesting set of copper cups manufactured in Italy, and imported at one time by Bob Little; while each cup is only 2-1/2 inches high, they will accept a one-inch ball between nested cups, and a 1-1/2-inch large load. Whether this routine will be of great use to anyone not owning a similar set of cups remains an open question.) While most of the elements in Mr. Shryock's routine are adapted from classic sources, he has solved his problems effectively, and also includes the rarely seen sequence wherein three balls under the center cup magically separate into one under each cup.

Mr. Shryock has gently offered us a few pages of ideas that, like any original idea, he no doubt has great personal affection for. I honestly do not wish to demean or dismiss his efforts. Clearly, they are sincere. They no doubt serve him well in performance, and provide useful fodder in his exchanges and encounters with other magicians. But there are issues one must consider before draping one's self, or any one else for that matter, in the mantle of teacher and guide. Were magicians on both sides of the lecturer's, podium a bit more cautious in these matters, the benefits would accrue all around.