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The Annotated Discovery Of Witchcraft Booke XIII by Stephen James Forrester

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 2000)


in 1997, Stephen Forrester undertook a 17-part series, published in the Australian magazine Genii's Magic Journal, examining a multitude of aspects of conjuring's most seminal text. Now Mr. Forrester has collected that series into a single volume for magic history buffs. Mr. Forrester reprints the famed 22-page conjuring section from Scot, along with several pages from other chapters that also address conjuring subjects, and provides commentary upon most every entry, summarizing and clarifying Scot's original text, and adding further historical context and commentary where he deems it appropriate to do so. Thus most of the many tricks are rendered readily accessible, and along the way we often learn how Scot's versions may have been repeated or varied, as the case may be, in later works, or how this material may have preceded or presaged later developments.

This is a worthy and useful task, but Mr. Forrester has also done significant research in other aspects of Reginald's Scot's life and work. Thus this volume begins—after an informative foreword by magic bibliophile Byron Walker, along with a preface and the author's own introduction—with a one-page list of "Some notable books on the witch-craft controversy in England (divided into "pro" and "con" stances), follows with "A short (one-page) biography of Reginald Scot," and then launches into a fascinating "Early Biography and References to Reginald Scot." In these four pages the reader will be rapidly convinced, if he or she wasn't already so, of the lasting importance of Scot's book, not only for its first publication of conjuring material in English, but for its standing as an important volume of Elizabethan literature, and in particular for its contribution to the ongoing debate of the time concerning witchcraft—a literally life-and-death subject. It is satisfying to note that magic's literature was birthed at the hands of a rational thinker and a genuinely brave moral crusader.

Next Mr. Forrester cites other authors who referred to Scot, both pro and con, in works published within the century following Scot's work. There follows a list of "authors mentioned by Reginald Scot in Book XIII:" a glossary of Old English words; and finally a brief discussion of "The Earliest English Conjuring Books After Scot," focusing primarily on Prevost's Clever and Pleasant Inventions, at which point the Annotated Discovery actually begins.

In the course of that annotation, Mr. Forrester often provides reprints of relevant materials from other texts, such as the cups-and-balls routine from Hocus Pocus Junior. He supplements the Scot material with graphic assistance, including reprints of illustrations from modern texts, photographs of Old English coins, and the reprinted frontispieces from numerous related volumes cited in the text, such as the Malleus Maleficarum, the 1486 "guide to witch-hunters and judges in the matters of identifying, prosecuting and executing witches."

He also occasionally provides references to related contemporary developments in magic, and here he occasionally seems to wander off the mark, revealing less expertise in some current matters than in those more historical in nature. Thus when discussing Scot's trick of using a knife to create the sound of an imaginary coin by secretly striking the butt end of the handle against a secretly palmed coin, Mr. Forrester then makes reference to David Williamson's Striking Vanish—which, while correctly summarized by the author, is of no relevance, whereas a reference to Mr. Williamson's routine, "Money Talks," would have been the correct item to mention, using as it does the same fundamental principle as did Scot. In discussing David Roth's Shuttle Pass he mistakenly credits Mr. Roth with the "flying" or Jumping Shuttle Pass, a variation credited to several sources including Danny Korem, but not claimed by Mr. Roth. When discussing the literature of coin magic, the author mentions Bobo's Modern Coin Magic and David Roth's Expert Coin Magic, but fails to include Kaufman's CoinMagic, which surely completes this trilogy of keystone 20th century works on the subject. The author claims that in the modern version of the Torn & Restored Thread, the thread is never given to the audience to break—while this is of course generally true, Gaetan Bloom takes quite a different approach in a masterful unpublished performance piece. These errors are not devastating—the book is primarily an academic and historical study—but clearly this is not a book on magic instruction, and when the author veers too far into this territory—whether in providing contemporary sleight-of-hand credits, or meandering too far down the path of cur-rent trick variations or modern uses by specific performers—he does neither himself nor the reader good service.

The author provides information on valuing rare books, including a detailed list of sales of copies of early editions of Scot's Discoverie, circa 1968 to the present, followed by a series of bar graphs indicating fluctuations in value of the 1584 and 1665 editions. Next appears a detailed three-page bibliography of "References to Reginald Scot" from 1587 to the present, no doubt an invaluable inclusion for future researchers, as is "A Bibliography of Reginald Scot" which follows. The book concludes with a series of indexes to people, Old English words, books, and finally tricks mentioned in the text.

There is little doubt that Mr. Forrester has provided valuable service to conjurors and historians alike by providing the fruits of his research, and as Byron Walker states in his foreword, "I can't imagine any reader of Scot not having a fuller understanding and appreciation of this pioneering text after studying his analysis."

The Annotated Discovery of Witchcraft Booke XIII • Stephen James Forrester • 8" x 11" hardbound • 108 pages • illustrated • 2000