Big Friday sale

The Complete Dungeon by Anthony Owen

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 1996)


The Dungeon, described by its editor in its final issue as a "small circulation scandal sheet," was published from 1993 through 1995. The "scandal" part likely refers to the editor and his collaborators' hell-bent intention to set their youthful clarity-of-vision on one and all, irrespective of rank or fame, and tell all in their fearless, if not always deathless, prose. The "sheet" part may have referred to the low-rent production values; one wouldn't have wanted to mislead anyone by using a three-syllable oversell like "magazine."

Mr. Owen and his co-conspirators— perhaps a more apt term than "collaborators"—did a fair job of poking fun at the Magic Establishment and calling whatever they saw as they saw it, no doubt raising some eyebrows and blood pressure readings in Merry Old England during their brief ranting reign. I think this is a generally a good thing, wherever it tends to take place. But then, when I spot some punked-out adolescents coming my way, hair spiked to the sky in a ROYGBIV array, adorned with an assortment of metal objects punctured and poked through various parts of their anatomy, I smile inwardly, delighted by the endless variety of life, especially the kind motivated by youth determined to achieve distinction and offense all in the same breath. When I was in my late teens I was frequently affronted, insulted, and even occasionally spit on for my long hair and antiwar armband, and I have little doubt I'd be merrily puncturing and tattooing myself were I under twenty today. If, on the other hand, you are the type to mutter and grumble to yourself when faced with such life-affirming displays, you will definitely want to pass this baby by. Grab your copy of Tops, Grandpa, and take a nap.

Not that there's any body-disfigurement within these lively pages, or at least none that I could find, try as I might. On the other hand, this is a journal which managed to produce sentences like these, from the cursor of Associate Editor (and "real person," i.e., non- magician) Dianna Moylan: "Then came Paul Daniels, a small man who never ceased reminding us of his size. I knew that he must be good, because everyone said so, but his attitude to his audience has always made me cringe. I don't need to be condescended to, and nor do any of the hapless victims he seems to devour as part of his act. Is this blasphemy? Am I the only person who finds Mr. Daniels tacky and faintly unpleasant?" Well... no, but that's quite beside the point; the fact that this appeared in a British journal is the point, and well-made at that. Imagine reading a similar review of David Copperfield in the pages of Genii.

There were ten issues of the Dungeon produced, ranging in length from 42 to 74 pages each, filled with an assortment of commentary, tricks, vitriol, reviews, rhetoric, interviews, and the like. There are close to a hundred varied tricks here, predominantly close-up, without an overdose of card material. The tricks sometimes require a little effort to extract, as the illustrations are mostly minimal unless provided by outside contributors, but there is material from Jack Avis, Peter Duffie, Roy Walton, David Williamson, Stephen Tucker, Dan Harlan, Guy Hollingworth and many more, both better and lesser known.

It's the commentary, dialogue, and rant-n-roll debate that is the most fun in these pages, along with—dare I say it—some of the humor. There is a running series of the Bluffer's Guide to Magic that is generally a joy to read for its steady supply of universally cruel truths. Here are some samples from The Bluffer's Guide To Winning Magic Competitions, courtesy of Anthony Owen: "Firstly, don't do anything that might fool the judges. Occasionally this is very tough when they know so little, but it is a must.... If you overhear anybody say 'Of course we know how it is done, but real people wouldn't,' you are in with a chance. ... To win an originality competition or prize, steal something from anyone who is not a magician. Therefore, it is outside the audience's and judges' frame of reference." You get the idea.

There's also plenty of more serious and thoughtful commentary, including one of the better essays on exposure that I've had the chance to read, from Lewis Jones. He writes, "In any intellectually respectable discipline, theories and hypotheses are put to the test, to find out whether they are true or false. In magic, mere dogma prevails."

Some of my favorite material in these pages consists of in-depth interviews with the likes of Alex Elmsley, Ali Bongo, Chris Power (of British rag, Opus), and perhaps my favorite, a joint interview with Jay Marshall and George Johnstone, a delight from start finish. These interviewers were often willing to ask unusual questions, and what's more, print the unexpected answer.

Interestingly enough, Frank Joglar makes a series of appearances in the pages of the Dungeon. No, Milbourne Christopher—like the Dungeon— is still dead, but in the first issue it is pointed out that some of the reviews and commentary in the Joglar columns in Hugard's were contributed by several of Christopher's friends, in order to cover events that he could not attend, and "to throw off the scent of his identity." Dungeon took up this idea and ran four anonymous Joglar columns (the four contributors are now identified in the master index). One of these columns, by Al Smith, discussed the famed Magic Circle in unflattering, unrestrained terms: "What possible attraction does the Magic Circle— as is—have for anybody with the interests of magic at heart; as opposed to magic politics ...a fusty old fashioned organization tucked away in some forgotten part of yesterday." Joglar lives!

"Magicians are super sensitive to the slightest criticism, but I have always felt that if I wasn't writing what I honestly felt then there was little point in doing it. Most magic magazines prefer to stick to the old 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything...' policy. These tend to be published by magic dealers living in fear of upsetting their customers. The Bluffer is advised that these magazines are worth subscribing to so that you can quote the great reviews of your indifferent convention performances."—The Bluffer's Guide to Magic Magazines, The Dungeon

Okay, I admit I had more fun reading this than I thought I would at first glance, and probably had more fun than I should have. I take the time and space to share it with my readers for your pleasure because few of you will ever probably get to see it otherwise. Here's the bad news: The Complete Dungeon sells for $200 (postpaid—now that's funny). I did have fun reading this, but I would have to have a great deal more fun than this to shell out $200. (I live near Times Square and the strolling hostesses down the block will join you on a "date" for about $25—or so I'm told.) Neither the content nor the production values justify this price, I'm afraid, and the "production values" consist of gold stamping on the book's hardcover spine, and about a ream of extremely cheap paper. I imagine Mr. Owen is going after the collector market, as he assures us that only 100 signed and numbered copies will be produced, and that "no more will be produced when they are sold and publication rights will not be sold to another publisher for future editions." So there. Maybe I can take my copy down to the street corner and trade it in.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound; 595 pages; some line drawings; no date; Publisher: Dynamic FX