The Complete Eye Openers plus Supreme Mental Discernment by R.W. Hull
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2006)
Ralph Hull may have been a professional magician for only six years before giving up that career for a job in the family pottery business, but he remained an enthusiastic amateur throughout his life, publishing ingenious card magic and creating marketed effects that continue their presence amid the foundations of modern card magic to this very day. In Hilliard's Greater Magic, his "Tuned Deck," a terrific six-phase routine that subtly exploits the use of a key card, warrants the attention of any contemporary cardician, and his "Pop-Eyed Eye-Popper" deck remains a staple of prepared force packs. Paul Gordon has now gathered, reset, and reprinted three of Hull's original manuscripts: Eye-Openers (1932); More Eye-Openers (1933); and the single-trick manuscript, Supreme Mental Discernment (possibly 1932 or thereafter).
Following an introduction by Jon Racherbaumer, Eye-Openers includes 10 entries, and the sequel text presents another 14 items. All of this card magic makes for fascinating deck-in-hand reading, albeit that the minimal illustrations (typical of the time), the left-handed instructions, and the uneven prose, will admittedly serve as challenges to those who lean toward one-trick DVDs as a preferred form of instruction. But such short attention span students will then miss out on delights like "Hull's Eye-Popper," a multi-phase Ambitious Card routine, which also includes the description of Hull's excellent take on an Ellis Stanyon false Overhand Shuffle, and which I have used regularly for years. "Hull's Marvelous Card Prediction" is just that, an amazing prediction of three chosen cards under what amounts to test conditions; the ingenious and subtle principles at work here will be of interest to any mentalist inclined to use playing cards. And "Topsy-Turvy Cards" is a multi-phase routine with a reversed card; while there are better specific sleights available today, Hull's approach to routining, and to creating an effect that apparently takes place in the spectator's hands, is full of sound thinking.
More Eye-Openers begins with a typically ornate fore-word from John Northern Hilliard. This batch of material includes a fine impromptu trick entitled "Magic Touch Versus Mental Thought," in which the performer ends up removing a thought-of card from a deck held behind his back, before the card is named aloud by the spectator; the idea here is an old but still worthy one. "Which Card Left" is essentially a sucker trick done with jumbo cards that could be very effective for children and is easy to do. "Hull's Never Miss Card Trick" is another rollicking multi-phased routine in which a spectator's card is repeatedly located, depending on his stated preference, essentially in "any position in the deck that (he) may suggest." This is a "jazzing" kind of routine using classical tools that will always deliver entertaining magi-cal appeal for those who possess the requisite technical and performance skills. But classical tools and older methods aside, Hull's handling of "The New Torn and Restored Card" is as good as anything out there in this post-Hollingworth "Reformation" age. It's a smart routine that, while not easy, delivers a remarkably convincing effect of a torn-and-restored card that has been signed by a spectator.
This reprinted collection concludes, as mentioned above, with Hull's one-trick manuscript of Supreme Mental Discernment. The 10 detailed pages of description do a worthy job of exploring what is 'n essence Dai Vernon's "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." While Mr. Racherbaumer's fore-word includes late descriptions of the Vernon trick as part of a select list of references, it is important to note that this is actually Hull's take on and reportage of Vernon's trick, and this description was the latest of a number of versions that Hull described. In the original manuscript, Mental Discernment (circa 1930), Hull wrote, "The originator of the experiment invariably gains the information, as many will testify who have seen him perform it." Note that he did not phrase this in the first person, despite the fact that in his writings (and throughout the Eye Opener manuscripts) he routinely referred to his own experience performing the trick being described; in "Mental Discernment" he also continued to refer to the "performer" in the third person as "he," and also to the "originator" throughout the description, a wording he eventually veered away from in the later version reprinted here by Mc Gordon. In his subsequent set of revised instructions, Hull continued to refer specifically to "the originator," stating that "The originator knows of no one who has been able to figure out the principle involved," and "The originator of this feat has performed this hundreds of times with perfect success." In the revised instructions Hull changed this slightly to read, "The writer has performed this hundreds of times and has never been detected," now referring to himself as the writer, but not as the originator. And then in Hull's Mental Discernment Improved, Hull continued to refer to the originator, clearly as someone other than himself.
That mysterious "originator" was of course Dai Vernon, and reports of Vernon's early experiments along these lines reached Max Holden's column in The Sphinx which many magicians (including Charlie Miller) watched closely in an attempt to discern Vernon's creations as early as 1927. (Indeed, David Ben informs me of an unpublished letter to Charles Maly, dated March of that same year, reporting on Vernon's performance of the effect before several magicians attending a recent S.A.M. convention, likely the same place Holden first witnessed the trick.)
Indeed, in this later version at hand, Hull begins his description as follows: "This is not a trick in the real sense of the word. Rather it consists of an ingenious method of learning the name of a card mentally selected by any member of your audience, without any knowledge on the part of this person, or anyone else that this knowledge has been imparted to you." That is a perfect description of the essence of Vernon's distinctive breakthrough, which Vernon and Hull, among others subsequently continued to explore. The actual procedure of how to begin the trick that is, precisely how the selection is made and how to reveal the selection at the conclusion, is invariably up for grabs. But the concept of the method what Mr. Racherbaumer proposes be dubbed "Restricted Choice, combined with Strategic Elimination" is pure Vernon, inspired, as was often the case, by Erdnase and as good an example of his original genius, and lasting impact, as any.