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The Magic Of Micah Lasher by Micah Lasher

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

Micah Lasher is a bright and talented 15-year-old mage with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing a number of discussions about magic, and whom I have also enjoyed watching perform. Master Lasher is indeed a precocious and ambitious lad, and now provides evidence (along with Mssrs. Kaminskas and Kreskin) that anyone can produce a magic book; in this case, you need only be prepared to exploit your art and hobby before having had a chance to give much back to it, and have an aunt and uncle who are literary agents.

In discussing this book with a colleague recently, we addressed the fact that criticizing a book written by a 15-year-old is a losing proposition; your subject's supporters will simply jeer and point at you for beating up on a juvenile. This observation is not only obvious, it is absolutely correct; having duly noted it however, I decline to be so easily dissuaded from the necessarily unpleasant task at hand.

There's nothing wrong, in and of itself, with writing a book on magic for the public; a handful (note: I said handful) of great books have been written that way. But what is the purpose? It might be interesting to write a book that teaches a few old public domain standards as a hook for trying to create a more appreciative and discerning audience for magic; the intention would be much in line with the purpose for which we teach music in elementary and high school, even though we don't mean for everybody to become musicians. But uItimately, if one loves one's art, one must ask if one's work is a benefit to it and one's fellow practitioners? Or is one's work only a benefit to oneself?

In this light, the question comes to mind: What benefit does a 15-year-old have to bring to the art of magic? Beyond the exquisite wonders of passion, obsession, love and joy— very little indeed, and few of those special wonders are to be found in the careful if unimaginative pages of this book. Despite its title, there is not much here that belongs to Micah Lasher, and little if anything of worth that he has to give to his readers.

Yes, there are a few minor variants of tricks like Coins Across and a sandwich routine and the Cups and Balls, but these are the kinds of things that have no value to non-magicians; these are the kinds of things you offer to your peers in the hopes that they will in turn find value in them. By offering them to an audience that is unqualified to appreciate such "gifts," you merely cheapen them, as do you cheapen the value of these same items to those peers who might have previously appreciated them.

When I described this book recently to a magician friend who has met the author, my friend commented, "Well, I guess he must have written something interesting for kid magicians." But in fact, there is nothing here for or about "kid" magicians; there is little indication, between the cover photo and back cover blurb, that the author is indeed beneath the age of majority. There is in fact little of interest or value to anyone here, since the brief anecdotes and credits to Micah's friends and heroes will probably mean nothing to most readers, especially when there is not even a picture or drawing to accompany the quick mention of an obscure name, despite their frequently high standing in the world of magic.

This is, in the end, yet another of the pile of junk magic books for the public. They come, they are remaindered, and they go, until the next one comes along. Few are remembered, unless they become classics for magicians like Hoffman's Modern Magic, or Sachs' Sleight of Hand, or even more rarely, an instructional pop phenomenon for the public audience, like the Klutz Book of Magic. Or perhaps they have a distinctly original point of view, like Penn and Teller's How To Play With Your Food. Mr. Lasher's book is, of course, none of the above.

And so we can only grit our teeth and wait until it skims by what little notice it receives, and try not to be too troubled by the thrice-told misinformation that the Cups and Balls is depicted in hieroglyphs in a burial chamber in Beni Hassan, a notion of Milbourne Christopher's now discredited by Egyptologists; or by a description of the Classic Palm that comprises all of 65 words—the actual instructional information is in fact no more than a single 22-word sentence—as if anyone could learn from that; or a description of David Roth's handling of the Retention Vanish and Shuttle Pass in a book for the public, sleights which terribly few magician actually do well, much less a beginner; or an explanation of the Ramsay Subtlety, which surely every beginning magician buying an over-the-counter book needs to know, perhaps so as to ratchet up his or her understanding of what someone performing for them might be utilizing—or perhaps just so that we can be told that the author uses it; or the Charlie Miller move for his classic and glorious Cups and Balls penetration, the exposure of which is a disgusting and rapacious and purposeless exploitation of our art, unless you count profit and ego as worthy purpose.

Buy this book if you support the exposure of these things, certainly, but look for no plaudits from this magician. Nor should you expect plaudits from the likes of David Roth, one of the only living "contributors," whose work was used with credit, but without permission and, quite simply, against his will. Anyone who knew Charlie Miller knows what he would have thought of the plundering of his grave for this work; we can only guess what many of the others now dead might have thought. But why were the living not asked for their opinions, from the young magician who claims to love and respect his art? Perhaps because the answer could have already been guessed; perhaps because the answer was "No." Just because someone is complimented in the pages of this book, don't assume that it means they are pleased to be a part of it.

Master Lasher is probably going to go far in this world, possibly into law and politics; perhaps it is a valuable skill in politics to be willing to take from people and then expect them to thank you for it—and there will always be some who will—but there are other political skills that are far more honorable. Master Lasher is a charming enough youth whom I personally like, and so I am not so much angered by this book as I am saddened; this is a review of the book, not the boy. Perhaps someday he will be embarrassed by this book; perhaps someday he will even be mature enough to be ashamed. Perhaps someday he will give something back to magic, although it will take a long time for that ledger to be balanced. Perhaps someday he will have a son, to whom he will teach the deep meaning of the word, "hubris."

8 - 1/2" X 11" perfect bound; 219 pages; extensively illustrated; 1996; Publisher: Simon & Schuster