The Secrets of Stage Conjuring by Robert-Houdin

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

Often considered the father of modern conjuring, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin was the author of several works, most notably the landmark Secrets of Conjuring and Magic in 1868. Robert-Houdin was at work on a sequel at the time of his death in 1871. Later the existing material was assembled, translated and annotated by Professor Hoffman (Angelo Lewis), the author of the classic standards Modern Magic, More Magic, and Later Magic (amongst others), and published posthumously. Long out of print and difficult to obtain, Magico has now produced a quality reprint that puts the work within reach of any interested student of the art.

Whereas "Secrets..." concerned itself primarily with sleight-of-hand, this is a text about stage magic. The material will be of interest to performers and historians alike. There is a detailed description of Robert-Houdin's famous Paris Magic Theater (in which the author is careful to point out his improvements over previous standard designs and techniques); an extensive chapter on the pseudo-spiritualists the Davenport Brothers; several stage routines including The Enchanted Portfolio and details on the legendary Light and Heavy Chest (with which Robert-Houdin aided the French Government in putting down the Algerian rebellion); several illusions relying upon the mirror principle; and perhaps most noteworthy of all, probably the most detailed examination of the Pepper's Ghost illusion to be found anywhere in the literature. Anyone who has been to the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World will attest to the timeless beauty of this effect, and while this lengthy discussion is not the final word on the subject, it is nevertheless extremely thorough, and reflects Robert-Houdin's fascination with and mastery of the mechanics of illusion technology and principles. This is a highly readable work that has been very well produced, consistent with Magico's previous fine reproductions of classic conjuring texts.

5" X 7" Hardcover with dust jacket; 252 pages; 35 line drawings; Published by: Magico