The Tarbell Study Guide by Harlan Tarbell

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

Steve Burton appears to have dedicated himself to exploring and spreading the work of Harlan Tarbell. His research was the basis for Tarbell Volume 8, and Mr. Burton subsequently published The Tarbell Companion last year (reviewed in The Tarbell Companion). Now Mr. Burton has reconstructed a guide that enables the student to approach the Tarbell Course as originally intended, namely, as a step-by-step guided tour through the art of conjuring. Mr. Burton points out in a letter to me that "When you were through with the course you received a diploma. I can only imagine the satisfaction the students must have felt when they received and completed Lesson 60 and proudly hung that diploma on their wall." And so, with this guide in hand, the student will find 60 lessons to lead him or her through the ins and outs of the course, which is a far different approach than the more usual one of using Tarbell as an encyclopedic reference source (not that there's anything wrong with that, as virtually any contemporary working professional will tell you). As such you are steered through the maze that is magic with an effective mix of theory and practice, assisted by Tarbell's excellent essays from the course along with some additional segments contained in Mr. Burton's new guide.

I sincerely believe that this is a wonderful addition to the already essential tool that comprises the Tarbell Course in Magic. Beginning and intermediate students will be well advised to seriously explore this personalized tour through the world and art of magic. Doubtless such an escort will be of meaningful assistance to any student willing to make the effort, presenting the opportunity to thoroughly penetrate the back alleys and major thoroughfares of the course, and thereby gain a better than superficial grasp of its contents and value. On the other hand, it must be said that Mr. Tarbell's ambitions for the student were at times excessively optimistic. Mr. Burton cautions the student in his foreword, "Do not rush ahead. Tarbell mailed his lesson every week to ten days and you should similarly give yourself some time between each lesson to absorb the teachings." Such admonitions are more than reasonable, for what is one to make of a lesson on coins that begins with instruction to "Read the introduction and learn the effect, 'The Miser's Dream' in Volume Two, page 99. Next, learn..." whereupon another four coin routines are listed. Anyone who could learn the Miser's Dream in a week—or a month—much less four more effects would have to be someone more akin to a deity than to a magician. As well, another lesson somehow manages to link the Famous Needle Trick with the entire chapter of thimble magic. I'm not unaware of the possible connection here, but whether this is a sound way to conceptualize one's study of magic seems entirely another question. Nevertheless, there is certainly great value to be found in other theoretically unified sections, such as those on production magic, mental magic, and the like. All in all, Mr. Burton has presented us with yet another useful and insightful addition to the Tarbell ouevre.

5-1/4" x 8-1/2" saddle stitched; 62 pages; illustrated by Tarbell; 1995; Published by Steve Burton Magic