Big Friday sale

Trephine by Richard Bartram, Jr

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1998)


This is a wide-ranging book with a decidedly oddball point of view. In 11 chapters the author offers 81 entries, more than half of which concern card magic with both prepared and unprepared cards, with the remainder consisting of coin magic, mental magic, and an assortment of general magic employing items from rubber bands to firecrackers, matches to the egg bag, Paul Swinford's work on the so-called Hindu Prayer Chain puzzle, an offbeat handling of the Himber Linking Finger Rings, and on out into a wilderness of bloody finger detachments and exploding facial blemishes. Mr. Bartram's tastes run the gamut from the conventional to the extreme, and occasionally to what some might deem the lack of any taste whatsoever.

While I gather that the author has published several books prior to this, along with a Linking Ring Parade that featured, amidst other items, an effect with plastic dog poop, this was my first extended exposure to the author's work, and I enjoyed the experience.

This is a genuinely creative and innovative thinker, whose creativity also has purpose and focus; this is not novelty-for-novelty's-sake material. There are conservative but practical variants here of well-known plots, as well as outrageously fresh ideas that explore previously uncharted territory. Along with the substantial quantity of close-up magic there are also some notably sound mentalism ideas here, from book tests and acid tests to billet switch devices and some solid ideas for slate handling, including a tip for visibly animating the chalk on the slate. The material is ably if at times tersely described, accompanied by the writer's own excellent illustrations.

As it stands, magic hasn't developed as an art... someone else does something new so we can steal it for our act. We've become a bunch of mindless drunks in a bar waiting for our turn at the karaoke machine. We no longer care for the art. We only want to take from the craft and give nothing in return. We're allowing the well to run dry and driving a thirsty audience to drink elsewhere.Trephine by Richard Bartram, Jr.

There's plenty of food for thought to be found in these pages. Also found in these pages is an assortment of pointed sarcasm, humorous digressions and more, some of which I laughed at, some of which I winced appreciatively at, and a good deal of which I found a time-wasting distraction. A good editor with a tight editorial leash wouldn't have hurt the author's cause, along with one that could have avoided spell-check errors like "bring fourth" and "soul intent." Be prepared to be challenged and occasionally even offended, but for my money that's a hell of a lot better than being bored to death—a life-threatening risk your humble reviewer faces daily. Mr. Bartram manages to remind us in the course of his wanderings that magicians failed to come to the aid of their unjustifiably interned Asian brethren during World War II, and offers a quiz in which the reader has the chance to match the names of five magicians with their suicide instrument of choice. This latter item is one of several similar entries on "The Crackpot Conjurors' Fun Page," my favorite extracurricular item in the book. If such pastimes are not to your taste or lack thereof, there is still a mess of good magic in these pages that you should not deny yourself if you're looking for creative magical thought.

8 - 1/2" X 11-1/2" laminated hardcover; 182 pages; illustrated with more than 200 line drawings; 1997; Publisher: Magic Methods