I’ve been a member of a local mentalism club for nearly a decade. Over the years, numerous effects have been discussed, but a few of these had me puzzled. Since magic and mentalism shouldn’t be mixed, as we all know, I asked myself, why would mentalists talk about the Linking Finger Rings, Ring Flight, and the Torn and Restored Cigarette Paper? And not only did they discuss these tricks, they admitted to performing them, without the slightest hint of shame or guilt!
Unable to come up with an answer, I asked why — rather sheepishly, since I was sure that the answer was so basic that I risked expulsion from the club, just for asking. But no. I was told that it was because of the presentations. PK, collective illusion, mass hypnosis and the like could all be invoked to explain these effects.
That made perfect sense to me. These explanations certainly justified including these effects in a mentalism program.
But it didn’t explain why so many hundreds of other effects that could be presented with similar explanations were disdained. After all, no self-respecting mentalist would even dream of performing the Linking Rings, the Twentieth Century Silks, or the Torn and Restored Newspaper, even though these tricks are essentially the same as the ones mentioned above. But, so be it. I’m not a mentalist, so mine is not to wonder why.
A few years later, I found an answer. These particular tricks have one thing in common: they are all described in the book “Al Koran’s Professional Presentations” ! Could this be the reason they’re generally accepted in the standard mentalism repertoire? I asked a few mentalists; I got a few blank stares and a few uneasy smiles, but no replies.
I have no idea whether my assertion is correct or not, but I am certain of two things:
- there are a few magic tricks that are generally accepted as having a place in a mentalism act;
- there is no logical reason for these particular tricks to be acceptable while others are not.
Fast-forward to last week. While doing some research for a possible future project, I looked through some mentalism books in a friend’s library. One of these books was “Al Koran’s Legacy”. To my great surprise, I discovered that Al Koran didn’t perform just a few magic tricks, he did loads of them! And many were even card tricks!
Now, Al Koran is not a name to be dismissed lightly. He was one of Britain’s top ‘mindreaders’ — a mentalist who was highly sought after and who appeared frequently on television there, and later, after moving to the USA, on the Ed Sullivan show. Yet, being a renowned mentalist did not prevent him from performing magic tricks, and even inventing a few (e.g., Ring Flight, which he called ‘The Flying Ring’).
Here’s another example. I know a magician, mentalist and hypnotist who also does readings. When he works at a psychic fair, to drum up business, he rents a room in the exhibition hall and puts on… a magic show! Yes, pure magic — no mentalism, no hypnosis, nothing even remotely psychic. And it works for him; it helps increase his readings business. He sees nothing wrong with it, and obviously, his clients don’t either.
I once asked him to explain his thinking. He believes that the contrast between the two is so great that people automatically separate the two skills and don’t see them as overlapping.
I can’t help but wonder if this performer knows something from having watched — and met — Koran and the other top British mentalists of the day, Berglas, Fogel, and Canasta.
So, what’s my point? There are lots of good reasons to keep magic and mentalism separate: personal style, preferences, personality, audience, venue, and so on. But, from what I can tell, it does not seem that the usual reason — that performing magic leads the audience to believe that the mentalism is also accomplished by trickery — is one of them. And even less so when the mentalism is presented in the modern ‘psychological’ style.
Update, Aug. 31, 2013: How could I have forgotten… Kreskin! If ever there was someone who mixed magic and mentalism blithely, it’s The Amazing Kreskin, perhaps the most famous mentalist in North America of the last few decades.