BOOK REVIEW - Parlour Tricks by Morgan & West
Updated: May 14, 2020
Here is my in-depth written review of Parlour Tricks by Rhys Morgan & Robert Wes.
To review this book, I have watched the show first and then read the book. I watched the show again after finishing the book, trying to gain further understanding from different perspective.
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WHAT YOU GET
The book is 356 pages, with beautiful hardbound cover. It comes with 206 full colour photographs.
QUALITY OF THE BOOK
The book coms with very readable font and nice formatting. In general, there are two types of articles: Trick & Essay.
For ’Trick’, it consists of ‘Effect’, ‘Props’, ‘Preparation’, ‘Method’, and ‘Performance’ which is the full script of the trick. For most of the tricks, I have strong feeling that ‘Method’ is a very direct description of the procedures without too many tips, while there are a lot of information in other sections.
As for ‘Essay’, it is a longer discourse into the thinking behind the trick. The length of the essays ranges from 2-8 pages, but mostly they are 5-6 pages. There are about 17 essays.
The highlight of the book is the footnotes (174 of them) which are usually skipped by readers. It contains a lot of useful information and tips. Credits are given but they are usually briefly mentioned.
All in all, the book is professionally made. The description of the tricks is written in good clarity, and the writing style is easy to follow.
QUALITY OF THE TRICKS
There are 12 routines in this book. All of them are tailor made for double act. Which means if you’d like to adopt it for solo, significant change has to be made.
As all the tricks are constructed as a single act, readers will find a good variety of tricks. There are Ring on Ribbon, Card Across, Book Test, Costume Change, and even Escape. Unlike many parlour acts, the nature of Parlour Tricks leans towards theatre act. Each trick is built with strong presentation for a grand finale at the end of the tricks. Therefore, instead of having series of smaller effects in each routine, most routines usually have only 1-2 effects.
All the tricks are very good and well-constructed. Going through the book, readers will realize that a lot of effort was paid to craft the routines. Each moment in the routines are well-thought and planned for maximum impacts. For example, ‘The Restarting Bottle’ doesn’t follow the cliché of multiplying bottles routine and takes a rather unique approach by having the transposition done only once, as the finale of the effect. By eliminating the numbers of transposition, Morgan & West has successfully achieved a stronger effect with fewer numbers of ‘magical moments’. When the authors explained their rationale in the following article 'Opening Tricks and the Reworking of a Classic’, it becomes clear that deeper understanding of routining can enhance magic quality without resorting to quantity.
Most routines in this book are minimalistic in nature. The effects are straightforward with clear goals. In terms of methods, they are cleverly executed but nothing out-of-this-world. Most knowledgable magicians should have pretty good understanding of the methods involved. Hence, if you are only interested in the methods per se, the contents may not thrill you. However, if your focus is about how solid methods can be cleverly integrated into the effects, you will find a lot of inspirations. Take the example of 'The Permanent Linking Rings’, it’s a Linking Rings routine without resorting to standard routining. From the perspective of method, there is nothing new. That being said, its structure is very refreshing and demonstrates Morgan & West’s deep understanding on minimalistic approach of magic. Even though the individual parts of the routine are not new, when they combine it becomes something most of us may not have seen before.
In some routines, methods are quite interesting but they are mostly designed for double act. Which means solo performer may find them difficult to use. An outstanding example is 'A Moment of Impossibility’, a signed card in impossible object routine. However, the problems can be solved by having on-stage or off-stage assistants. Besides, all the routines require considerable amount preparation (props, setup, learning ‘systems' etc). Nothing in this book can be done with minimal effort. There are some conditions you have to meet until you can make the tricks work. That being said, all routines are practical with moderate effort. They are within reach of most experienced magicians.
That being said, there are 2 routines which are not particular impressive in my opinion, even after I took full context into consideration. They are 'Intra-Sensory Perception’ and 'Nobody Trusts Magicians’. 'Intra-Sensory Perception’ is a routine which Morgan can deduce the occupation, birthday, and even what spectator had for breakfast etc with his five senses. The issue is that the routine cannot create 'the sheer impossibility of what the audience are seeing', which the authors strive for. As magicians, we perform with certain context in our acts. It’s important to remember that audience are usually aware the context unconsciously (The authors knows it well because they explained it in one of the essays). The audience know it is double act, the volunteers know their secrets are somehow leaked at certain point during the act, audience know it is a magic act, thus there is simply no 'sheer impossibility’ if precautions are not taken to remove the doubts of the audience. Morgan & West have done these precautions exceptionally well in routine like Book Test and even discuss it in the essay, but I don’t see much were done to tackle the potential doubts in 'Intra-Sensory Perception’. I may be wrong because I’ve only watched the show came with the book, but it seems that all volunteers were not impressed with the reveal and they left the stage with courtesy smile. As for 'Nobody Trusts Magicians’, it’s a full 9-mins of comedy with a minor effect at the end. Although the authors explain the reason in the following essay, I think they over-extend their theory and come into conflict with another theory in the book.
It’s worth noting that all the routines in this book are designed with a unique context in minds: Morgan & West are time travellers from the ninetieth century; the act is a double act; the whole show is designed as a theatre act; Morgan & West have a well-defined characters etc. All these factors contribute to the effectiveness and workability of the routines. Therefore, readers have to keep in minds that these routines are good not because they are intrinsically good; they are good because the authors make them good with the right context. Just as a good fitting and nice suit doesn’t mean it wears nicely on another person, readers have to understand the full context of these tricks before they try to ‘wear’ them. All the tricks in the book is easy to understand, the hard part is to understand in what way they work almost flawlessly in the act ‘Parlour Tricks’.
QUALITY OF THE ESSAYS
There are 17 magic theory essays in the book. They cover a variety of topics such as the nature of surprise, theatrical design, misdirection, and even how to handle children spectators.
All essays are very thought-provoking. In many essays, Morgan & West take their routines as the starting point and discuss how the theories apply. In 'Removing the Cards from a Card Trick’, they explained how the effect 'The Impossible Ring on Ribbon’ comes about by removing the element of card in card trick. The article illustrates how to create strong and original effects without building them from scratch. This advice is particularly useful and open many possibilities.
In ’The Evolution of A Magic Trick’, Morgan & West take their Card Across routine as example, and take readers step by step at how they improved the trick. Though the procedure is not applicable to many effects, it is a fine example at how magicians should shape their effects. They generously share their experience and discuss how failures make them improve. It’s also a reminder that how simplification can improve things dramatically.
Overall, the writing style of the authors is clear and easy-to-read. It is like a conversation with the readers. The length of each article is about right and it won’t be too tiring to finish each essay. Every theory is explained with examples and therefore it doesn’t read like an academic essay. The authors also list out some actions which readers may take to make changes.
Despite having provided enormous tips and advices, the essays aren’t perfect without some issues. Some challenges the authors raised against some approaches may sound legitimate in the context of their act, but they don’t necessary ring true in other contexts. One example was found in ‘Unanswered Questions and Permanence in Magic’. The authors talk about unnecessary action and moves in magic, and assert that ‘Bad magic is magic where you cannot see how it is done, but you feel that something strange has happened.’ I totally agree with this notion, but somehow the authors takes this notion too far that even counting the ropes from one hand to another is bad because normal audience won’t handle the ropes like that. If they were right, then the routine they used to explain this theory has a big issue: normal audience tie the hands together at wrist, but not the thumbs only.
The authors also challenge the notion of dangerous magic with some examples. They asserted that fake danger is not good magic and just 'lazy falsehoods' by magicians. I won’t discuss in depth, but if their theory was correct, every movie which puts the main actors into danger is meaningless to audience. However, the fact is that many audience enjoy those movies from hearts.
While I enjoy the essays very much and think they are inspiring, there are moments that the authors are trying to fit their routines into the theories to prove the legitimacy. Sometimes I think the theory sounds right just because it works for the routine in discussion, but that doesn’t mean it is true in general. Trained as scientists, Morgan & West should know better than us that fitting data into a science model doesn’t make the model right. Therefore, readers should have a clear mind about the context the authors are using to discuss the theories. By reading the essays with thorough understanding of magic and context, you will uncover so many tremendously helpful advices in the book.
RATING OF TRICKS
Usually I will rate each of the effect. But for this book, it is not about the effects themselves but the bigger picture of the act. The tricks are excellent in the context Morgan & West has created, therefore it’s meaningless to rate the tricks independently without taking the full context into account. After all, if we take out the context and apply them into different context with different performers, the routines will be very different. What I can say is, the act is a very polished piece of art, but it is unfinished for sure. That being said, the whole act is fabulous and I will give it 9/10 in total.
PROS ABOUT THE BOOK
The writing style is nice and the book format is very thoughtful.
There are great variety of tricks, and many of them are solidly constructed.
There are many thought-provoking essays.
CONS ABOUT THE BOOK
All tricks are specifically designed for the authors’ act. They can hardly be done by readers without huge alteration.
Some theories in the essays are only right in certain context. Readers should read the essays with critical thinking. As theories are very abstract, this way of reading may be difficult for some readers.
Parlour Trick is a fabulous book in terms of book quality and contents. It handles trick explanation and magic theories in great details. With clear writing style and nice formatting, it takes no time to finish the book because reading experience is so enjoyable.
It may not be the best trick book, but it’s definitely one of the best thought-provoking books on the market right now. It’s definitely not for beginners, but most magicians with a few years of experience will gain so much by reflecting the contents upon their acts. If you are only interested in the secrets of the tricks, probably you won’t be thrilled unless you know nothing about parlour magic. However, if you are serious in improving your understanding of magic, this is a book that you cannot miss.
At the price tag of $60, it is probably one of the best buy you could find on the market. You are buying this book not only for the current you, but also the future you. It’s because you will surely come back to this book again for new knowledge and better understanding of magic. It has my highest recommendation. I will certify it with ‘Perfect Choice’ without hesitation.
Book Quality: 10/10
Effectiveness of Tricks: 8/10
Cost Performance: 10/10
Final Score: 10/10
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