Excerpt: 'Magic: The Complete Course'

Magic tricks always seems to amaze, whether the audience consists of 5- or 50-year-olds. If you have an interest in illusions and harbor a secret desire to learn a few tricks, magician Joshua Jay teaches you all his secrets in his book, "Magic: The Complete Course."

Jay showed off some of his close-up magic and explained why his book does not break the magician's code of ethics on "Good Morning America Now," and you can read an excerpt of Jay's book below.


"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." —Albert Einstein

Joshua JayPlay

What's the point of a magician? He comes on, he fools you, you feel stupid, show's over.—Jerry Seinfeld

Magic needs a makeover. Toss the tuxedo. Lose that top hat and set the rabbit free. And that goatee has to go. No more impaling women in boxes, and enough with the corny insults. Just stop.

Magic is the most mysterious of the performing arts. Why has she become so trivial?

The tricks. Most of the material magicians use is outdated or out of context. Consider the rabbit-from-the-top-hat effect. No birthday party is complete without it, and for fifty bucks the Amazing Larry will do the honors. And every time a rabbit comes out of a hat, another dozen nine-year-olds think magic sucks.

But as Einstein pointed out, magic can be moving. The moment we experience a great trick, we are instantly children again. For a fleeting moment—after the magic happens and before logic sets in—the world is boundless and anything is possible. Only magic can do that.

"Magic" is filled with amazing effects. And they're even more amazing because they're simple. Good magic is easy to describe and easy to remember: "She made a hundred bucks appear" or "He cut through a lady."

But consider the classic "Cut and Restored String"—a version of which appears in every bad beginner's book. You thread a piece of string through a straw . . . then you put the straw in a tube . . . then, in some cases, you cover the tube with a handkerchief . . . then you cut the whole mess in two . . . poof . . . it's restored. Straws? Tubes? Handkerchiefs? Too complicated, thank you.

You're about to learn over a hundred magical effects. Make a coin appear. Make your pet disappear. Simple. Read the one-sentence tag accompanying every entry in this book and you'll know exactly what you're getting into.

Remember that simple doesn't mean easy. While most effects in this book can be performed immediately after reading them, some require real practice. The difficulty ratings, 1 through 5, are there to help you decide which tricks to tackle first.

What separates this collection from many others is that the magic is relevant. That is, there's an emotional hook for the viewer. Sometimes the connection is obvious. In fact, you will even find several ways to make money appear at your fingertips. This is a skill everyone wants.

Magicians have a name for adding meaning to magic: the Ham Sandwich Theory. This theory states that if I reach into the air and produce a Ham Sandwich, you won't care. But if you said to me, "Josh, I'm hungry," and then I plucked one from thin air, you would be amazed. The magic fulfilled your desire. It had relevance.

An example: Tearing and restoring a plain old piece of paper is a meaningless trick because the audience doesn't care about paper. But in "Trash to Treasure" you restore a torn dollar bill. People can't stand to see money ruined, so there's an emotional connection to the bill's restoration.

Every effect in this book matters. Use borrowed objects to perform effects that fulfill audience desires: Predict thoughts and phone numbers, make money appear, control a participant's decision, and demonstrate a superhuman memory. The scripts are topical, the props familiar, and the magic unbelievable. It's all here, performance-ready.

This is the book I wish had existed when I started magic. When I was eight, I checked out every magic book at the library, but the information in each one was incomplete. How can you teach magic—a visual art—without photos? The effects in older books are tersely described, and no emphasis is given to the most important part: the performance of magic. There's a difference between explaining how tricks are done and how to do tricks.

With "Magic," you'll learn the mechanics and presentation skills necessary for an amazing performance. Only a mastery of both makes a real magician. Good material is useless without proper delivery. In these pages both what to do and how to do it are treated with care and precision. No prior knowledge is assumed and no prior skills are required. This is a complete course in magic.

In addition, after each effect I have included a Master Class section, where you'll learn the subtle, professional nuances that make these effects come alive in the minds of your participants.

Rabbit From the Hat

Pulling a rabbit from a hat wasn't always a bad trick. It was first recorded in an early American conjuring book in 1836. Imagine the period: Every man you know wears a hat; the wealthier men wear top hats. You're extremely wealthy, of course. So you invite John Henry Anderson—the Great Wizard of the North—into your drawing room to entertain your guests. At one point, he removes your top hat and pulls out the unthinkable: a live rabbit!

Today, pulling a rabbit from a hat is an ancient relic from a different time. Fuzzy bunnies and top hats still adorn magicians' business cards and neon magic shop signs, but the trick itself went out of style about the same time as the venerable top hat.

Exposure, or How to Vanish an Elephant

You're holding a book of secrets. Powerful secrets. And true to my profession, I know what you're thinking: Isn't this against the rules? Breaking the magician's code . . . or something like that? Exposure is the elephant in the room. For my first trick, I shall make it disappear.

There is a difference between exposing and teaching, and magicians have long debated what that difference is. It boils down to this: effort. This book is not exposure because you had to open it. My expectation is that you opened this book because you want to learn the art of magic.

You are not seeing the tricks exposed on TV or looking up videos of "magic secrets revealed" on the Internet. You are expending effort to learn magic.

Poof. The elephant is gone.

Excerpt and images used with permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. from "Magic: The Complete Course" by Joshua Jay. Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved.