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Non-Magic Talks

lamontI do a number of talks; but there is only one that contains no magic references whatsoever.  And yet this is probably my best.

I was pondering why this might be so whilst simultaneously re-reading Peter Lamont's very entertaining book on the history of the infamous Indian Rope trick, called The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: A Biography of a Legend.  It is a great story and told in an amusing style by Peter.  I thoroughly recommend it.

There were numerous explanations how the Indian Rope trick might be accomplished, ranging from mass hypnosis to wires stretched across the top of trees.  Peter's style is such that whilst relating these possible solutions, he is sending them up as being clearly ridiculous in their proposed methods.

understandingIt made me think, though, whether somebody who has no prior knowledge of magic would necessarily be in on the joke.  I suspect that average Jo-Public would have no idea whether mass hypnosis might be possible (after all, isn't that how extreme religious leaders hold their sway over their followers?)   Similarly, when it comes to magic methods generally, most lay people haven't got a first clue how a trick is done; and will believe any hogwash, provided it is dished up in a convincing manner.  Wires stretched across tall trees sounds eminently plausible.

The problem is that once you are well-versed in magic, it is very hard to somehow put yourself back in the minds of lay people.  So when I do magic related talks, I slip in phrases like 'sleight of hand', 'illusions', 'method' and 'effect', assuming that audiences know what I am talking about.  But the chances are they don't; or, if they do, they have a completely different understanding of the meaning.

gillrayMy most successful presentation is on James Gillray, arguably the first ever political cartoonist.  Three years ago I knew nothing about the subject matter.  So in my talk I try to answer all the questions which I asked myself when I started researching the subject.  I therefore don't have to guess at the audience's potential lack of knowledge: I can remember vividly when I shared the same ignorance.  And that, I suspect, is part of the reason why it is my number one lecture.

I am not sure what the lesson is from all of this.  Perhaps just the simple conclusion that when talking magic terminology with non-magicians, try and make sure you are both on the same page.

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