The Funnest Book in Magic.

Dunninger’s Encyclopeddia of Magic is the funnest book in magic.  I still enjoy rambling through its pages and savoring the amazing magic hidden within. It was written in the 1930’s by master Mind Reader, Magician and Radio Star, Joseph Dunninger.

Years ago I would curl up in a corner of the Junior High library and explore the richness and variety of magic in this large sized, 288 page profusely illustrated, hardbound book. How much I wanted to build and perform these stunning feats of powerful stage magic.

The first trick is that this is not so much of a reference Encyclopedia about many magicians and their inventions it is more of an Encyclopedia of Dunninger’s inventions and methods, interspersed with a number of other ancient methods. The uncanny and mysterious magical miracles are nearly all Dunninger’s variations on the old tricks or his own wild and wonderful creations. Some say it was put together on a bet.  It is a wide selling book found in many public libraries and in most magician’s libraries where it collects dust because it is thought to be full of impossible to produce impossibilities. .

This large book uncovers amazing stage illusions that show how to make things appear from nowhere including ladies, elephants and cars. You will uncover the secret for how to balance a coin on the blade of a sword, make an elephant appear to be very small and how to walk through a wall.  I knew the magic in this book was great because the illustrations show stunned crowds gazing in amazement at the miraculous wonders that the variety of clever magicians present.

The book is profusely illustrated with wonderful line drawings of many different styles of magicians performing the awe inspiring legerdemain. There are lush illustrations of magicians dressed in elegant tuxedoes in front of high society ladies and gentlemen who watch the wonders with jaws dropped in perplexed amazement.  That is the kind of magician I want to be! Yet that is only the tip of this mysterious iceberg. The reader finds on each page illustrations of many types of magicians as they amaze assembled onlookers with their incredible impossibilities.

The variety of magicians ranges from court jesters and wild haired comedic characters to mystery men from around the world dressed in traditional outfits of their lands including Scotsmen, Irishmen, Chinese and Native American. We are amazed by the wonders presented by robed Wizards, fezed gentlemen, and magicians dressed as devils.  Of course there are many garden variety magicians in dinner jackets doing impromptu magic as they recline at a table with their stunned guests. The only type of magician missing would be lady magicians, as are more common today. However there are many ladies on the pages of this book shown as either amazed audience members, or assistants to the great ones. They also make themselves handy with an apparent eagerness to offer themselves to the magicians to be sawn, stabbed and sliced.

It is easy to get lost in this book of wonders. A simple turn of the page takes me to a place I want to be. A classic vaudeville stage is filled with lovely assistants in ancient Egyptian costumes with a magician making the lovely princess vanish. That could be me some day.

Other magical feats include one titled “Buried Alive – India’s Greatest Mystery.” A magician in ancient robes is lifting his hands in the air as the sun sets behind him and a group of turbaned men sit on the ground and watch as the maiden steps forward toward the casket. One on the men has a drum between his legs and is slowly and softly beating it under a palm tree. I did not know there were palm trees in India but this is of no concern to me or the maiden. No fear seems to show on the face of this sweet, innocent blindfolded girl, her hands are bound behind her back as she steps toward her doom. Buried alive in a steal casket.

I would love to perform this great mystery, but alas the practicality of Dunninger’s method leaves me fearing that it might be a bit of a hassle to bring the required several ton pile of sand and a heavy metal casket to each show.  He states that the casket must be placed on a slab of concrete so as to not break the stage from the weight of the sand that is shoveled onto it. Could an audience patiently wait for this effect to be presented? How long would it take to shovel all that sand onto the casket? Would this be a trick that begins during an early part of the show so that the audience could see the casket throughout the show and then, 2 hours later, the girl is revived and brought from the casket at the end of the show? I don’t care if this is a trick I can actually easily present… this is amazing, death defying magic and the impossible bust be possible.

In this volume of wonders you will also find many enchanting spirit effects. Pictured are audiences gasping in amazement as spirits apparently move matches, chairs and even faintly whisper. You will discover how to make skulls chat and chalk write on slates and bells ring with the aid of non-existent entities.

One phenomenal phenomenon involves a mystical spirit that eerily writes with red colored ink that appears to be blood. This is done in full view of the audience on a parchment paper that is clipped to an easel and stands center stage. We watch the letters stunningly form on the page that is then given to a spectator!  The book illustrates this effect with a fabulous drawing that shows how a secret someone is behind a curtain helping the spirit write with a method that involves chemicals, heat and a complex telescoping device. I doubt I will ever be able to try this one at home or in any theater. But I want to.

Another stunning effect involves a line of ten lit candles on a table and at the magician’s command any one will flare up with a marvelous 5 inch flame. This effect requires a bit of set up as a small gas line runs from each of the ten fake candles backstage to a secret assistant behind the curtain. This unseen force causes the candles to flare up through an ingenious electrical method.  I am afraid this astonishing stunt is too intricate for me to build and transport, so I will have to leave it to David Copperfield, Murray or Jeff Hobson. Maybe the great Rube Goldberg would find this to be excellent magic.

This wonder filled encyclopedia presents other stunning and compelling mysteries such as changing the color of the tie on a ventriloquist dummy and lighting a candle with a glass of water. This tome reveals a diabolical method for pouring several different colored drinks from a clear vase of water. The glasses can be examined before to prove there is no dye or coloring in them. It is real magic.  The kind I want to do.

One astounding effect involves making different kinds of wine pour from an empty borrowed hat. A spigot is stabbed into the top hat, which is readily available as many gentlemen wear these to the theater, and four types of wine pour into clear goblets that are shared with the audience to prove their authenticity. The book suggests that for comic effect you borrow the hat from a reformer. (These were the days of prohibition after all.) Dunninger describes this effect as, “A rather delightful trick, which is humorous as well as puzzling. It should be welcomed by amateur and professional alike, due to its very different qualifications.”  And difficult qualifications, such that any magician doing this would have a rarity indeed due to its clever, yet challenging, secret apparatus.

Another awesome effect is an amazing floating glass. The illustration reveals that a secret fine loop of thread runs around the performer’s ear, hooks onto the glass and then travels off stage. The glass seems to float in a truly bizarre way. This method long predates Steve Fearson, Wonderbar or any of the current floating methods. Yet, as illustrated, this is presented using a full glass of water so I fear that if I actually tried this trick as described the weight of the glass may cause the thread to deeply cut or even slice my ear off. But, magic like this is powerful indeed and worth the sacrifice.

Do you want to be an amazing magician? It’s all in there. Do you want to make a gusher of water spurt from the tip of your magic wand? It’s in there. Do you want to make a roulette ball land on a chosen number at will as your friends look on in amazement? It’s in there. Do you want to make pigeons appear in a hat? It’s in there. Do you want eggs to be obedient? It’s in there! It is all extremely complicated, yet seemingly doable.

This wonder filled book has a page of valuable stunts dedicated to those who desire to be the life of the party. You will also find pages featuring ways to accomplishing astonishing juggling and balancing tricks. You’ll even be able to swallow a hot sword – yes, a hot sword! This method involves first swallowing a 2 foot long scabbard before the show so that the hot metal sword would slide into that and not come in contact with your inner parts. (I think I’ll pass on this grand illusion.)  This book is filled with truly impossible impossibilities! Yet I want my audience to react like the people seen in the pictures in this book.

Dunninger’s Encyclopedia of Magic fully covers unique methods for parlor tricks and stunts as well as close magic with coins, silverware, rope, and bananas. You will even uncover secret Hypnotic skills, human magnet stunts and marionette tricks.

There is a powerfully dramatic and wonderfully creepy way for the wizard to take his own head off and set it next to him on a small table. This is stunning stage magic that could empower me to freak out people in the same way as David Blaine.  I love this book! I want to do these tricks! With Dunninger’s help, we all can be amazing.

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