Paul Kieve | Hocus Pocus: A Tale of Magnificent Magicians (Scholastic)


Kieve’s philosophy is that a successful magic act is not so much about performing clever tricks as it is about creating a sense of mystery and wonder for the audience.


304 pages. New York: Scholastic, 2008. $14.99 (hardcover)


Paul Kieve is a British illusionist whose work has often been seen on stage and screen: at age 16 he performed in Sade’s video "Your Love is King" and has since created theatrical effects for many plays, ballets and operas. His biggest claim to fame among the younger set, however, is that of magic consultant on several of the Harry Potter movies. Now he’s written Hocus Pocus, a great book for kids interested in magic (it’s officially recommended for ages 9-12) which comes complete with an introduction written by Harry Potter himself, that is to say, Daniel Radcliffe.

 Hocus Pocus is much more than a book of magic tricks. It’s primarily a fantasy novel, which provides Kieve with a framework for discussing the history of magic, with particular emphasis on the great illusionists of the late 19th-early 20th centuries. These performers were the rock stars of their day, touring the world performing to packed houses and enjoying the kind of name recognition and financial reward accorded today to movie stars.

Kieve begins Hocus Pocus by discussing his own interest in magic and how his career developed. He’s also a collector of vintage magic posters, and uses the clever narrative device of having magicians from the posters come alive and perform their most famous tricks in his London home (conveniently located near the Hackney Empire, a vaudeville house where many of these magicians performed). His visitors, many of whose names will be unfamiliar except to the hardcore magic enthusiast, include Alexander, The Great Lafayette, Servais Le Roy, Madame Talma, Robert-Houdin, David Devant, Chung Ling Soo, Ionia, and Harry Houdini. Kieve uses each visit as an opportunity to discuss the particular style of each magician, and well as revealing how some of their tricks were done.

Hold your protests, please: the "secrets" revealed in Hocus Pocus are common knowledge to anyone who knows much about magic. And it’s always interesting to note how old some of the tricks are: Alexander’s ability to read minds was greatly assisted by a wireless headset concealed under his turban, which allowed an off-stage assistant to feed him information about members of the audience.

More importantly, Kieve’s philosophy is that a successful magic act is not so much about performing clever tricks as it is about creating a sense of mystery and wonder for the audience. And good magicians are actors who create personas which they sell to the general public: the all-American Harry Houdini was really the Hungarian-born Eric Weisz, and the Chinese conjuror Chung Ling Soo was really the American William Ellsworth Robinson.

 Hocus Pocus includes an appendix of magic tricks which can be performed using common household objects, practical advice about getting started as a magician, and a bibliography. The volume also includes a pack of eight postcards of vintage magic posters and optical illusions, and many more posters are reproduced in full color on the endpapers (in-text illustrations are black and white). All in all, it’s a great value at $14.99 in hardcover, and has already won several honors including being selected as Book of the Month by the BBC children’s program Blue Peter, and Children’s Book of the Month at Borders. | Sarah Boslaugh

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