A House with Many Rooms

May I share some of my imaginings with you? I imagine that magic is very much like a house with many rooms. I imagine that some of these rooms are large and brightly lit and many people enter. Other rooms are smaller and darker and are inviting only to a few.

I see a room for dove workers and another for magic clowns. There is a cheerful room devoted to Gospel magic and another, rather more ominous, for those interested in things bizarre and weird. There is a happy room for magic comedians and another, more grumbling, for those who call themselves mentalists, And there is a tiny room — really no more than a closet — for those who wish to give sĂ©ances.

In the magic house I imagine a heavily paneled room for those interested in collecting old magical apparatus, and perhaps another equally opulent room for those who collect magic books and paper.

I see that the magic house has a great — no, an enormous burgeoning library with books and magazines spilling out into the hallway. A great many spend untold hours here, reading and dreaming and sometimes planning.

Perhaps one entire wing of the house is devoted to close-up magic. This is where I first entered the magic house, and it is where I have found pleasure and endless challenge ever since. In this close-up wing I imagine there might be many individual rooms dedicated to special interests such as cards or coins or gambling effects.

In another wing, the stage wing, there are also many different rooms including ones for those pursuing small platform work as well as chambers for those interested in grand illusion. When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, the illusion room was fairly empty of people. Now it is filled with many energetic souls.

I imagine that each particular room in the magic house is further divided into specific areas. In the room devoted to grand illusion, for example, I imagine there is one area for those who like to think about this subject and study it, and another, much smaller area — perhaps a curtained alcove — for those who actually wish to perform illusions in front of real audiences. In all the rooms, the areas taken up by performers are clearly much smaller than those occupied by the thinkers.

When I imagine the world of magic as a house with many rooms, I always seem to come back to a few recurring thoughts. First, I think it is fascinating and exciting and even refreshing that so much variety exists within the magic house. This great variety of interests, this pluralism, I suspect, is itself part of magic’s great appeal and endless riches.

Second, it usually doesn’t take beginners too long to find the room or rooms that most interest them. Unfortunately, it also usually doesn’t take them very long to begin making disparaging comments about the other rooms, putting those down as if their own particular interest were the best and only interest in the magic house. This makes for many unhappy arguments. Whether we like it or not, pluralism is the fact of life. People simply aren’t all the same in their interests. The magic house would be a happier and more inviting place if those who visited put their energy into creating bonds of fellowship across these differences. In fact, why not rejoice in this grand variety?

Third, admission to the magic house is free. One only needs the interest to find the magic house and enter. At the same time, perhaps paradoxically, the moment we step inside we find that if we wish to enter any of the rooms in the house, there are costs — a price — to be paid. The initial (and important) price is our time. And the time we spend in the magic house is time that we can’t spend in other enjoyable places.

The fact that every room demands a price is rather obvious if one wants to enter the rooms for those collecting antique magic or books. One doesn’t have much fun in either of these rooms — or in the room devoted to grand illusion — without a check book.

Yet I sometimes think that the most expensive and costly areas of the magic house — the places where the price cuts most deeply into our lives — are those small alcoves in the various rooms for performers. Many are attracted by these curtained alcoves with their often colorful performers, yet few seem able — or willing — to pay the price to enter.

Originally published in Genii Magazine, July 1995.

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