Magic, Illusion or Something Else?
Three of my favorite magic-inspired tales of the last few years are:
THE PRESTIGE – both the 2005 novel by Christopher Priest and (based on the novel) the 2006 Christopher Nolan-directed film.
THE ILLUSIONIST – The 2006 Neil Burger-directed film based on the short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” by Steven Millhauser.
LAST CALL – the 1992 novel by Tim Powers.
All three of these tales make use of magic and/or illusion, all different from the other and all used to obtain different goals.
Using the definitions of magic I stated in my previous post, THE PRESTIGE is defined by: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
In the movie, the two protagonists are rival stage magicians in Victorian London, determined to outdo each other on stage with increasingly complicated, mysterious and dangerous acts. Fame, glory, envy and pride are their motivations. Yet, in the end, something entirely different from magic and illusion comes into play with devastating and frightening results, giving credence to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Dark and thrilling with the book’s entirely different ending even scarier.
THE ILLUSIONIST is also defined as: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
Here, the magician protagonist uses his powers of illusion in early Twentieth-Century Vienna to win the love of a woman of royal standing (who happens to be an old childhood friend). As a result, an elaborate “magical” con game is set up which keeps the film’s characters and the audience guessing until the very end. Sort of like a turn-of-the-century “Mission Impossible.” Much lighter in tone than the dark PRESTIGE but still evoking a sense of danger and wonder.
LAST CALL is the most mystical of the three and is defined by: The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature, or the charms, spells, and rituals so used.
In the book, magic really exists, it’s not an illusion. Taking place in 1960’s America, it posits the idea (central to most of Power’s work) that what really happened in historical events is never in the books we read in school. In this case, the founding of Las Vegas by Bugsy Siegel was really accomplished by the mythical Fisher King and the once-every-twenty year poker game (played with tarot cards) the King holds decides who will continue to hold the power of this magical world (unseen by most of us) or who will overthrow that power. Really, really strange and compelling.
In my forthcoming novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, magic abounds. But is it really magic, illusion or something else?
What are some of the magic-inspired tales you’ve found in your life?