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by Albert Schafer

Back in 2003, Dragonology hit bookstore shelves, launching the “Ologies” series. I remember thinking at the time that it was the perfect Christmas present for a kid. Every year, a new book would come out, and the quality of each volume was such that in spite of the fact that I was well outside the intended audience age range, I had to check them out. This year, I thought it would be fun to look back and review some of my favorite volumes from the series.

Previous “Ologies” book reviews can be read here.

In August 1915, a man named Albert D. Schafer disappeared in a most mysterious manner. Before he vanished, he was working on a compendium of stage tricks and sleight-of-hand for The Illusionists' Guild. This book, delivered anonymously to a publisher earlier this year, has been reproduced by Candlewick Press for the benefit of those seeking to learn more about magic. Schafer's instructions on topics as varied as optical illusions, card tricks, misdirection and levitation rely on a mixture of showmanship, practice and practical science. It's a wonderful introduction for young magicians.

It is unfortunate, but of the Ologies books I've seen I think that Illusionology is the weakest. At first, I couldn't put my finger on why I found the volume so unsatisfactory. It has many of the same interactive elements as earlier books in the series – mini-booklets on special topics, “reproductions” of pamphlets and posters from the appropriate time period, illustrations that seem fresh from the circus tents of the early 20th century – as well as neat tools like trick playing cards and and miniature paddles, used for a one of the many magical tricks explained to the reader. Many famous magicians from the late 19th and early 20th century are introduced, and the tricks that made them celebrities are explained. On my second or third perusal, I finally put my finger on what made this book different from the others. Usually, the Ologies books have a personality at the center of the story, whether it's a sea captain on a search for a pirate queen or a wizard trapped in a tree. As they explain their particular area of expertise through lessons, encyclopedia-like entries or personal journals, the reader gets to know them. Mr. Schafer, the supposed author of Illusionology, never establishes much of a presence. On the inner front cover, a few pages from his diary explain why he labored to create this book, while the last page expresses hope that Schafer's new invention, the Dematerializer, will work as he planned. And that's all we really hear of Mr. Schafer. Since his purpose is to make something like a textbook for magicians, I suppose that makes sense, but I found the lack of intimacy rather lacking.

There is a lot of information in here. Between the card tricks, sleight-of-hand practices, and other activities there is enough to occupy a middle-grade child for days. It's a decent introduction to the topic, and I appreciate that the author repeatedly emphasizes the importance of science in these illusions.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Illusionology, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror Vol. 2 by Junji Ito
2010: Writer's Block: Ready, Steady, Read
2009: Going on hiatus...
2008: Contest: Patrick Rothfuss and Heifer International


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