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Review: Essential Stewart James, Circular

The Magic Circular | January 2008

by Matthew Field

Stewart James was an incredible magic creator. Tricks like Miraskill, Further Than That, Sefalaljia, the Love-sick Tennis Ball, and Jamesway Poker Deal indicated a mind that did not work like most others. He marketed his tricks and they were printed in many magic magazines; he died in Canada in 1996 at age 88.

Member Allan Slaight started corresponding with James when he was just starting out in magic, and he was responsible for two enormous collections of James material, Stewart James in Print and The James File, three volumes plus a separate index, totaling more than 2800 pages. I read those books, sometimes in bed, and I think I can still see the indentations on my stomach where they rested. The imposing size (not to mention cost) to those volumes meant that many did not get a chance to read the fantastic material they contained, so Allan decided to ask several well-posted magicians to suggested their favourite tricks and 50 of them have been collected in this more modestly sized (and priced) volume.

The book is a delight. If you have never read anything by Stewart James, I can tell you that he introduced methods into magic that were totally original. While some of his effects utilised multiple, and sometimes odd-looking, dealing through a deck of cards, others were straightforward and their methods unfathomable. And James did not only deal with cards. One of my favourite tricks, and one that Barrie Richardson has written about, it is ‘A Match for Gravity’. A kitchen match (or washer) is tied to one end of a piece of string about one yard (one metre) long. To the other end is tied a spectator’s wristwatch. The string is looped over a pencil and the matchstick end is pulled down as far as it will go before it is released. All I can say is that the outcome is totally unexpected. There are more than a half-dozen effects I noted in this book as warranting possible inclusion in my repertoire.

Allan Slaight has wisely preceded most of the effects with either comments from James or notes on the trick’s history. Several brief chapters are devoted to James’s unique method of creation, using three imaginary friends with whom he would “discuss” his ideas, those “friends” providing some relief from a life lived in isolation.

Member David Ben’s Magicana published this book, and there is an accompanying online exhibit, including a film of James speaking, introduced by the inimitable Sid Lorraine, at www.magicana.com. This is an extraordinary volume of material.


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