Saturday, July 13, 2002

When I first read Roy Walker’s book Card Mysteries, I was amazed at the content. It was released in London in 1933 under the imprint of George Johnson’s Magic Wand publications, the same publisher of Sam Sharpe’s translation of Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring, Neo Magic and the booklets of the always-ingenious Tom Sellers.

What I found so special about Walker’s Card Mysteries was the idiosyncratic way that the effects stood out from their contemporaries. Many of them read, admittedly with 20/20 hindsight, as premonitions of items that cardicians would take up decades later.

For instance, in the trick Good Companions, Walker describes a pass in which the middle card is reversed. It reminds me of the Gombert Pass that was described in The Gen, though in Walker’s case there is no turnover of the pack.

The Phantom Jester contains an application of the traditional pass, which alters the arrangement of face up cards in the deck. In this case one face up card appears to penetrate through another. It brings to mind Roy Walton’s Happy Wanderers (Devil’s Playthings), which in turn was inspired by an effect of Marlo’s in which cards redistributed themselves in a deck.

Walker’s Slow Motion Reverse predates Marlo’s own experiments when it comes to reversing a card as the deck is spread from hand to hand. The book is chock full of such surprises, including an edge-marked deck, a novel Top Change, a Throw Pass, an impossible torn card effect, and a very clever routine in which one packet of cards assembles itself into the same order as a second shuffled packet. Each item is very distinctive and the book is well worth seeking out at magic auctions. Nobody has heard of it, so you’ll pick it up cheaply.

One routine, A Red And Blue Back Series, contains so many interesting effects that I think it is worth reproducing some of the presentation here as a taster of Walker’s work. He devised it as a platform routine with cards, reasoning that the different coloured backs of the cards would be more easily seen than their faces. You’ll have to wade through some dated prose but I promise that if you are interested in card ideas, the gold is there:

Upon the performer’s table is seen a card easel, against which rest two packs of cards, red and blue backed respectively, and the two cases to which the cards belong. An envelope of thick parchment paper, and a small paper knife occupy the table in front of the easel. The conjurer deals ten cards face downwards from the top of each pack, holding the packs so that the backs of the cards may be plainly seen. The sets are picked up, and fanned to further impress the colours upon the minds of the audience. The red-backed set is now placed deliberately on top of the blue, and the whole pile sealed in the envelope. This is eventually slit open with the paper knife, and the cards removed. No change is visible until they are fanned, when the cards are found to be arranged red and blue alternately throughout the fan. The cards should be fanned as neatly as possible to obtain the maximum effect. The cards are then returned to their respective packs, and the second effect proceeded with.

The performer now advances to the audience, and has about a dozen cards in a bunch selected from each pack. The spectator who chooses them is requested to shuffle the colours into one another, and when he has finished mixing them, he is requested to turn the cards face upwards, and endeavour to detect any difference between the red-backed cards and the blue. This he is unable to do, and after he has again shuffled the cards, they are handed to the performer who retreats to the stage, still holding the cards face upwards. He then deals the cards into two heaps against the card easel, and turns them over. All the red cards are in one heap, and all the blue in the other pile.

The performer now replaces these in their respective packs, and proceeds with the second phase of the effect. Six cards are dealt from the bottom of each pack, face upwards upon the table. The two heaps are squared up, turned over, and riffle shuffled by the performer. He then holds them facing the audience, and continues to shuffle. Finally he fans the twelve cards and holding them out requests a gentleman to name any card he sees. This is removed and place face upwards against the card easel, and five other cards are similarly selected and removed. The other six cards are placed aside, and, despite the fact that the audience had a perfectly free choice, the six cards upon the easel are found to be the blue-backed cards.

Walker’s routine continues by having the same card selected from both decks. The red-backed selection is placed in the blue card case. The blue-backed selection is placed in the red-backed deck. Both selections then transpose. The finish looks like a repeat, with odd cards being inserted into the two decks. But instead of the selections changing places, the decks do. One can’t help but see shadows of Oil & Water, Out of this World and Follow the Leader in the routine. I don’t anything at all about Roy Walker, although he did contribute tricks to The Sphinx magazine, but his book certainly deserves a reading.