Magic Is Crumbling
Max Maven was a giant in magic, whose long shadow kept many in line. So, where does that leave us now?
P.T Selbit, long before he was sawing through people, wrote in 1906; “It is said that every new book on conjuring represents one more nail in the coffin of the wizard’s art.”
In 1908 an opinion published in the Wizard magazine, addressing the topic of Professor Hoffmann’s books being available in every book shop, library, and even [gasp] in the hands of children!
The concern was a cheapening of the art, when effects are sold as mere toys and novelties. “Magic now stands at a junction,” wrote Hahry Whiteley, “and I ask the followers of magic; What is to be the end? Is magic to die…?
Imagine how aghast these ruffled wizards would be to see our current state; more tricks are being aggressively sold than there are magicians to perform them. As many miracles are being opened up and left disemboweled on the social media table in full view of the curious public, a contracted murder paid for with only a digital thumbs up.
Recently we have lost far too many pillars of the magic community. Those who we relied upon to stand strong, bare the weight, and keep us steady. Is magic, as we know it, ready to crumble under the weight of it all?
I’m Ryan Pilling, this is Theory & Thoughts for Magicians, and perhaps you should listen to this while you still can.
The magic world is mourning the loss of Max Maven. I’ve read dozens of heartfelt tributes written in his honour. I am not qualified to add to this collection.
My one and only encounter with Max Maven arrived in my email inbox about twenty years ago. I was a young man, full of unearned confidence, just dipping my toe into publishing my ideas for the magic community. You can imagine my surprise to see his name pop up in my email, completely out of the blue.
His message was a brief, pointed, correction for what he saw as a lack of judgement on my part, served with a dallop of snarky wit for good measure.
The sting from the wound was only surpassed by the shock of it all. Max Maven wrote an email directly to me, because of something of mine he read on some little corner of the internet.
Max was watching.
Max was always watching.
He was a guardian of magic. Standing up for what is right, and setting the record straight. A tall oak standing strong, with roots spread wide. His branches stretching so far you may even forget you are in his shadow.
Until, upon my head, fell an acorn. It hurt a little, but the seed was planted.
I did, after all, follow his advice.
The mighty oak tree has lost its leaves. No more acorns will be mindfully dropped, or scoldingly pitched, where needed.
Its silhouette stands tall with another former guardian of magic recently passed, Johnny Thompson.
I look upon this ruin and can’t help but wonder… who is left? Who will know the answer when all others shrug. Who is on guard watching now?
The world is not what it used to be. The giants are going extinct and I’m certain there will be no more. Things don’t work like that anymore.
Max Maven skyrocketed to legendary status with his appearance on NBC’s biggest TV special of 1994; The World’s Greatest Magic. Seen by over 25 million people in one night. Stars no longer shine so brightly.
These broadcast platforms do not exist anymore. You’d need to appear on Penn & Teller: Fool Us fifty times to make an impression on that many eyeballs. The world’s attention is spread far thinner. There is no concentration of energy strong enough to create such a superstar.
Nobody will be stepping in to fill Max Maven’s shoes.
Our giant guardians are gone forever.
Max Maven, as a man who spent a lifetime shuffling words, prepared one final stack. This, I presume, is his most important message for us;
I had a good run, made wonderful friends, shared many laughs, and I learned a great many things. I learned that magic allows us to be so much bigger than we are. I learned we should be kind to one another and forgive people for being flawed and prideful.
The one thing I know is that we can all do better, and I think we will.
And with this I finally understand he was never a guardian.
He was a caretaker. He worked so hard to get things right, to have others give proper credits, because he cared deeply, passionately, for magic and magicians; past, present, and future.
As he pointed out in his book “The Protocols of the Elders of Magic” it was a rite of passage for old magicians to admonish the doomed direction of magic. Yet he, in his elder years, was not bemoaning the death, but rather encouraging the long life, of magic.
His message; “We can all do better”, as I accept it, is not a waggled finger to shape-up but rather suggesting we can ALL do better… together. As many hands make light work we can all contribute to lift the weight from Max’s shoulders.
We can all, collectively, pay attention to the proper crediting of magic history because our tradition, and the people who created it, do matter. We can all explore ideas with that same endless curiosity and scientific determination because the details matter. We can all make a confident stand for respect in magic and amongst magicians. It’s our turn.
For surrounding that mighty oak is a larger forest, and as one tree grows tall and inevitably crumbles it so nourishes the forest around it. Magic is always crumbling, and always growing. We need not rely on giants when we all grow a little taller.
Every book that Max Maven penned, and this is a significant number, will indeed represent a new nail. But rather than building a coffin, we can use them to build a garden.
Pillars crumble and gardens go to weeds only when not cared for. If you see the magic community falling apart, it’s up to you… all of us… to take care of that which is within our reach.
Be kind to your fellow magicians. Pride is strongest in the young, who don’t know what they don’t know, and in the old, who think what they do know is all there is to know. Show, don’t just tell, there is always more to the story. I care for magic because I came up around others who demonstrated care for magic.
I was once a young flawed punk magician kid publishing magic secrets on the internet, but… I turned out alright, in the end.
And with that we’ve reached the end, but certainly not THE end, of Theory & Thoughts for Magicians.
Until next time, take care.
And I think we will.