I’m delighted to welcome Guy Jones to my blog today for The Fire Maker Blog Tour.
The Golden Age of Magic
I had a magic set when I was a child. I loved it, though of the hundred or so tricks in the book I never managed to master more than a half dozen. I could use the yellow plastic box that made a ten-pence piece disappear, I could pull off some basic pick-a-card stuff, and I could just about vanish a red foam ball from under a cup. But when it came to anything requiring sleight of hand, technique, or – frankly – basic hand-eye co-ordination I was no good at all. I liked the idea of doing magic tricks far more than the reality of endless practice.
I couldn’t be more different then, from Alex Warner, the twelve-year-old protagonist of my new book, The Fire Maker. Alex lives for magic. It is all he wants to do. It’s his way out of a mundane and frustrating life. Early in the book we see him in his bedroom, the walls of which are covered in billboards for old magic shows. Before I came to write that chapter, I spent some time looking through examples of those posters. Some of them are mini works of art – beautiful illustrations of black-tie magicians surrounded by devils, spirits and crystal balls.
As I delved, I came to be fascinated by these stage performers. Harry Houdini, of course, will be familiar to almost everyone as a great illusionist and escape artist. But healso spent a huge amount of time and energy debunking the spiritualist movement that had gained in popularity through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In that sense he is the opposite of Alex, who discovers in my book that some magic is real after all.
The antagonist of The Fire Maker is Jack Kellar, who shares a last name with one of Houdini’s predecessors – Harry Kellar. Known as the Dean of American Magicians, Kellar once boasted his skills of misdirection were so great that ‘a brass band playing full blast can march openly across the stage behind me, followed by a herd of elephants, yet no one will realise they went by…’
One of Kellar’s disciples was ‘The King of Cards’, Harry Thurston. After an unhappy childhood, he actually fulfilled the old cliché of running away to join the circus, and in time built the largest travelling magic show of the age – one so large it took eight train carriages to transport it from place to place. No wonder Alex is convinced that magic offers him a route to a more glamorous life. These people are his heroes after all.
But I’ll leave you, and him, with the cautionary tale of Sigmund Neuberger; known as The Great Lafayette. He was the most successful and highly paid magician of the Victorian age. He owned a pet dog, Beauty – given to him by Houdini – that had her own set of rooms and would be fed five course meals. In 1911 Neuberger was performing in Edinburgh when a faulty lamp caused a fire to break out on stage. The audience and theatre staff all assumed it was part of the act and did nothing until it was too late. The theatre burned to the ground, and the great magician tragically died in the fire.
Fire, you see, is the most powerful magic of all.
THE FIRE MAKER by Guy Jones is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Follow Guy on Twitter @guyjones80
Thank you so much for such an insightful blog post into the wonders of the magical world.
Huge thanks to Chicken House for inviting me to take part in the Fire Maker Blog Tour. You can read my review of the Fire Maker here, and do make sure you check out all of the other stops on the tour.