Is there any way for a children’s magic book to be considered “bad”? What would your expectations have to be? What would have to go wrong? The idea is nonsense. To fail at writing a children’s magic book is an impossible task.
But you know what makes the impossible possible? MAGIC.
A psychologist named Pattabhi Ram compiled a list of 51 tricks for children, but mostly not, from a variety of sources after removing everything that made them coherent, then adding fake stories, and he did it all in the wrong language. It’s like a very confused person asked ChatGPT to make them a wizard, and that’s not a zany analogy. This book is precisely, exactly that, only done by hand in 1993.
Pattabhi dedicated his book to this very ribboned man with an avalanche of names. I wouldn’t normally speak for a Jgnanapeeth Awardee like Kalaprapoorna, Padmasree Dr. C. Narayana Reddy, but having MAGIC for Children dedicated to you is like getting a Special Thanks in the instruction manual for a brand of bikini wax recalled for having a medically unsafe instruction manual. When Jgnanapeeth Awardee Kalaprapoorna, Padmasree Dr. C. Narayana Reddy saw this, he probably said, “I know this is going to take several minutes of backspacing, and yet still, take my name off your fucking book.”
I don’t know what the state of prestidigitation was in India in 1993, but the Foreword spends a lot of time dispelling the reader’s fear of card tricks. Pattabhi needs us to know magic has never been real, and if we are reading this from the dungeon of a sorcerer, it has always been in our power to escape. Maybe? He also says Magic is useful for “to kill chid cure,” so the language barrier is already a huge issue.
In the second Foreword called Yes! You are a Magician!, Pattabhi continues to assure us these math puzzles and trick matchboxes are not connected to witchcraft or “nacromancy.” Seriously, what is happening here? This is 1993, not the Dark Ages. I think they get it, Pattabhi. When you saw The Pelican Brief in your local theater, did you turn to the person next to you and explain, “Julia Roberts is not the world’s largest and flattest law student. This is a film, not a sorcerer’s prison, like the one I recently escaped after realizing magic isn’t real. Hi, I’m Pattabhi Ram… Witch Craft! DE-BUUUNKER!!!“
Okay, let’s get started with the magic tricks, the very coherent magic tricks. I’ll just clip the text of this simple ma– oh, fuck.
This is not a good sign in a lot of directions. It’s only his second trick introduction and he’s already “Oxford-dictionary defines magic as”ing us. He’s also still concerned we think math puzzles are actual, supernatural black magic. And maybe most importantly, this is fucking crazy.
This incoherent math bullshit is an ancient trick performed by face reading experts? If you understand what that means, keep it to yourself. Maybe witchcraft isn’t real, but I refuse to take the chance by letting that darkness into my mind. I also don’t feel any shame in admitting I have no goddamn idea how Pattabhi is trying to wonder me here. Go ahead and read it a second and third time. I did! It is a babbling pile of letters and numbers, and after you decode it, this trick has no prayer of impressing anyone. If a strange man asks you for your birthday and favorite holiday and age and they add up to an unrelated number, you don’t marvel at his powers. You would wonder why your email keeps getting hacked.
Let’s move on to Hanky-Panky.
Relax, this is a kid’s book. In this context, Hanky-Panky means a sex act performed by clowns. I’m going to assume you already know how to do this, so let’s move on to a mind-reading trick.
Each trick in MAGIC for Children comes with a single illustration and a dangerously random chemical fact. Kids, did you know sodium silicate can turn any matches into less predictable matches? Anyway, enough about that. Carefully stage four stacks of cards and have one of your friends pick a pile. Depending on how you look at it, they will always guess four! The trick here, which everyone, literally everyone, will figure out, is that you have a pedantic, hair-splitting definition of the concept of “four.” Or, as it’s known in this book, “Tour.” The point is, a card trick where you’re um-technically not wrong is just the incel part of magic without the magic part of magic.
Here’s a fun trick kids can do if they have a job as a substitute teacher and want to hatch a desperate revenge scheme to humiliate another child. First, have them come up and write meaningless numbers. Then, ask them to write a number that makes no sense. For instance, something only an idiot would say. Except no, listen, they’re the idiot. I mean, picture this. They were supposed to write eleven thousand, eleven hundred and eleven, but the dummy wrote “11,11, Oil?” What? And then you could be like, “Oil isn’t a number, you stupid asshole!” Or they might write “HI, 11, 11V” Okay? Hello!? Numbers don’t start by saying HI, dumbass. Or maybe they stare at you like you said something confusing. HA! Yes, everyone laugh! No, at him! Not me! You’re laughing at the wrong person! Laugh at the moron who wrote a bunch of letters maybe, for some reason!
Maybe I’m not picturing this right. Maybe this trick kills. I mean, the person who taught it to Pattabhi is on actual stamps.
It was a real missed opportunity to not price P.C. Sorcar’s stamp at HI, 3 rupees, -97 rupees, Oil, and 594 rupeesV.
This trick is the tired shrug of a weary mind. It’s almost contemptuous of wonderment. First, you ask someone not to pick a card because you’ve already got this six of clubs and nine of spades right here. Great, the perfect start. Then you put them back in the pack and let them look at it. Now, as long as they continue indulging you and forget both of those cards, TA DA, they are a little bit confused. It works on the idea that dumbness is everywhere, hopefully. I’m not even sure this is worth criticizing. It has all the foresight of a bank robber hoping someone left the front door and vault open. It’s like getting into a woman’s car and just kind of hoping she mistakes you for her husband. So I guess it’s in the realm of possibility for this trick to work, but why bother? You’re performing for an audience who cared enough to remember zero of their two cards. They don’t give a shit. Tell them anything. Tell them magic is real and you’re the one who freed Denzel Washington from The Pelican Brief.
I think I’m only including this next one because I don’t want to suffer alone. You shouldn’t read this:
What is this. At the risk of looking dumb, I have no fucking idea what I’m meant to be doing or how I could be doing it. You want me to sew beads into a hanky to make shot glasses stick to a book? Speak plainly, wizard. Are we conjuring your dead wife or are you asking me to fuck your live one?
P.C. Sorcar, the guy from the stamp and master of asking people to write a dumb number, was also very gifted at Thumb Remove Trick. He adapted it for tiny box, and used it to make the president of a Mahila Samaj faint! No listen: this accomplished, full-grown, community leader saw a finger in a box, a cute illusion you would not expect a 7-year-old to believe, and it took her an hour to wake up. I’m not saying the author hates women, but this motherfucker could have made up any story and he went with “One time a woman saw Gotcher Nose and almost died. And not just any woman; like, the best one in Calcutta. It would have seriously turned her brain inside out if she was just a waitress or an astronaut or whatever.” Anyway, at the risk of killing the lady readers, you do this trick by putting your finger in a little box and wiggling it.
We are twelve spells in, and Pattabhi is already typing out half-remembered pub tricks. In what world would this work? If you asked someone, in this case the author suggests a naughty boy, to drink out of a glass without using their hands, this is the second thing they would do after simply picking up the glass with their wrists. Who would this baffle? Are we supposed to find the one naughty boy who’s never changed a pillowcase? You can’t do something this unlikeable and then perfectly present yourself for a curb stomping. If I saw this, I would assume this was all a set up and he was asking me to volunteer for the second part of the trick. I’d say, “Oh, the trick is some mystical way to avoid these pint glasses going through his skull. No, wait, the trick is to make me think I’ve killed a man. Wow, if I was a lady, all these twitching fake fingers would make me faint for at least one hour.”
If I’m understanding this correctly, this illusion is adding water to a wad of mango juice and dish cloths and offering it to someone who thinks you’re a witch. Be sure to use a plastic mug because psychiatric patients aren’t allowed to have ceramic or glass, have I told you how I learned to punish naughty boys with math from the wizard on this stamp? That’s it. That’s it.
It’s worth remembering this book is called MAGIC for Children. So it’s weird the author expects a kid to call your personal assistant and verify your mind powers. And I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, sorcerer, but your card code isn’t exactly uncrackable. “Hi, I’m a child watching a magic trick in 1993? I’m hoping to speak to Kevin O’Farts to confirm the receipt of his boss’ telepathic message. Oh, this is Kevin O’Farts? And my card is the seven of hearts? Oh my god, that’s exa– hey, wait a minute. This guy called you on your other line, didn’t he, Kevin O’Farts?”
You know how some lady kids hesitate to declare their age? Women kids, what can you do, right? Well, with this trick you can tell them their age anyway, against their will. Simply hand them this stack of cards and ask them to tell you which ones contain their real age! They have to, for it would be very dangerous to wrong you, strange magician. Now, assuming they don’t see the obvious coming, you can use a dumb number key to wow her with her own age! Unless… oh no, unless lady kids also lie about their age to cards. Fuck.
So to change a balloon’s color, you blow up one inside the other and then pop the one on the outside. I guess you wait for a sneeze or a train to go by? I don’t know; like every trick in this terrible book, you have to fill in a lot of blanks. And don’t expect any help from the illusion’s inventor, popular American dwarf magician, Color King. There doesn’t seem to be any trace of him. Could Pattabhi have meant Willow? Probably not, but if someone charged from an alleyway fully nude and said, “Warwick Davis told me to fill balloons with cloves to disguise their true colors!” it would make the same amount of sense as this.
I think we may have run our magic book in a culture gap here, because to me these appear to be the final curses of an alien enemy. Even assuming I’m acting in good faith with full generosity to the author’s intent, and I’m not, fuck this guy, I don’t get what this would do, or prove. I am performing a mentalist show for kids? And I’ve planted a child in the audience named Prashant whose favorite film is the 1988 romantic action comedy Tezaab? And then I tell everyone, “I don’t know this kid, but I’m going to write down the weird shit he says, sometimes after he says it, to prove my telepathy. Thanks for doing this, by the way. It’s nice to see you again, Prashant.” Nonsense. Chittering madman nonsense.
Not everything has to be complicated. Sometimes you need only listen to the whispers of your knife.
In the trick, The Audience is Always Wrong, Pattabhi shows you how to glue a five to a queen. I think you’ve got it from here, but he takes a full page to very confusingly try to explain how a double-sided card might deceive a child. See, they think you have a five, but it’s a queen. It works in reverse, as well. Unrelated to the trick, but included on the same page, Pattabhi suggests spinning all your eggs if you forgot which ones you boiled. Then eat the winner! Hold on, hold on, guys, I think this book might be fucking stupid.
This is probably my favorite story in the book. Pattabhi is at a magic retreat where every year, the top magicians share magic secrets. I love it– a secret gathering of sorcerers to discuss the latest developments in naughty boy math humiliations. But then a rookie bursts into the inner chamber with a cut finger. A band-aid! Who has a band-aid!? No one. He would have to bleed out like many before him. Hold! What’s this!? Mr. Mӓhender of Delhi casts a 14th level band-aid conjuring spell! To everybody’s astonishment, he is saved!
Now, Mr. Mӓhender would certainly target you with his furious vengeance if you told anyone this, but the secret to the spell was that he put a band-aid in a little box earlier. Okay, enough fucking around. I think we’re ready to battle witches now.
Witches use this trick, Abracadabra, to convince mentally ill villagers they have voodoo powers. Fight back against these dark arts by proving it as mere chemistry! First, you put a coin in your hand. Then add a little mercurous chloride, a substance as toxic as it sounds. You’ll know you did it right from the nausea and diarrhea. It’s like they say in remote villages: “Please go, coin witch. We tire of watching your people die, asshole first.”
Sometimes you may need to teach a naughty boy a lesson with something more serious than math. That’s a situation that calls for Tit for Tat. Catch the naughty boy off guard with an object making unusual noises! Unless that’s just a baby toy. Oh no, did Pattabhi build a homemade baby toy, call it a magic trick, and create an elaborate revenge fantasy about shutting up the Mayor of Nashville’s nephew with it? That’s embarrassing. I respect words too much to call this dipshit nonsense a lie. If you filled my head with spider eggs set to hatch if anyone ever dropped a book of matches and shouted any variation of, “Aaaahhh, this book of matches has some kind of device in it!!!” I would live forever, free from worry.
In this ingenious trick, you hook your raincoat’s corsage on a rubber band and hide it in your armpit. It’s called Buttonhole Blockade, and if y– wait a minute. I know enough about partying to recognize the Bengali-to-English translation of Anal Beads.
To perform this stunning illusion, you’ll need to first plant a woman in the audience. This part might be difficult since by the book’s premise, you’re either a child or performing for children. Now, make sure she’s wearing a scarf identical to one you’ve hidden away in a hollow candle, and also capable of crying on command. Pattabhi says this is a popular trick because “it uses minimum of apparatus.” It’s a strange way to describe three props, two of which get destroyed by fire, and an entire human woman, but at least he’s not claiming he used it to destroy the Prime Minister for disturbing his Buttonhole Blockade.
You know, here’s something you’ll never fucking hear: “Bye, loving people in my normal, well-adjusted life! I’m heading to the grade school with my juggling balls to tell the children I can predict their grades with matches!”
This was the final trick in the book– a way to rig matches to float differently Pattabhi learned from his fourth of many juggling kidnappers. Which means it’s time to say goodbye.
Author leaves us with good news. It doesn’t matter if we are terrible at magic. We can still tell naughty boys to write strange numbers even if we’re missing both hands like the famously handless Medhum Bashinger, or if we’re 24 inches tall like tiny magic legend, Joseph Jaino. Neither of those people left any trace, by the way. The only mention I found of Medhum was this book.
It’s possible Pattabhi is thinking of Matthias Buchinger, a 17th century magician whose name shares a vague similarity to those letters and was born with no limbs. And fun fact, Wikipedia says they used to call vaginas “Buchinger’s boots” in England, going on to explain “because the only ‘limb’ he had was his penis,” and then penis is a hotlink to the entry on penises. It also says he died in Cork which makes me think this particular Wikipedia entry may involve some light fucking around.
Matthias might also be the source of the other guy Pattabhi made up, because having no legs made him about 24 inches tall, and I found no little person magicians named anything close to Joseph Jaino. And speaking of bad names, I found a service that delivers little people, including magicians, and you’ll never guess what it’s called.
No, it wasn’t Tiny Traffickers, but Jesus Christ, you were close. Look, I don’t know what it all means. I guess it means the author of this children’s book is a liar, but what is the line between magician and liar? Can we truly blame a man for his deeds when he spent so much of his childhood being tricked by jugglers? Should we forgive a man for writing poorly in a language he doesn’t speak about a premise he can’t remember? We may never know, or understand. Such is the nature of magic, be it hanky-panky, tit for tat, or buttonhole blockade.
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