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THE WAR MAGICIAN MYTH

"Jasper Maskelyne’s most effective piece of camouflage, his most deceptive decoy, was ingeniously compact, built from recycled tree carcass and weighed only thirteen ounces. It was a hardback book called Magic–Top Secret. And it has fooled people for 60 years." Richard Stokes

In the early 1990s at a magic auction in Sydney, Australia, I bought a box load of stale magic magazines for a throwaway price. On the long train journey back to the Blue Mountains, I sifted through numerous bundled copies of IBM’s Linking Ring. I began reading a fascinating two-part article by John Booth on the amazing wartime career of Major Jasper Maskelyne. Namely, The Mystery of “The War Magician” and The Most Heroic Sized Illusions in Magic History.
In his revelatory 1985 column, Booth described how he met Maskelyne in Kenya in 1954, but was not aware of the significance of Maskelyne’s achievements until he came across The War Magician by David Fisher. Booth was captivated: “Few books in the past decade have intrigued me so intensely as this one ... Masterfully written, almost like a documentary novel, replete with conversation and verifiable historical detail... .”
After initial misgivings, Booth seemed confident that the events described in The War Magician really had taken place. Booth genuinely believed that Jasper Maskelyne deserved belated recognition as the world’s master illusionist: “he will go down in history not only as the last performer of the great conjuring family of the Maskelynes but as the prime designer and performer of the greatest illusions in human history.”
Inspired by Booth’s enthusiastic article, I tracked down Fisher’s out-of-print book. I found The War Magician fascinating but seriously flawed. Fisher appears to have ‘novelised’ the Maskelyne material into a military adventure with comic elements: Mission Impossible meets Dad’s Army. Certain incidents seemed too dramatically convenient.
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