Terry Pratchett on the Art of Conjuring
When someone as articulate and insightful as Sir Terry Pratchett - the celebrated fantasy author who has written extensively about magic - describes the conjurer's craft, it is worth taking notice. While listening to an audio rendition of A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of Pratchett's nonfiction writings, I came across a mind-blowing passage, and knew I had to get my hands on a copy so I could share it.
In a piece entitled "Neil Gaiman, Amazing Master Conjurer" (2002), Pratchett describes his friend and colleague Gaiman as "no genius. He's better than that. He's not a wizard, in other words, but a conjurer." Gaiman goes on to explain:
Wizards don't have to work. They wave their hands, and the magic happens. But conjurors, now ... conjurors work very hard. They spend a lot of time in their youth watching, very carefully, the best conjurors of their day. They seek out old books of trickery and, being natural conjurors, read everything else as well, because history itself is just a magic show. They observe the way people think, and the many ways in which they don't. They learn the subtle use of springs, and how to open mighty temple doors at a touch, and how to make the trumpets sound.
And they take centre stage and amaze you with flags of all nations and smoke and mirrors, and you cry: "Amazing! How does he do it? What happened to the elephant? Where's the rabbit? Did he really smash my watch?"
And in the back row we, the other conjurors, say quietly, "Well done. Isn't that a variant of the Prague Levitating Sock? Wasn't that Pasqual's Spirit Mirror, where the girl isn't really there? But where the hell did that flaming sword come from?"
And we wonder if there may be such a thing as wizardry, after all...
So it seems that Terry Pratchett, who conjured fanciful stories about wizards, witches and magicians, knew a thing or two about conjuring in real life. Because there's lots of truth in that passage.