As much as I try to elevate my magic beyond being a mere puzzle I still get asked ‘how did you do that??’ Here’s why I (and most magicians) won’t tell you how it’s done no matter how much you ask!
A lot of magicians don’t like to be asked how their effects are done as they’d rather the spectator is swept away by the story or the beauty of the trick rather than being concerned by its execution. However different people enjoy magic in different ways and I think that being asked how it was done may not be the ideal response but it’s still a compliment for two reasons. First it means the spectator actually cares about the trick rather than being bored and not really giving a monkey’s about why that card keeps coming to the top of the deck! Secondly it means they have no idea how it could possibly have been done and have had to ask as a final resort (or final resort before they ask Google!).
When I’m asked how I did it I have a couple of answers in my arsenal: ‘very well’ or ‘can you keep a secret?…. So can I!’ but if they persist I always give them what I think is the best argument for keeping magic secrets. What they have just seen was beautiful and exciting, but the secret is ugly and boring and it will destroy the beauty that they’ve just witnessed. This may sound a little pretentious (or artsy-fartsy to use the technical term) but it’s absolutely true. People may think they want to know how it’s done but they really don’t! Magicians may not do ‘real’ magic but there is real magic and wonder created in the mind of the spectator and it would be a shame to destroy it.
Another reason is that magicians have usually put years of work into creating and perfecting their routines so they aren’t then going to just give away the secret to someone who’s never going to use it and just wants to satisfy their curiosity. If someone genuinely wants to learn magic I point them in the direction of what books to buy or what magic shops to have a look at to get them started. Similarly if I’m asked the question by a child I explain that I started out by going to the library and getting a magic book when I was six years old; I kept learning and practicing as well as eating my vegetables, going to bed when my parents told me, working hard at school and now I can do the amazing things that they’ve just seen.
The final reason for not telling muggles how the magic is done is for magic to continue existing as a form of entertainment. If everyone could spot every magician’s technique straight away it would no longer be entertaining. And when the secrets of magic creators are revealed or given away for free those creators aren’t going to want to continue creating and magic performance would whither and die. This may seem like a bit of a dramatic thing to worry about when one person is asking how one trick is done but magic has survived and brought joy to millions of people worldwide because the techniques used have been kept secret.
Next time you see a magician and they won’t tell you how it’s done remember, it’s not because they are being petty and like to feel clever by knowing something you don’t know…ok it might be a little bit of that…. but there are also some good reasons too! Can you think of any other reasons magicians should keep their secrets? Or do you think magicians should tell someone how it’s done if they REALLY want to know? Can you think of any more good responses when someone asks how it’s done? Let me know in the comments and as always please like and share. Finally, remember: the person who can keep a secret is wise but not half as wise as the person with no secrets to keep… unless he’s a magician!