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Sheherazade Book Review

Official Review

April 11th, 2004 1:00am
Reviewed by David Parr
Sheherazade is a recent English translation of a book by German magician Ulf Bolling, published in 1999 under his nom de theatre Borodin. Between its black covers is a collection of over thirty effects, most of which may be placed in the category of bizarre magic or, perhaps more precisely, storytelling magic.

Fans of Invocation magazine will find much to enjoy in Sheherazade, as each piece is arranged like a work of short fiction with Borodin as author and star. The emphasis throughout is on evoking a magical atmosphere with words, and Bolling proves to be a skillful writer who draws his inspiration from a variety of interesting sources.

But the emphasis on story is also where the material tends to stumble: In many of these routines, the actual magic effect -- the brief appearance of a phantom ring in the title routine, or an otherworldly glow emanating from a glass of wine in "Neville and the Silent Beauty" -- does not seem to fully justify the length and complexity of the tale. This is especially evident when the magic is not integrated into the story, when the effect occurs as an epilogue or commentary after the story is finished.

The de-emphasizing of magic is a conscious choice on the part of the author. Bolling himself states on page 39 that "The visual magic should never be stronger than the story." Having given this statement some thought, I can imagine some situations in which such an approach could be effective. If, for instance, one promoted oneself as a storyteller audiences might be pleasantly surprised -- even thrilled -- by the subtle addition of magic to the performance. Magic, in this case, would serve as a way to exceed the expectations of the audience.

I can also imagine situations in which the guiding philosophy that the magic should never be stronger than the story would not effectively serve the performer or the audience. If, for instance, people pay to see a magician, they bring with them certain expectations about the performance. Among these is that they expect to see a magic show; that is, they expect the show to have strong and prominent magical content. In this scenario, I believe the task of the performer is to meet these expectations -- by performing powerful magic -- and then to exceed them by introducing other elements, such as storytelling, into the show.

(Which brings to mind a question that I've often thought about: In the area of plot and presentation, why does bizarre magic so often indulge in too much of a good thing? Is it overcompensation for a relative rarity of thoughtful presentation in mainstream magic? Or is some other factor at work here?)

Potential readers of this book should also be aware that the methods for many of the effects in Sheherazade rely on specially constructed props. Some of these were made by the author, who is clearly handy with a jigsaw and a hot glue gun; others were assembled from various one-of-a-kind doodads found in curio shops and antique stores. Several routines involve pieces of magical apparatus that are not readily available in the magic market. For performers seeking ready-made material to add to their shows, this book is perhaps not the best place to begin searching.

I think Sheherazade functions best as a place to begin searching for ideas and inspiration, for encouragement to explore more theatrical aspects of our art. Books such as this are best read slowly, a little at a time, allowing the author's thoughts to seep into the mind and spark new questions, new connections -- new stories.
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Product info for Sheherazade Book

Author: Ulf Bolling-Borodin
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $45.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

If you do any kind of story magic at all, this is the book for you! If you have Magical Adventures and Fairy Tales or Once Upon a Time by Punx, you don't want to miss this one! If you have been kicking yourself because you missed out on the Punx books, you definitely want to get this book.

Sheherazade is not a magic book. Sheherazade is also not a story book. Sheherazade is the successful synthesis of the two. This book contains extremely refined routines which are easy to perform. They are dressed up in artistic presentations which transform them into exciting miracles which captivate and please not only the eye, but also the ear of the audience.

And this causes an interesting phenomenon: the magic takes place in the minds, in the fantasies of the audience.

The first section deals with stories that have a feeling of fairy tales. The second section "Midnight Stories" quickly teaches the audience the meaning of horror. Thanks to Borodin's elegantly composed words, this is the stylistically the finest and magically the most exacting presentation of the often very rough field of Bizarre Magic, which is enjoying such a great success in today's world of magic.

The third section presents the reader with the broad field of mental magic. Here Borodin presents his fabulously outstanding technical knowledge which is framed in exciting presentations.

When Sheherazed was printed in German in 1999, it took the German world of magic by storm. In 2000, Ulf Bolling-Borodin was awarded the Author of the Year Award by the Magic Circle of Germany for this book. There are 32 routines, 320 pages, lots of photos and line drawings. Borodin was considered by Punx to be his best student. He is a master storyteller and a very creative magician.

Most of this material will be completely new to the English-speaking world. There are enchanting tales that will keep you spellbound, horror stories that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck and mental mysteries that will convince your audience that you really can read their minds.

All of these routines have been thoroughly audience tested. There are no pipe dreams here. As of now, fewer than 1000 copies will be printed, so make sure to get your copy today!

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