There is no "Magic" behind the Magic

A few years back when the trailer for the Christopher Nolan movie “The Prestige” was released, I was so fascinated by it that I went to the library immediately and checked out the book by Christopher Priest that the movie was based on. I read it from cover to cover in a little more than a day (I’m a slow reader).

One of the main themes of the book that’s present in the movie, though not to the same extent, was that the answer to “how’d he do that?” is almost always so obvious that our minds would never allow ourselves to consider it as a real possibility for how the illusion was performed. In other words the “magic” behind the magic isn’t really all that magical at all. In fact, almost always, the answer to the riddle is quite simple.

The best example of this in the book was a story of an old Chinese man whose big illusion was making a fish bowl appear out of thin air. The answer to “how’d he do that?” was simple. He keeps the fishbowl between his legs and underneath his gown and using a little sleight of hand he’s able to make it appear like the fishbowl materializes magically out of thin air. The real discipline of the trick is walking like he has a fishbowl between his legs ALL THE TIME, every hour of every day, so that people think that’s how he normally walks. This is the discipline of great magic. He’s selling the illusion even when he’s not performing the illusion. There’s really nothing all that magical about it, it’s purely a discipline.

The thing about it is, that’s really disappointing to us, the audience, because we WANT to believe that something greater is at play here. When we watch Criss Angel or David Blaine on TV, nobody ever suspects that some of the people in the crowd are in on the illusion or that they use actors and trick photography because that would be too easy, that would be disappointing because it’s so obvious, so we rule that out as a possible explanation and begin to attribute abilities to magicians that are superhuman.

Here’s my point. Anytime we see anything great, anything fantastic, anything, dare I say “magical”, we automatically assume that the process that created it must also be just as fantastic, just as great, just as magical, and the plain truth of the matter is, IT’S NOT!

The more opportunities I’ve had to be around people who do great work, the more I have discovered that there’s nothing magical about the magic they make. It’s purely the discipline of pouring over the details again and again looking for ways to improve their craft that makes them so good at what they do. It’s easy to assume that those who write great songs just wake up everyday and write five killer tunes before breakfast because hey, they’re Joel Houston after all, but the truth is for every amazing song they write, there are hundreds more that are utter garbage. Their magic is in their daily discipline of writing, writing, and writing some more.

So if you’ve been feeling less than adequate and wishing that some amazing artist would take you behind the scenes and show you the secrets to the artistic universe, don’t feel bad, we’ve all been there, but realize that while there’s always more to learn, the greatest lessons are learned through the discipline of doing it everyday.

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Whitney George
Lead Pastor
Whitney George is the Executive Pastor at Church on the Move, where he oversees the operations and ministries of the church. Whitney is passionate about the local church and loves connecting with other church leaders. He and his wife, Heather, have five children and he loves Notre Dame football.
@whitneygeorge