Endless Goliaths

houdiniAt New Escapologist, we use Escapology as a metaphor. There are others we could have used, but it just so happens I was reading about Houdini five years ago in parallel to books about Bohemia and liberty. Ah, how it all came together!

I liked how Houdini’s combination of snazzy showmanship and chiding didacticism stood in for a wider parable. That’s what I wanted to do too.

I noticed that Houdini’s performance transcended conjuring and went into the world of allegory. The restraints from which he’d escape were often topical. For example, his icebox escapes referred to the up and coming frozen food industry. The idea was that modern conveniences that posed as liberating could in fact be traps. The person on the street had observed this and Houdini appealed to her/his sense of entrapment by theatricalising the escape fantasy.

Today, I came across an expert confirmation of my thesis. Jim Steinmeyer is a designer of theatrical illusions and historian of magic. In his book Hiding the Elephant: how magicians invented the impossible and learned to disappear, Steinmeyer writes:

It wasn’t really conjuring at all, even if his novel act had been derived from the world of magicians. Houdini created his own product. The drama of his performances was the sight of the little man challenged, playing David to society’s endless Goliaths, the archetypal victim who, within the strict confines of the vaudeville turn, rose to the victor.

So there we have it. That is part of what I hope is the appeal of New Escapologist, that we show through theory, example, and good humour how these “endless Goliaths” are toppled.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

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