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.

Pre-order Issue Nine in print or on PDF today.
Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount.
Or buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.


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

Leave a Reply

Latest issues and offers


Issue 14

Our latest issue. Featuring interviews with Caitlin Doughty and the Iceman, with columns by McKinley Valentine, David Cain, Tom Hodgkinson, and Jacob Lund Fisker. 88 pages. £9.


Two-issue Subscription

Get the current and next issue of New Escapologist. 176 pages. £16.

Four-issue Subscription

Get the current and next three issues of New Escapologist. 352 pages. £36.

PDF Archive

Issues 1-13 in PDF format. Over a thousand digital pages to preserve our 2007-2017 archive. 1,160 pages. £25.