"The best general theory of magic we have yet in any literature" - Dr. Lawrence Hass
The following are my ten favorite Robert Neale effects. They are listed in no particular order. I will name the effects and then cite Neale sources. I have made revisions to most of his scripts and in some cases to the methods to fit my personality and performance ability and style.
This is more of a principle than a single effect. Bob and many others have used this principle in the creation of many effects with cards, bills, business cards, posters, and drawings.
Bob first published this in Robert E. Neale’s Trapdoor Card by Karl Fulves (1983, p. 9) and also in Fulves’s Self-Working Paper Magic (1985, pp. 111-136). To see this on video see Bob and Michael Weber’s DVD, Celebration of Sides..
In Bob’s and Lawrence Hass’s most recent publication, Magic Inside Out, the Trapdoor principle is used in “Dream Door” (pp. 1-8) and “The Possibility of Paradise,” (pp. 101-110).
[See my adaptation and commentary below.]
“Survivor,” inspired by Albert Camus’s novel, The Plague (1948) is a modified version of “Sole Survivor,” found in Eugene Burger’s and Bob’s Magic and Meaning (2nd ed., pp. 132-136). It is published in Neale’s Life, Death and Other Card Tricks (pp.143-146).
The Five Gifts of Life is based on the Mark Twain short story The Five Boons of Life. Neale first published the effect with playing cards in Life, Death and Other Card Tricks (pp. 50-54) and later in This Is Not a Book (, pp. 8-15) with small objects. Others performers have performed a version of this effect. The one I prefer is Larry Hass’s card effect in his Transformations: Creating Magic Out of Tricks (pp. 32-41).
This was the very first Bob Neale origami effect with dollar bill I learned. It was published as a manuscript by Magic Inc. in 1964. It can also described in the video, Celebration of Sides.
This piece of story-telling combines a well know optical illusion with an ancient folktale. The optical illusion is the popular “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” by W.E. Hill, first published in the November 6, 1915 English magazine Puck (p.11). The traditional story is from Jane Yolen’s Favorite Folktales from Around the World(p. 3). I love the final lines of the script, “If truth is in the eye of the beholder, and truth is also the desire of our hearts, let our eyes see our hearts and let our hearts transform our eyes.” It can be found in both This Is Not a Book (pp. 44-48) and in The Magic of Celebrating Illusion (pp. 109-112).
This piece of zany magic and storytelling was first published in the March 2004 issue M-U-M(pp. 36-39). It is also included in Magic Inside Out (pp. 63-73). It is a version of the “Magic Square” combined with an irreverent tale of nuns, one of whom has dyslexia and thus sees strange things.
This geometrical vanish illusion, inspired by Martin Gardner’s Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, can be found in his and David Parr’s The Magic Mirror (pp. 77-83) and in his video, Celebration of Sides.
This storytelling and origami folding prop (available from The Art and Theory of Magic) attempts to answer the philosophical question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” It consist of a two-sided cardboard frame with images of a hen, a chick, an egg and a rooster and with the question seen through the eyes of Sigmund Freud. It can be found in An Essay on Magic(pp.310-325) and in a link with the package of ten props.
This is Bob’s version of the old con game “Pricking the Garter.” “Pricking the Garter” is related to the con game the “Endless Chain.” Bob’s version of the “Endless Chain” is called “The Swindler, The Shill and My Uncle” in his Tricks of the Imagination (pp. 39-59). “Inside the Beltway” can be found in The Magic of Celebrating Illusions (pp. 217-224) and in the video, Celebration of Sides.
This wonderful script and six-card repeat type effect is found in Life, Death and Other Card Tricks (pp. 136-142). This script inspired Eugene Burger’s “Thirteen at Dinner” which can be found in Eugene Burger: From Beyond by Lawrence Hass, Ph.D. (pp. 7-17).
What about you?
Do you have your own favorite Neale routines? Using this format, please send them to us.
As a resource for works by Bob, click on the photograph above to go to the Theory and Art of Magic Press.
The “Trapdoor Card” is one of my favorite Robert Neale effects. I consider it more of a “magic principle” than a single magic trick. I want to explore this concept more in this column. Robert Neale’s Trapdoor Card was first published Karl Fulves in 1983 and later in Self Working Paper Magic (1985, pp.112-114). Most recently Neale published two versions of the effect (“Dream Door” and “The Possibility of Paradise”) in Magic Inside Out (2021) with Lawrence Hass as co-author. An excellent video presentation of Neale demonstrating the Trapdoor principle can be found in his DVD with Michael Weber, Celebration of Sides: The Nonsense World of Robert Neale (2006).
The basic effect of the Trapdoor is the magician shows a card, bill, posters etc. that has a flap door cut in the middle. A spectator holds the door on one side of the card while the magician makes a few folds with the card. When the card is unfolded the spectator, who has not released the door, is now on the other side of the card, thus appearing to have gone through the small door. This demonstration can be performed as a puzzle or as a magical effect depending on the presentation.
Trapdoor is a topological effect. Mathematical topology is the study of geometric properties and spatial relations unaffected by continuous change. This means that an object such as a card can be preserved and not destroyed even when it is stretched, twisted, or bent. Magic uses topology in the creation of other effects such as the “Afghan Bands” which uses the Mobius strip, “Card Warp,” and the hyper card.
Based on a Nick Brown idea I have crafted a large colorful wall poster with the four characters from the Wizard of Oz on one side and a black/white/gray picture of the characters on the farm in Kansas on the other. The trapdoor is cut around Dorothy so that she can go from Kansas to Oz and back again. Other pictures or posters depicting an action, fantasy or science fiction scene can be created in a similar way.
Martin Lewis created a large stage or platform trapdoor presentation. It is called “The Wall” and has a volunteer, in the spirit of Harry Houdini, go through a brick wall. The brick wall can also represent the wall at platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter books and movies. It plays big but packs small and flat. Plans for constructing this illusion, which plays big and packs small, can be found in MAGIC Magazine (January 2016, pp. 65-66). The trapdoor principle lends itself to endless possibilities for performance pieces and creative presentations.
Recently Ben Harris published Machinations: Explorations through the Trapdoor (2019, Vanishing Inc.). It is a beautiful 100 page book with 14 templates and props. It also includes a foreword and bonus effect by Robert Neale. This is an incredible book of new trapdoor effects. It was highly praised in a review in Genii: the Conjurors’ Magazine (January 2021, pp, 82-83).
Feel free to share any trapdoor illusions you know and/or perform here. We would be delighted to hear from you.
D. Michael Smith