“People are needing to dream. It happened before this year of amazing challenges…. People look at me and they go, ‘Please take me away. Please take me to another place.’”
Magician David Copperfield opened his talk at the American Library Association’s 2021 Annual Conference and Exhibition Virtual stating his raison d’etre and explaining the extraordinary power of magic. It was a theme that ran throughout his conversation with moderator Richard Wiseman, who coauthored with Copperfield the upcoming book, David Copperfield’s History of Magic (Simon & Schuster, October).
Magic has the ability to transport people to wonderous places where the impossible becomes possible, and it has had a transformative effect on the history of the human race, Copperfield said. He spoke from inside the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas, his personal and private museum containing tens of thousands of artifacts, props, and books covering the history of the magical arts—everything from trick trunks once owned by Harry Houdini to a turban worn by the mind reader Alexander to an original edition of the 1584 book The Discoverie of Witchcraft.
Specifically, Copperfield was seated in a re-creation of Tannen’s Magic, the famed magic store in New York City where he discovered magic as a boy. Being able to celebrate and recognize magic’s place in history is as important to him as his own work as a magician, he said.
“When people come to visit the museum, they get very emotional,” Copperfield said, “because this is a lost world, to come to a place where wonders are created.”
Magic has influenced some of the greatest thinkers, inventors, writers, and visual artists throughout history, Copperfield said. He detailed Leonardo da Vinci’s lifelong interest in magic; how illusion influenced Georges Méliès to create A Trip to the Moon (1902), one of the first movies ever made; and even the role that magic has played in the works of Orson Welles and contemporary filmmaker J. J. Abrams. Copperfield also explained how magicians have played a role in the creation of computers and robotics.
“Our iPhones, computers, and robots are rooted in a magician’s idea—a magician’s motivation to tell stories in a different way,” he said.
When asked by Wiseman if kids should consider magic as a hobby, Copperfield enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
“Well, what else am I going to say? Absolutely!” he laughed. “But I really do mean it because you learn so much.” Copperfield shared that he created a program called Project Magic that uses magic to teach dexterity, memory, planning, and communication skills to people with disabilities.
“There’s something to be said about what happens to your brain when you’re learning magic and sharing it,” Copperfield said.
Wiseman, who serves as professor of the public understanding of psychology at University of Hertfordshire in the UK, elaborated on the power of magic as a teaching tool.
“Magic is incredible for kids, because it builds confidence, self-esteem, and creative-thinking skills. You’re presented with this thing that appears to be impossible, and you have to figure out how you might do that impossible thing,” he said. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t work. So you go back and change it again. It teaches self-control, because you have to rehearse.”
Copperfield ended his talk with a message for the librarians, educators, and parents who were listening: “Look at all the people—da Vinci, Orson Welles, J. J. Abrams, and more—who didn’t end up as magicians,” he said. “All of these people were fascinated by magic for a reason. It’s a bridge to learn certain things. I recommend it highly.”