WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! This is a discussion amongst participants of ReadLiterature.Com's reading group. Since they have all read the book, they discuss it freely - including it's twists, turns, and the ending. If you have also read the book, you might enjoy the comments of other readers. But if you haven't and intend to do so, then the following discussion might ruin it for you.
Posted by Howard on 9/2/2004, 21:57:34
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Carter Beats the Devil discussion!
Before I perform my first trick (where I will make lots of messages appear on this thread) I would like to say a few words about Glen David Gold's novel. I picked it up in a store a few months ago and wondered if it might be a bit too wacky for our book of the month. However it completely exceeded my expectations.
I have never read a work of fiction packed with so much interesting information on magic tricks and illusions, inventions and historical facts combined with colourful characters, both real and fictional, (ok the Secret Service agents were not so good!) a fast paced plot and lots of humour. In particular I loved the way Mysterioso was transformed from an unethical illusionist to a James Bond style villain (with evil pet) towards the end of the novel.
(By the way you will have noticed numerous references to corporations that appeared in the novel. As we are a non-advertising site I will not list these here in case I upset Lale and she uses her magic to make my message disappear).
To start our discussion I have just pulled the following questions out of the hat:
1. What aspects of this novel did you enjoy (or dislike) the most?
2. Ottawa Keyes Practicians Manual of Legerdemain, Charles Carter's first magic book states "Puisque tous les creatures sont au fond des freres, il faut traiter vos betes comme vous traitez vos amis." Bearing this in mind do you feel Carter was justified in using Handsome in the Blackmail illusion to get his own back on Mysterioso?
So the curtain is up, let the discussion begin!
Posted by Lale on 9/2/2004, 23:13:20
What a wonderful kick-off! Carter Beats the Devil deserved nothing less.
I loved the book. I loved all the tidbits of 20s America. I loved the fusion of fact and fiction. I loved the very end, i.e. the answer to the "What happened to President Harding?" question. For those of us who have read Life of Pi: Wasn't this one of those "more interesting stories"? It sure beats the "he had a heart attack and died."
However, the 50-pages-long "fight of good guys (Carter-Phoebe-Baby) vs bad guys (Mysterioso-Handsome III)" was too much for me. I felt dizzy. It is definitely written very skillfully, but it made my head spin (it was like watching an action movie). I just wanted it to end. It went on for too long.
Otherwise great fun, great characters, great historic background mixed with imaginative writing. Loved it.
The author is a good story teller, period. This was good story telling. Effortless, visual, smooth ... And funny. Also, it used an old trick that is nowadays not so common by all the pretentious *high literature* writers: To take a historic personage and give it a different spin. Like Dumas did with Louis 14 in "Iron Mask". In fact this book reminded me of another of Dumas' books: The Count of Monte Cristo. How the good guy wins in the good old traditional way, how all the revenges are taken, how all the deserving characters find happiness. Very sweet, feel-good book. It had all the olden days kind of symbols.
: (By the way you will have noticed numerous references
: to corporations that appeared in the novel. As we are a
: non-advertising site I will not list these here in case
: I upset Lale and she uses her magic to make my message
Oh, no harm in talking about them here. We are not doing it for commercial purposes. We can mention that BMW made a good motorcycle.
: 1. What aspects of this novel did you enjoy (or
: dislike) the most?
Like: The historic connection, the old fashioned way of story telling, the ease of flow, suspense, vivid scenes without fancy descriptions, basically everything except...
Dislike: The hollywood style warehouse fight between the goods and the bads.
: 2. Ottawa Keyes Practicians Manual of Legerdemain,
: Charles Carter's first magic book states "Puisque
: tous les creatures sont au fond des freres, il faut
: traiter vos betes comme vous traitez vos amis."
: Bearing this in mind do you feel Carter was justified
: in using Handsome in the Blackmail illusion to get his
: own back on Mysterioso?
Not at all. It was fair and square. Handsome was not to be harmed. Mysterioso had tampered with the levitation equipment so he got some heart ache when Carter pretended to use his dog in the machine Mysterioso had broken. He was electrocuting the lion for gosh's sake (of course at that point Carter didn't know that yet, but still.) Carter, as any good fictional character, loved animals. He wasn't going to harm the dog. However, at the end of the book he was happy that Baby ate Handsome III, for obvious reasons.
Posted by Hanh on 10/2/2004, 7:46:51
: 1. What aspects of this novel did you enjoy (or
: dislike) the most?
Like: the conspiracy theory spin, and the novelty of the plot. I just finished "The Da Vinci Code", so this slotted right in. It would have helped if I knew more historical background about the characters though (my own shortcomings), to fit the story more tightly with reality -- that would make the conspiracy even more juicy. I recognize Philo Farnsworth as one of the inventors of TV, but don't know enough about him to make the historical fiction connection in the book real, the same way "The Da Vinci Code" conspiracy theory seemed plausible because I knew enough about it to understand the evidence to be supportable.
Dislike: can never visualize the tricks from the description! How do those tricks work? What does that "Devil's bit" that Jenks put in Charles' mouth look like? Not that I want to try it at home, but it made the story more "meaty" it the devices can be visualized. Magic, after all, is a visual medium.
One of my favorite parts in the books is actually a tiny scene, when Prescott was being criticized by the show owner Hemaidan in Cairo.
"Your show is a mess. I'm not even sure it's magic. I do not understand it. Your audience does not understand it."
"Perhaps you should be finding a better class of audience."
"I do not think so. You perform tricks, if that's what they are, that make no sense. ... And when you take a man's hat from the audience and put milk and the eggs and the flour into it -- you're supposed to make a cake. What kind of magic is it when you leave that mess, and slap it back onto his head?"
"It's the magic of teaching people not to trust anyone."
That is CLASSIC cynicism! Other than being hilariously funny, it brings to thought the different types of magicians: the true showmen of the craft (Houdini), the technical performers (the lesser magicians), and those just doing tricks to make some cash (the cynics).
Posted by Lale on 10/2/2004, 16:16:08
So, was Carter also a bootlegger?
By the way, have you tried to look at the wine bottle label from sideways or from top, the way Olive White, and later Tulang the Pirate did?
I tried this, I warn you it is very tough on the eyes (those who have difficulty deciphering the 3D-something-art should not try this) but I managed to actually see the letters. One or two lines make a letter.
I scanned in the label and then blew it up to the n-th degree (if you just clip the bottom part of the vertical lines and enlargen it without keeping the aspects ratio you'll see it the way I saw it) and then the C, the A, the R were all visible.
I'd love to post my enlarged clips but the files are HUGE. In any case you can all try this and you will see what I mean.
Posted by Lale on 10/2/2004, 16:58:43
Letters C, L and E are wider at the bottom, C curved, E and L flat. Letters T and I have a single line at the bottom. H, A, R etc. have two lines at the bottom. H and A have two thick lines whereas R has one thin and one thick. And so forth.
It is hard to look at the whole thing since when it is blown up it becomes huge, so if you look at only the bottom of the charaters like I did then you can decipher Charles Carter, Magician.
Posted by moana on 10/2/2004, 17:16:14
It's not all that hard to see the writing. You just have to tilt the book almost flat, and then read it like you were an ant. The Charles Carter, Magician part isn't the only thing on there, by the way. Each series of lines is a different message. I think one of them might be something like a place name or something.... shoot, I forget! Anybody who can read it, remind me.
Posted by len. on 10/2/2004, 21:16:16
>You just have to tilt the book almost flat, and then read it like you were an ant.
You can get this effect with PhotoShop or the like. Resize the image (without preserving proportions) so the vertical dimension is greatly reduced.
I will try this tonight.
Posted by Lale on 10/2/2004, 23:39:41
if you just clip the bottom part of the vertical lines and enlargen it without keeping the aspects ratio you'll see it the way I saw it
: You can get this effect with PhotoShop or the like.
: Resize the image (without preserving proportions) so
: the vertical dimension is greatly reduced.
You broke my heart. I spent two posting saying exactly that. Just because you can say it more efficiently doesn't mean you should ;-)
No, in fact, I thank you for compactly explaining what I have done and wanted to explain.
Posted by len. on 11/2/2004, 16:23:55
>You broke my heart. I spent two postings saying exactly that. Just because you can say it more efficiently doesn't mean you should ;-)
Does it make it better that the reason I posted what I did was because I didn't understand that that's what you were saying?
Anyway, I sent Lale all five messages extracted from the label in relatively small (20KB) files that she can perhaps post on this site.
Posted by Lale on 12/2/2004, 16:00:08
: Does it make it better that the reason I posted what I
: did was because I didn't understand that that's what
: you were saying?
Yes, it makes it infinitely better because I now have the proverb of the day:
Dinleyen sõyleyenden arif gerek!
Listener should be sharper than the speaker!
Now the questions
Posted by Lale on 10/2/2004, 16:40:22
From the very end of the book:
1. 'She (I belive this is the elephant Tug) swam the remaining hundred yards while, at the same time, a dinghy was lowered from the ship and crewmen began to row the old woman (!!!) to shore.'
Is the "old woman" Duchess?
2. 'There was a campfire, and the husband (!!!) played guitar as the wife (!!!) clapped her hands to the simple tune that rolled across the bay, "Three Blind Mice."'
Why "Three Blind Mice"?
When I first read this I assumed the woman in the dighy had joined her husband on the beach and so the couple was Harding and his wife. But then ...
3. 'And there was the other man, the one with a high stomach, a nut-brown and happy man with a thicket of grey hair, waving and smiling.'
Now, if this is Harding then who are the husband and wife above? Carter and Phoebe? Is that why "three blind mice"?
4. 'Walking into the surf, the breakers foaming past his hips, he waved at the pirates and the freighter crew, at the elephant and the woman in the dinghy, he waved at everything in his view.'
So, the waving guy is Harding and the woman in the dinghy is Duchess. What about the other couple? Carter and Phoebe?
5. 'He [Tulang the pirate] awoke to the familiar throbbing of the engines. (he sees the wine bottle at a weird angle and reads the hidden message) ... Carter the Great, he mused, ... "Bring up the package," he said aloud.'
What does he mean by "bring up the package"?
6. 'Life in Jakarta would be hard on her.'
Who is he talking about?
As you can see, I am completely lost at the last paragraph of the book. What can I do, I used up all my energy and intelligence during fight on the stage.
One last question:
7. In the "Program Notes", amongst the resources, Gold cites Rachel P. Maines, "The Technology of Orgasm", I know this question will solicit all sorts of magic/orgasm jokes but really is this book something other than the obvious title, you think?
Posted by Howard on 15/2/2004, 16:15:27
: 1. 'She (I belive this is the elephant Tug) swam the
: remaining hundred yards while, at the same time, a
: dinghy was lowered from the ship and crewmen began to
: row the old woman (!!!) to shore.'
: Is the "old woman" Duchess?
Yes, the Duchess was joining her husband on the Island after her "death" when she was "cremated" like Harding without an autopsy.
: When I first read this I assumed the woman in the dighy
: had joined her husband on the beach and so the couple
: was Harding and his wife. But then ...
: 3. 'And there was the other man, the one with a high
: stomach, a nut-brown and happy man with a thicket of
: grey hair, waving and smiling.'
: Now, if this is Harding then who are the husband and
: wife above? Carter and Phoebe? Is that why "three
: blind mice"?
The husband and wife are Karl and Evelyn from the Funny Farm.
With regards to the mysterious wine bottle label:
Posted by Howard on 15/2/2004, 16:30:48
I think we should take a vote on what we thought of Carter.
I did not think this book was a masterpiece but I found it a very enjoyable read which I would recommend, its only drawback for me being the length of the story.
My overall rating for this book is four and a half hearts.
Posted by Anna van Gelderen on 15/2/2004, 17:45:12
I agree that the book is an enjoyable read. Gold really knows how to tell a good story. Unfortunately for him I have just finished World of Wonders, the final part of Robertson Davies's Deptford Trilogy. Interestingly enough its protagonist is also an accomplished illusionist and most of it is also set in the 1920s. The difference is that World of Wonders has so much more depth and food for thought, that Carter Beats the Devil pales a little in comparison. I would give the latter novel 3 and a half hearts therefore and highly recommend Lale's fellow Canadian Robertson Davies.
Posted by moana on 15/2/2004, 19:08:20
A little long, a little long, and yet still enjoyable. I give it 3.5 hearts.
PS It's not quite fair, as I am reading Invisible Cities for the second time and am finding more and more to love about it.
Posted by Lale on 15/2/2004, 20:21:50
Four hearts. It was a lovely resurrection of the Alexandre Dumas kind story telling, very old fashioned, very amusing. Feel-good type of book. Good guys won, bad guys punished. History put to good use. Nice twists and turns. Conspiration theory. Etc.
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