Magic and the Law: A collection of Essays edited by Christine A. Corcos (Durham: Carolina University Press) The nearly two dozen studies in this collection explore the very rich ways in which the rule of law and the practice of magic enrich and inform each other. The authors bring both a U.S. and a comparative law perspective while examining areas such as law and religion, criminal law, intellectual property law, the law of evidence, and animal rights. Topics include alchemy in fifteenth-century England, a discussion of how a courtroom is like a magic show, stage hypnotism and the law, Scottish witchcraft trials in the eighteenth century, the question of whether stage magicians can look to intellectual property to protect their rights, tarot card readings and the First Amendment, and an analysis of whether a magician can be qualified as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence.
LAW AND MAGIC explores a unique and interesting
area of legal study that covers a breadth of topics from the
historical persecution of alleged witches to contemporary cases of
intellectual property law surrounding magic tricks. This is an
important collection of essays that provides a definitive scholarly
source on research into the various interconnections between law and
magic. Written with wit and humour, the essays are a fascinating
read for legal and non-legal scholars alike.
The editor of this collection, Christine Corcos, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Law and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University. Corcos has developed an Internet blog on the subject of law and magic, and has published numerous articles on media law, European legal history, as well as intersections between law and popular culture. In addition to Corcos, twenty-four other authors contributed to this collection. The vast majority of these authors are lawyers and/or professors of law. Other contributing authors teach and conduct research in Communication Studies, Social Policy, Journalism, History, and Interdisciplinary Studies. A strength of this collection is the sheer volume of chapters written by well-qualified authors across the United States, England, and Germany. One author in particular, Loren Smith, is both a Senior Judge in the United States Court of Claims and an accomplished magician.
In the opening section of the book, contributing authors explore the intersections of law and magic in the areas of free speech and religion. In one chapter, Julie Cromer, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, details the historical and current laws in the United States pertaining to tarot card reading. While outlawed in the sixteen and seventeenth centuries due to its assumed connection to witchcraft, then due to eighteenth and nineteenth century laws forbidding fortune-telling, the modern era of Tarot law is characterized as having less severe legal control. When contemporary laws and by-laws have been enforced to restrict Tarot reading, Cromer reveals how they have been struck down for violating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In the second section, authors explore Property Law in relation to magic tricks, productions, and performances. In one interesting chapter, which overlaps section one and two, Christine Corcos explores copyright infringements in cases of actual ghost writing where spirits have communicated with people, who have in turn written down the content that has been spiritually communicated. In one instance, an [*363] author faces a claim of copyright infringement for publishing a book in which she claims that Mark Twain communicated to her through a Ouija Board. In the face of infringement claims, the author abandoned the text, though never recanted that the spirit of Twain had written it.
Subsequent sections of the book cover several other topics such as: the inclusion and exclusion of supernatural cases in the American courts, the legalities of selling the secrets of magic, damages for personal injuries suffered during magic acts, the inclusion of magicians as expert witnesses, comparisons of magic performances to courtroom performances, comparisons between lawyers and magicians, criminal responsibility for acts performed under the influence of hypnosis, and the historical legalities of using animals in magic.
The main strength of Corcos’ collection is its sheer size and comprehensiveness, as it relates to a wide variety of aspects pertaining to law and magic. At times this breadth does, however, appear as a limitation, as it comes across as a catch-all of law and magic scholarship without a definitive focus or aim. Further to this, the term “magic” is used loosely to encompass acts from a talking cat to fortune telling, to spirit-talking, to witchcraft. For readers without much understanding of what magic is and all that it encompasses, a clear definition of magic in the editor’s forward would have better clarified the central topic of this work. Some discussion of the importance of this area of study and its relation to other forms of legal inquiry could have also been beneficial to expand the relevance of the work beyond a specific niche area.
Exploring the commonalities between “Abra Cadabra” and “Due Process,” this collection of essays makes a significant academic contribution to a limited area of legal and pop-cultural scholarship. Most of the chapters in this book are accessible enough to be read by individuals without a background in law, while still providing enough depth and intrigue to those who have made a study of American law. This book should be read by scholars and researchers who have interests in the various historical and contemporary legal aspects of magic, the labour of musicians, and the magic industry in general.
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