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"89% of magic tricks are not magic. Technically, they are sorcery."
—The Fact Core, Portal 2
Fiction generally features two distinct types of magic users:
Characters of the first kind wear robes and pointy hats, have long white beards, and can perform impossible feats such as raising the dead, casting spells, and summoning fabulous creatures. We call these kinds of characters wizards or sorcerers, and they don't exist in Real Life (at least, not anymore). Characters of the second kind wear capes and top hats, usually perform their acts before a wide audience, (or at least a children's birthday party) and can perform simpler tricks like pulling rabbits out of their hats. We call these kinds of characters stage magicians or illusionists, and they do exist in Real Life. But, of course, their magic is not real; they use misdirection, special effects and optical illusions to create the impression of magic.
But sometimes, in fiction, the lines between realism and fantasy begin to blur, and magicians really can perform feats of magic that would normally belong strictly in the wizards' territory. There are no smoke and mirrors here; the magic is all real, but the audience may not necessarily realize this, and think that the magician is relying on the same old sleights-of-hand. There may be subtle differences - their magic may come from a different source, and/or the two groups may operate at different Power Levels (perhaps magicians can perform spells based on manipulating people's perception, whereas wizards can outright modify reality). If there is rivalry between the two factions, it falls under Un-Equal Rites.
In other words, some Magicians Are Wizards. See also Magick. If the wizard-magician hopes no one realizes that real wizards exist, his act is an example of Fiction as Cover Up. When the Fourth Wall audience (you, the viewer or reader) isn't sure, it's a case of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
Contrast Magician Detective, where training in the art of deception have given magicians an ability to see the mundane solution when no-one else can.
- In one episode of Magic Users Club, Takeo performs magic for a group, and justifies it by saying "since they just think it's magic tricks, it's okay."
- Ghost Hunt: Naru with his spoon is variant with telekinesis.
- This is what Magical Star Magical Emi is all about: She became a Magical Girl and used her powers to become a Stage Magician.
- Cat Soup features a clearly supernatural circus performer who dresses like a fantasy wizard rather than a stage magician, and his tricks include bloodily dismembering his assistant, spinning her pieces around in midair, and reassembling her unharmed.
- Hisoka from Hunter X Hunter could be an inversion. While it's obvious that he's using some sort of magic, he uses clever tricks and misdirection much like a Stage Magician to make his powers seem far more varied than they actually are. For the record, he can create an invisible gum-like aura, and change the texture of objects. That's it.
- The main character of Magical Travel Boy encounters a street magician and is convinced he's an actual magic-user. Which he is...
- In Darker Than Black, August 7 was a stage magician before he became a Contractor with powers that seem almost magical. The price of his power is that he must reveal his one of his tricks, which might not seem too bad a price for getting superpowers, especially compared to other prices like breaking one's fingers or drinking blood, but it hurts his pride as a former magician and takes away any professional benefit he could get from his powers.
- Asuma from Hibiki no Mahou did his fair share of street performances for kids, conjuring up flowers and birds. War orphan Misaki mistakes this for real magic and is understandably upset when she finds out the secret to his trick... until he casts a well-timed and very real spell to save her from her abusive guardian.
- Not sure if this counts as an example, but in Black Butler, Sebastian pretended to be a Stage Magician to create a distraction. To be fair, though, he did say there were no tricks involved.
- Mandrake the Magician
- Zatanna and her father, John Zatara, from The DCU are from a species called Homo magi, and they use their powers for both entertainment and fighting evil.
- In the Danish comic Hieronymus Borsch, the epynomous hero's mentor was a real magician who worked as a circus illusionist. However, he never used his magic in his act - he didn't need to.
- Sargon the Sorcerer was another Golden Age hero in The DCU who used stage magic as a mask for his real magical powers.
- Spoofed in an issue of Rat-Man that was a parody of Conan the Barbarian: the seemingly all-powerful wizard our "heroine" met fought with playing cards, a rabbit and spells from... a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards!
- Inverted in 'Smoke and Mirrors'; the illusionist training the protagonist utterly baffles a society made up entirely of wizards because they've never had to think about or study science. They think he's a high level wizard when in fact any of them could probably wipe him off the map.
- The Pixar animated short Presto features a magician with both a top hat and a pointy wizard hat; anything placed into one will come out the other. He intends to use this magic to pull a rabbit out of his hat before a live audience, but the rabbit has other plans. Hilarity Ensues.
- Most of the tricks in The Illusionist are impossible without modern special effects. Ironically, the last trick, which wows the audience the most, is actually possible without advanced technology.
- According to the DVD extras, Eisenheim's effects are largely the result of an Unreliable Narrator, to show how his illusions must have appeared to an audience unaccustomed to CGI.
- Philip Swann in Lord Of Illusions passed off his real magic as stage illusions. He explains to the man investigating his "suicide" that "Illusionists get Vegas contracts. Wizards get burned at the stake". (In modern-day America?) But consider that his teacher Nix was a Nietzsche Wannabe and an Omnicidal Maniac.
- Subverted in The Prestige: the movie explains every trick, and at one point Michael Caine snaps "You're a magician, not a bloody wizard! If you want to do magic, you've got to get your hands dirty." however, Tesla IS a "wizard," having created Angier's cloning device through Sufficiently Advanced Technology...
- In Willow, the title character defeats the evil Sorceress by using sleight of hand to pretend to have made The Chosen One disappear. Bavmorda is so used to true, actual magic that in her amazement she is Hoist By Her Own Petard.
- In Devil Doll, the main villain is a ventriloquist who's really a soul-stealing hypnotist.
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency has Reg, a university dean who performs an impossible magic trick to entertain a restless little girl at a formal dinner. Nobody but the protagonist realizes this, and he decides to investigate. As it turns out, there was Time Travel involved.
- Aziraphale in Good Omens liked to do stage magic as a hobby. He's also an angel, perfectly capable of doing real magic anytime he wants, but considers that "cheating" while working as a magician.
- He's also an absolutely dreadful magician.
- In Dragonlance, Raistlin Majere in Demi-season Dragons did some sleight-of-hand trick, with vanishing coin.
- Since a major part of spellcasting involves intricate patterns of hand movements, it's not that weird that Raistlin (and others) have a certain affinity for sleight-of-hand tricks.
- He also shocked (and ticked off) Fistandantilus by using flash powder to pretend to cast a spell when Fistandantilus cast an Anti-Magic spell.
- Later in that scene, he used his sleight-of-hand skills (which Fistandantiuls considered unfitting of a true mage) to steal Fisty's Immortality Talisman without him realizing it was gone, thereby allowing the two of them to engage in a Wizards Duel fairly evenly.
- Once, a duergar (dark dwarf) was juggling a knife while Raistlin was trying to talk to him. He grabbed the knife out of the air, and the duergar assumed he'd used magic to do so.
- In Forgotten Realms, Finder Wyvernspur did a sleight-of-hand trick with a vanishing lockpick when Olive tried to help him to run away from his second Harpers' trial, just to demonstrate he could have vanished long ago if he thought it was a good idea. May be Shout Out to Raistlin.
- In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Wizard was a stage magician mistaken for the real thing when he landed in Oz. Later on, he began to learn real magic from Glinda.
- Parodied in The Muppet Wizard Of Oz, where the Ozians thought he was a powerful wizard because he could do the detached thumb trick.
- Odysseus Grant from the Kitty Norville series does a stage show in Vegas, but when he puts someone in the disappearing cabinet, they go somewhere else entirely. He appears to be some sort of guardian or other.
- Grant knows both stage magic tricks and real magic. In Kitty's House of Horrors, he pulls a quarter out of a skeptic's ear. He also practices hypnotism, carries around a set of lockpicking tools and can put himself in a state of hibernation which another character says is how real-life stage magicians spend long hours locked in chests or underwater. He finds a hidden half of a locket in record time, but it's never made clear how. He would be the most mundane character in this series, if it weren't for the necromancy...
- Jacob Maskelyne of the Seekers of Truth is the scion of a line of magicians who have real powers that they use for the betterment of humanity, as well as to enhance their stage show.
- Averted in Discworld: Real Wizards look down upon mere magicians, and consider being called a magician an insult. However, "magicians" are low-level magic users; the people who saw women in half are called "conjurers". Conjurers don't seem to have any magical abilities at all, but are still higher up the magical heirearchy than thaumaturges. It's also stated that conjurers are quite popular: people find tricks done with misdirection and slight of hand to be more impressive than boring old magic.
- A stage magician finds his way to the world of Spellsinger, where all his tricks suddenly work for real, in The Moment Of The Magician.
- Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician is a wizard who chooses the role of stage magician (in which he is also competent) to hide from the law, as nobody would expect a real magician to waste his time playing marketplaces.
- Invoked but Averted in The Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is a wizard, but his yellow pages ad specifically says he doesn't do parties.
- Averted twice, actually. Harry's dad, Malcolm Dresden, was a stage magician with no actual magic.
- Harry seems to know about this trope, and tries to avert it as much as possible... yet people still phone him to ask if he REALLY is a wizard, and not just some magician or charlatan.
Harry: Magicians do slight-of-hands. I do real magic.
- He apparently also gets calls asking him if he's really a wizard named "Harry".
- In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land, Mike (who was raised by aliens) decides to live as a magician for a while. Despite being able to make things magically float and disappear, he's really bad at the job because he utterly lacks human raconteur skills.
- In G. K. Chesterton's Magic, the conjuror, it turns out, does know real magic, but he doesn't use it in his act.
- Peter Straub's novel Shadowland is based entirely upon this trope, and derives much of its power from the distorted and unreliable perceptions of the main characters as to what is really magic, what was merely illusion, and what "really" happened/is happening at any one point in the action.
- Jonathon Hightower, from Reserved For The Cat, is a skilled stage magician ... and an Elemental Master of Fire. Most of his stagework is sleight of hand, but he enjoys using "real magic" at least once in each show.
- In Harry Potter, The Weasley Twins make use of this trope in order to impress a local village girl. This kind of act is their thing, really.
- In one of the Heralds of Valdemar novels, a group of real mages make their way across an enemy country by pretending to be a group of stage magicians in a traveling show.
- In the Deverry novels, Salamander poses as 'The Great Wizard Krysello' in the Bardek marketplaces. Everyone in the audience assumes that he's doing stage magic when he's actually using real magic. Nevyn was not amused.
- In "The Emperor Mage", we learn that Numair's hobby is sleight of hand.
- He actually supported himself as a stage magician for a while when on the run from Carthak, and didn't use real wizardry because the emperor and his court could trace that.
- The Last Unicorn: Schmendrick the Magician entertains the sightseers at Mommy Fortuna's Midnight Carnival while they wait for the show to start, but he could "work more ominous wonders if he chose."
- In Tim Powers 's The Drawing of the Dark, Ambrosius is a wizard of sorts (in fact he's Merlin), but at one point he is called on to perform some juggling tricks to amuse crying children.
- Mister Mystic from Soon I Will Be Invincible is a wizard that dresses like a stage magician, and acts like one to boot. The database at the end explains that he used to be a hack magician that stumbled upon the secrets of real magic.
- Inverted in A Song of Ice and Fire, where many people who claim to be sorcerers rely partially or entirely on sleight of hand, chemistry, and clever engineering to simulate the magic they can't do. This even includes Melisandre, who notes that her supply of powders which among other things, she throws into fires to change their color, is running low. But with the dragons back, real magic is becoming more common and powerful.
- The titular conjurer in the Diogenes Club story "Sorcerer, Conjurer, Wizard, Witch" is The Great Edmondo, one of the four magic users who defend London. Possibly the Mystic Maharajah of the Splendid Six in "Clubland Heroes", although it's unclear how much power he actually has.
Live Action TV
- The X-Files episode "The Amazing Maleeni", which features a magician who dies from having his head fall off after performing a trick where he rotates his head the whole way around. This turns out to be a subversion; unusually for this show, there was no magic or anything supernatural involved, and only mild foul play.
- In the fourth season of the TV show Supernatural, there is an episode that revolves around this troupe; titled "Criss Angel is a Douchebag". The main characters Sam and Dean spend the entire episode trying to find a serial-killer wizard, who is hiding by pretending to be an elderly stage magician. Turns out he has a fondness for entertaining an audience when he's not committing homicide. Ironically enough, he dies when an Average Joe stage magician uses slight of hand to use his own cursed stage-props to kill him.
- Tarot from Ace Of Wands.
- There's a whole society of wizards in the Magical Land of Bottom World, in The Legend of Dick and Dom, who make their living putting on stage magic shows.
- In The Dresden Files, little magic Harry helped his dad out a bit with his conjuring act, without his father's knowledge or permission...
- This is discussed as an option for mages in Mage: The Ascension. Most people can stop real magic working if they see and disbelieve it, but it's possible to pull it off by pretending to be a stage magician. There is even a skill, called 'Blatancy', to simulate how good a character is at passing their vulgar magic off as stage tricks.
- In the rebooted Mage: The Awakening, the possiblity is still open, but game mechanics discourage it. Using magic for mere personal gain can be considered an act of Hubris and ding your Karma Meter. Furthermore, "Vulgar" magic (which would be necessary for most stage tricks) risks attracting the attention of an Eldritch Abomination.
- Harvey from No More Heroes has a variety of tricks that would be just about impossible without actual magic, such as summoning pigeons literally out of thin air, teleporting, and turning your screen upside-down.
- Phantasmagoria: Carno, a world-famous stage magician/escape artist became frustrated with just performing illusions, and wished to discover real magic. This lead him to an ancient book...which contained an evil demon.
- In the game Gray Matter, Angela's father is revealed to be a magician whose magic was not an illusion, and Angela inherited his psychic powers.
- The Great Kesandru, from Sluggy Freelance, who used legions of invisible enslaved spirits to perform the same stock magic tricks regularly performed by more mundane magicians.
- The Wotch has a side character who does this. Apparently, a lot of wizards perform on stage as a hobby.
- Saxony Canterbury from Thunderstruck is unambiguously a wizard, but in this verse all wizards need some mental idea to base their magic around, his is stage magic.
- Wapsi Square: Best explanation the magic: she's some kind of magician!
- Cosmo the Astounding is a mediocre criminal wizard for hire in the Metro City Chronicles.
- Teen Titans features the Amazing Mumbo, a blue-skinned villain in a cape and top hat who uses elaborate magic tricks to commit his crimes (usually bank robbery). If his wand is broken, he loses his powers and reverts to his normal human form. Word of God states that he was an ordinary magician who got his hands on a real magic wand, which gave him magical powers at the expense of his sanity.
- The Great Fondoo, a member of the Really Rottens in Laff-A-Lympics, was a sorcerer who dressed like a stage magician.
- Ace Cooper, the titular hero of the French series The Magician.
- At least one episode of Dungeons & Dragons suggested Presto was an amateur stage magician before Dungeon Master gave him a magic hat. (Jimmy Whittaker in "City at the Edge of Midnight" says that Presto can show him some card tricks at school.) Which might explain why he's called Presto.
- Common in some golden-age American cartoons.
- The Pink Panther cartoon "Bully for Pink" features the Panther as a bullfighter who confuses a magician's cape for his red cloth and accidentally causes all sorts of magical mayhem during the bullfight.
- The Tex Avery short "Magical Maestro" is about a magician who gets even with an opera singer by taking the place of the conductor and using his wand in place of the baton, causing all sorts of silliness.
- Moo Moo the Magician from Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!.
- In the classic Christmas Special Frosty the Snowman, a magician's top hat is caught up in a gust of wind, and lands on a snowman. This hat is so magical that it makes the snowman come to life. On the other hand, it is made clear that Professor Hinkel, the hat's owner, cannot even do stage magic very well.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic gives us Trixie, a magically-gifted unicorn who has a flashy, traveling stage show where she shows off her powers. Although all unicorns are capable of some kind of magic, it's usually highly specialized. Trixie's specialty is stage magic, hence her magic mostly flash and no substance. Like all good performance artists though, she's just trying to make her audience believe she's something she isn't for the sake of entertainment.
- Still though, Trixie is able to pull off feats of magic that are quite obviously beyond simple parlor tricks and illusions. Very few unicorns have have been shown to have strong enough telekinesis to throw another pony into the air, and conjuring things out of thin air like that thundercloud is something only Twilight has been shown to be able to accomplish.
- The entire plot of The Illusionist is that Alice believes that the Illusionist has real magical powers.
- In one episode of Thundarr the Barbarian the evil wizard turns out to only be using stage magic. By using clever strategy and planning he shows himself to be as effective as most of the real wizards Thundarr and company face.
- A number of stage magicians in the early days claimed in advertising and/or in performances that their powers were actually derived from supernatural forces. Interestingly, the first book discussing what we now call stage magic was a book entitled "The Discoverie of Witchcraft."
- Averted in the era of witch-hunts, however. The magicians at that time were always advertising their abilities with sleigh of hand, because actual magic would be a sign of a deal with the Devil. Some magicians still got in trouble because they were too good.
- And to modern stage magicians it's considered extremely unethical to claim to have supernatural powers. Doing so calls discredit on the entire profession and can get you banned from magic clubs. A number of magicians also publicly debunk claimed supernatural phenomena that they can replicate using the tricks of their trade.
- This is actually a long, long tradition of magicians being incorrigible skeptics. Harry Houdini himself may have started the trend when he caught a Phony Psychic in the act.
- James Randi, aka The Amazing Randi, is the most notable magician skeptic today, as he has an entire foundation dedicated to debunking claims of supernatural powers, with a one million dollar reward for anyone who can demonstrate genuine supernatural powers under laboratory conditions. In regards to this trope, Randi prefers to be called a 'conjuror' as a 'magician' is someone who can actually do magic.
- In some languages the word for "magician" and "wizard" is the same - in German e.g. it's "Zauberer". Or "Magier", but that one can also refer to both. If you wanted to talk explicitly about one kind, you'd have to say "Bühnenmagier" (magician) or "echter Zauberer" (someone doing real magic).