Book Reviews of Hermes Beckons
copyright © 2007

"John Caris has been a college teacher of Humanities and English for 36 years. This is his third novel. Not a magic book per se but a tale of alchemy and magic.

"Hermes Trismegistus was an alchemist centuries ago. He is especially recognized for his work with copper, which has been known as the hermetic metal. Hermes tried to change copper into gold, and was referred to by Professor Hoffman (Angelo Lewis) in Modern Magic.

"The author's primary character, Ralph Garland, a semi-retired magician recovering from a serious illness, embarks on a quest to discover the secrets hidden in the craft of Hermes. Garland's research branches into diverse religious traditions. As Garland progresses in his alchemical studies, he initiates a response from the spirit realm and a series of strange experiences occur.

"Many illusions and effects, which are well known to the magic community, are mentioned or described in the story. The author makes a special point to thank S.A.M Assembly 2 for their help and input allowing him to describe illusions and card tricks. After reading this, I was reminded of reading Madame Blavatsky's Modern Mystics and Modern Magi, in which she talks of travels in Tibet to find the secrets of "real magic." And then I discovered that part of the book was based on Govinda's Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism.

"For a playful romp in a fictional setting, this is a good one."—Howard Flint, The Linking Ring

copyright © 2006

“Anyone who has ever dropped a multiplying billiard ball, either in practice or performance, will spark immediately to the fix in which Ralph Garland, the prestidigitator-protagonist of Hermes Beckons, finds himself. Sidelined by a heart attack from his career as a professional magician, Garland tries to regain his dexterity with billiard balls and other paraphernalia, even as he seeks to find healing for body and mind—for ‘the black hole in my soul’ as he puts it. The book is a chronicle of how, with the help of his wife Shasta, he achieves healing and mounts a whole new magic show in the process. His method may be described loosely as ‘new age’—a world of tarot cards, shamans, psychics, dreams, drumming, nature worship, native American and Tibetan rites and rituals, goddess culture, soothing music and other elements from the ‘new age’ canon. The magic show Garland comes up with, built around what he calls an ‘Alchemical Light,’ is very strange indeed, although one of its effects is drawn from a 2002 issue of Magicol.

“In the book's Afterword author Caris says outright that the same process he presents in the story has been important in his own life, and this work is his way of sharing his experiences with kindred souls. Those who do feel akin to his outlook will find the book fascinating reading. Caris is a gifted writer and knows how to make words better than pictures. Ever the scholar (he teaches in colleges), he is careful to cite sources and historic underpinnings for each of Garland's otherworldly pursuits. He also lards his tale with magic more earthbound, and recounts incidents involving famous stage magicians—the Blackstone/Houdini contretemps on who invented the Overboard Box, for example. The names of Robert-Houdin, Herrmann, Thurston, Nate Leipzig, Okito and others are invoked to help nail down a certain reality. Ironically, none of these greats seem to have left any record of longing for ‘real magic.’ The fictional Garland is the vestige of a once popular notion of magicians as necessarily dabblers in the arcane arts because they performed such ‘miracles’ onstage.”—Dan Waldron, Magicol

"This is not a book for the average magician, or, for that matter, the average reader.

"One of the many minilibraries in my bookstuffed house is my library of magic fiction, and it's classified as to the type of fiction. There's the Conjuring section, which presents the magic we're familiar with and perform every day; the Juvenile section, the books written in a simplified style for beginning up through teenage readers; and, the Fantasy section, for all of the genuine hypnosis, authentic spirits, and real magic spells. Hermes Beckons would have to fit into the Fantasy bookshelves, as it not only embraces alchemy, but also auras, dream interpretation, spirit guides, American Indian history and mythology, and Hindu Indian history and mythology, as well as a number of forays into the history of conjuring.

"The two main characters are a semi-retired magician recovering from a heart operation, and his wife, a writer working on her 21st mystery novel. As he slowly regains his strength and skills, Ralph Garland starts designing a new illusion show, a show with a very different presentation. Over a (as far as I can tell) six-month period, he trains his female assistant, goes on paranormal adventures (or hallucinations, take your pick), and has many deep conversations with philosophers, artists, musicians, seers, and amateur existentialists. The dreams, adventures, and the dialogues are long, wide ranging, and cover a multitude of subjects that touch on our enigmatic world of magic and perception.

"I'm not saying it's a poorly done book, or one that is so far out that you want to just shake your head. It's a book for a person who likes the broad use of our written language; who relishes the challenges of philosophical questions; and who appreciates the way the pattern in the fabric of life continues past his own eyes and touches many other spots of color and design.

"Hermes Beckons [is] a deep book, and I have some magic friends who would look forward to reading it a second time."—Leo Behnke, M-U-M

"Ralph Garland is a 60-something professional magician living with his writer wife, Shasta, in San Francisco near Ocean Beach. Recovering both physically and spiritually from heart problems, Ralph copes with periodic depression natural to one in his situation by seeking to develop a new show, one that will combine traditional conjuring with Ralph’s commitment to the alchemical arts and natural magic. His challenge is to 'design props that [will] illustrate the ideas he envisions.…[and] routines [that will] enhance the spiritual aura surrounding the story.' Realizing that he doesn’t even know who he is at this stage of his life, an even more important quest becomes that of finding himself through the exploration of a variety of supernatural experiences, from dream analysis, to Tarot readings, to meditation and personal visions… and more. Shasta shares his commitment to occult and new age philosophies and assists Ralph in his quest, as does his assistant Rafé, whose Native American blood leads her to pursue the mysteries of that culture. As his twin quests build, Ralph observes that 'recently, I’ve had this attitude that I was a faux magician. I have a deep desire to perform real magic that charms the audience into an enchanted realm.' Caris is extremely knowledgeable not only about the supernatural, but also the world of magical entertainment. He knows its history and can describe effects with an ease that takes us there. This book is like a nature hike through new age beliefs and experiences as well as the lore of conjuring, and is packed with snippets of info about native American beliefs, the Neolithic goddess religion, other areas of the occult, as well as the history of conjuring, especially in San Francisco. There are plenty of references in both fields that will send some readers off to booksellers or libraries. I do not have a background in occult philosophies and became a bit lost at several points throughout the book. My guess is that anyone without such interests would have a similar problem. That said, we found the book interesting and intriguing."—David R.Goodsell, Oracle Magic Magazine

Hermes Beckons