Harry Houdini: His Life and Legendary Magic

Florida Atlantic University

Taylor Hagood is Professor of American literature at Florida Atlantic University, where he specializes in the writing of William Faulkner and the culture of the United States South. One of the world’s top Faulkner scholars, his publications include Faulkner, Writer of Disability, which won the C. Hugh Holman Award for Best Book in Southern Studies, and the forthcoming biography/true crime, Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Music Legend. In addition to his academic pursuits, Professor Hagood is a fencer, painter, musician, and historian and performer of magic.

Overview

Nearly a hundred years after his mysterious and controversial death, Harry Houdini remains the most famous magician and greatest escape artist the world has ever known. From humble beginnings as the son of a rabbi, Houdini rose to the greatest heights of fame in a career that comprehended every aspect of magic, and much more, including early pioneering in aviation and film. For many, he was a kind of “superhero” that chains could not hold: his ability to free himself spoke to a basic human desire to escape whatever seemed confining. His life story is a familiar rags-to-riches American tale, but its many twists, turns and secrets render it deeply unfamiliar—his life itself one of his grandest illusions. Ultimately, Houdini offers a profound study in how a person can transform into a legend, and the price that must be paid for doing so.

In this lecture, Professor Taylor Hagood presents Houdini’s life story in all its colorful intrigue, including discussion of the magician’s most famous and puzzling (and, in some cases, still-unsolved) illusions, his most daring escapes, his deep research into the history of magic, and the place his memory occupies in American and world imagination. Hagood draws on his own experiences performing stage magic and growing up as a magician’s son to bring Houdini and his magic to life.

Recommended Reading:

Houdini!!!: The Career of Erich Weiss, by Kenneth Silverman
The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero, by William Kalush
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini, by Joe Posnanski
The Life and Many Deaths of Houdini, by Ruth Brandon
Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls, by William Lindsay Gresham

Discussion Questions:
1. It might be said that Houdini’s persona at once represents the essence of magic and something far greater than magic. How exactly does he take his place among America’s folk heroes and legends?

2. Many magicians, historians and scholars have tried to discover the elusive appeal of magic. How would you define that appeal?

3. Houdini’s escapes resonated with fundamental human desires to break out of incarceration–not just literally, but even in societal structures. Do his escapes still have relevance today?

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ellis.krauss

Charming present er who clearly is an expert on Houdini and his life and times. Obviously enthusiastic about the man, his symbolic importance and legacy and keeps one interested in the fascinating life of a strange, contradictory, but complex man.

4 months ago
ellis.krauss

Charming presenter who clearly is an expert on Houdini and his life and times. Obviously enthusiastic about the man, his symbolic importance and legacy and keeps one interested in the fascinating life of a strange, contradictory, but complex man.

4 months ago
ellis.krauss

Charming presenter who clearly is an expert on Houdini and his life and times. He is enthusiastic about the man, his symbolic importance and legacy and keeps one interested in the fascinating life of a strange, contradictory, but complex man.

4 months ago
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