Chapter one

by Jim Stewart

The main topic here = the enduring reputation of Harry Houdini


The opening chapter:

Mystery surrounds the death and exploits of "HOUDINI". More mysterious still, nearly seventy years after he died, the reputation of this illusionist/showman is alive and well. The name HARRY HOUDINI is guaranteed to spark interest in people from many different walks of life ... a lot of people! Why is that? Even in these more sophisticated times, an Escape Artist can still drum up a crowd. So, is there something about the idea of a man being bound, restrained or physically challenged that strikes a mysterious chord in the human psyche? Who knows? Who cares!

What I do know is that, quite a lot of grown men have admitted to me their childhood fascination with HOUDINI and his exploits. Now, although grown up, some impulse towards his imagery is still alive and kicking in one form or another. I know this is true, because the first time I wrote a magazine article about my childhood interest in HOUDINI, the feedback was amazing. When I first turned my private hobby into a small business selling Houdini memorabilia including a limited range of handcuffs ... the demand soon turned "Fetters" into an internationally known manufacturer of reproduction restraint equipment, all of it in full working order. So, why are there so many collectors and Houdini-enthusiasts around the world? The answer is not simple. Every personal story I hear is just slightly different. This variety of seemingly unrelated interests is what interests me now. That is what made the appeal of HOUDINI so universal when he was alive, and the same broad and complex appeal is what keeps his reputation alive today.

For me the conscious attraction was challenge. The physical and psychological skills which allowed HOUDINI to beat so many challenges were fun for me to explore as a young teenager. I could never resist a challenge. While learning these skills and experimenting, I met dozens of people who enthusiastically rose to my challenge; people within my limited local area. These would-be challengers put a lot of time, energy and creative thinking into trying to nail me. Natural human instinct? Nothing sinister as far as I was ever aware, but an interesting mix of social/psychological responses.

Forty years later I am convinced that, in a surprising number of people there's a general instinctive fascination in seeing someone tied and trying to escape. A good indication of this is the number of times the situation crops up in TV and film dramas ... because it wouldn't happen so often if it was generally unattractive. So, where does the root of the mystery lie? There are many variables. Does watching a person struggle to escape or fail to escape really trigger something primitive in some of us? When watching someone being physically challenged do we wonder what it would feel like to be tied or be doing the tying? Does the loss of power, or willing surrender of power appeal to people whose everyday lives offer no challenge?

Whatever keeps this legend alive, I believe the mystery of the perennial fascination will remain unsolved until more people relax and confront the issue if it interests them in any conscious way. Of the many different sides to the question, I know which part of the answer is inside me. Is part of the answer within you? Whether your reply is "Yes" or "No" ... feel free to enjoy what you enjoy.


to chapter two

to contents of "So I Like To Get Tied-up ... So What!!?"

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