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Metamorphosis is the name of a stage illusion invented by John Nevil Maskelyne, but most often associated with Harry Houdini and performed to some renown (for speed) by The Pendragons. It is also known as the Substitution Trunk (often abbreviated to Sub Trunk).

In the illusion, an assistant (Houdini employed his wife Bess) is locked inside a large box or trunk, often after being restrained with handcuffs, ropes, bags, etc. The magician stands upon the trunk and holds a curtain up to momentarily conceal his entire body. When the curtain is lowered, it is revealed to now be the assistant standing atop the box, the magician and assistant having changed places instantaneously. When the box is opened, it is shown to contain the magician, restrained as the assistant had been.

Aquarian by Mark Wilson

Maskelyne presented a version in England, as early as 1865, to prove that he could outdo the Davenport Brothers. He would curled inside a small wooden box, which was locked, covered with a canvas and laced, then escape. [1]


Some add a kicker ending by doing a costume change.

The Aquarian Illusion performed by Mark Wilson, where a tank filled with water is used and a swimsuit-clad woman assistant is locked inside underwater.

Penn and Teller performed the illusion in an underwater theater with the woman assistant handcuffed & locked in a steel cage on the bottom.

Criss Angel performed it using a flash of fire as the cover.


A method for Metamorphosis was exposed by the Masked Magician, Val Valentino, as part of Fox TV series Breaking the Magicians' Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed. He was assisted by Michelle Berube. However, the method exposed (specifically the manner in which the trunk is opened) is not generally in use today.


  1. Houdini! by Ken Silverman, 1996
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