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Fairy Tales for grown ups
on 10 October 2009
I only recently received my copy of this deck, so please don't consider this a definitive review. The package is in Llewellyn's current style: large box containing an (fake? - it feels too scratchy to be real organza) organza bag, cardboard inserts to mask some empty space and a substantial paperback book.
The card are printed on reasonably robust cardstock and, rare amongst Tarots, have no borders. You can check this by looking at the pack edge on: the pictures really do go up to the edge as you can tell by the kaleidoscope of colours around the edges. While I find Lisa Hunt's artwork to be a little on the twee, sentimental side, I must admit to owning a number of her decks, so she's obviously doing something right.
I have two bugbears with new decks: the first is that the reverse of the card should indicate easily whether reversals are intended to be used (the test is to take two cards place them face down while rotating one of them through 180 degrees, and then play spot the difference!). This deck supports reversals. If you're dealing cards I don't think that either reader or querent should know that some cards are reversed until they're turned over.
My second bugbear is that the minor arcana should show the appropriate number of coins, cups, swords, or wands (or whatever names have been used instead of the traditional) on the card itself, rather than us having to take the artist's word that a single stone actually represents the five of stones. The symbols can be somewhat hard to find in the deck but they are there.
Ms Hunt has gone literally all over the world in her search for fairy tales, so a number of cards would be unfamiliar to pretty much everyone: it is this that prevents me from saying that this would be a good deck for beginners (though a student with a good knowledge of folk mythology could go far with this deck). But it's the very eclecticism of the stories that makes this Tarot set so valuable: in the accompanying book "Once Upon a Time" the fairy story the card is based upon is briefly recounted before a piece about how the image selected fits into the (RWS based) Tarot.
I'm not so keen on the re-naming of a number of the major arcana: The Fairy Godmother is no substitute for The Empress - they are very different characters. To call Death "Transformation" is brushing the potentially "difficult" stuff under carpet. And "Happily Ever After" for The World is verging on pure schmaltz: The World's ending of one sequence before the start of another need not necessarily be comfortable.
But "Once Upon a Time" is the star of this set: the Fairy Tale behind each card is told and analysed before it is related to the cards. With each card, the story title is given, together with the culture it comes from and a few keywords. Pretty as the cards are, and as obvious as the symbolism is, once you've read the book, they do depend on the book, unless you have an encyclopaedia-like memory of world fairy tales.
I'm strongly reminded of the early nineties when Stephen Sondheim wrote a musical "Into the Woods" which intermeshed half a dozen or more fairy stories into a complicated story of cause and effect and responsibility. I'd recommend "Into the Woods" to anyone buying "The Fairy Tale Tarot".