The Lord of the Rings Tarot
by Terry Donaldson and Peter Pracownik
From the time I was about nine to the age of fourteen or fifteen, I played Dungeons & Dragons, mainly with guys I knew or with my older brother and his friends. I totally dug dragons and unicorns and daydreams of heroic adventures. When I was very young, I wanted Middle-earth to exist; I wanted to think it had been a real place with a real history. Not only did I read the Lord of the Rings, I pored over the Silmarillion and the Book of Lost Tales. No girl I knew was into this stuff. I spent most of my time with guys, and understood their tastes more easily than I could the tastes of female friends, who tended toward - what was it those young teen girls were into anyway? My point is, it's my impression that this deck will appeal more to guys, or to people who are familiar with role-playing games, because it simply has that feel to it. * see note below
I think this mainly because of the artwork, which is generally very good. It is done in a style reminiscent of fantasy art calendars. The scenes depicted are straight out of the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit, and will be recognizable to Tolkien fans (with some obvious additions, and in the artist's own perception of the story). Departing from the traditional tarot, each card is framed with an image of a stone wall, which is hung with a wooden board where the title sits. At the bottom of each card is another wooden board, with a line of text describing the actions of the card. This is part of what I feel is "D & D-ish" about the deck. But, to me it works well. No one speaking about Tolkien's works can draw a reader in as well as he could, but these cards at least make the effort to.
The Lord of the Rings is above all a great story, and the design of these cards relays that truth. There is a certain joy in experiencing Tolkien's works, that I think his fans try to share with one another - through dialogue, study, analysis, film-making . and tarot. I have seen Tolkien products I do not like, that strike me as being opportunistic and insincere. This set feels honest to me, and respectful of the work it is based on.
I have little to criticize in the cards. They would be minor details. What I would have to comment on, is that the deck does not always seem precise, or exact. Much of it feels very right, some of it seems to be struggling to work - just a little. But I think a very good job was done in assigning people, places, and events to individual cards. I'm still getting used to the idea of Gollum as the Fool, but otherwise I feel the cards are all well chosen.
The full-size accompanying book is very well written. The synopsis of the Lord of the Rings is very good, explaining the story well to those who haven't read it, and reminding those who have of specific details. There is much written as an introduction to tarot and how it is a good medium for the Lord of the Rings, and it gets quite insightful. Card descriptions are also very good. Sometimes they seem to be reaching a bit. My one real dislike is the part of every card description in which the card "speaks." Such as, "Gandalf Speaks." Some of these do not sound like the characters we know.
This is a specialized set for Tolkien fans who like card games or are interested in tarot, or vice-versa: tarot readers who like Tolkien. The symbols are strong enough to convey their card meanings in readings, and as a game the deck will be enjoyed by both children and adults. The game is easy to learn and play.
The set is packaged in a great compact slipcase and comes with a layout sheet for the "Gandalf Spread."
Despite my minor criticisms, I really like this deck. On a recent road trip, I got to know this set by reading the book aloud to my husband, a hard-core Lord of the Rings fan who has read the books at least a dozen times. We enjoyed it, discussed it, even learned from Donaldson's insights into Tolkien and tarot. I'd recommend the set
for anyone who loves products designed around Tolkien's works.
* I realize that many girls and women are now interested in Tolkien, and in RPGs, video games, etc (my own daughter included) ... so I am sure there are many women who do enjoy this set. I should also add that the author and artist have portrayed women in
very important roles, as they were portrayed by Tolkien himself - and the book addresses this significance. This is certainly not just a guy's deck.
All writing © N.Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted.