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The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot


SKU: FantasticMKIT ISBN: 978-0954500771 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, March 2006 Authors: Karen Mahony & Alex Ukolov Card Size: 5" x 3" Pages: 240 pages Purchase at: Out of Print

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Animal and Nature Decks

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Fantastic Menagerie Tarot

By Jewel


Published in March of 2006, The Fantastic Menagerie was the fourth Tarot deck published by Magic Realist Press (MRP).  It was published as a deck and book set.  If you have read any of the previous reviews I have written about MRP decks then you know I am a huge fan of their decks and books, and this one is no exception.  I will admit, when I purchased the deck it was more because it was created by Baba Studios than my interest in the art, and I will also confess that it took me some time to warm up to this deck.  In my desire to connect with it I chose The Fantastic Menagerie to complete both the Apprentice and Journeyman levels of “21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card” by Mary Greer, and worked with the deck for about a year and half solid.  Needless to say, by the time I completed the work, I was in love with it. 


As usual, Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov did their research and worked their magic in this creation.  They continued what French cartoonist J.J. Grandville started with The Metamorphoses of the Day lithographs in the 1820’s.  If he could have seen this deck he would be proud.  The companion book is written by Sophie Nussle, and is fantastic.  As noted in the companion, The Metamorphoses of the Day were caricatures of half-human half-animals, all dressed up in their fashionable Victorian clothes – or lack thereof, with “…biting wit.  The hint of scandal and the visual puns used to convey it turned the series into an international bestseller.”  This deck is one that delivers its messages in a tone of social commentary with humor, satire, and at times even light sarcasm.  It can cut right through ego and the masks we wear.  It can really put reality into perspective.


The deck has the traditional number of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.  The Major Arcana retain the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith titles, the difference lies in the Majors not being numbered so the reader can position Strength and Justice at position 8 and 11 by personal preference.  In the Minor Arcana the Suits retain the traditional names and elemental correspondences of Wands/Fire, Cups/Water, Swords/Air, with the exception of Pentacles which his titled Coins and still corresponds to the element of Earth.  The court cards are King, Queen, Knight, and Page.  The cards do not rely on exact number of suit icons to tell you what card you are looking at, rather the picture itself sets the scene, tells the story, and conveys the meaning of the card.  The card number and suit are included at the bottom of the card.


The cards measure approximately 5” X 3”, and have a 1/8” cream colored border on three sides, a ¼” border on the bottom, and a thin gold line surrounding the picture.  The card titles are included in the bottom ¼” of the card in a black script.  The card stock is superb, something MRP is known for.  These decks are easy to shuffle, durable, and just another sign of the quality that goes into them.  The back of the cards have a red background with an elaborate mirror image crest design in grey, white, with 4 mirror images of the King of Cups in black and red. The deck title is printed at the top portion of the crest in red.  The mirror image work makes the deck reversible. The overall design has a mix of Victorian and Gothic feel to it.


The original set came with a 240-page companion book written by Shophie Nussle.  As all MRP companion books, it is excellent and a must have.  Ms. Nussle’s writing style is easy to follow and engaging.  Following the Acknowledgement section, there is 3-page section on the history of Tarot, then a section titled “Playful Paths to Wisdom” which includes information on the structure of the deck and some interesting information regarding Grandville.  The next section is really interesting; The Metamorphosis of JJ Grandville which goes behind the scenes on his life, times, and work.  It really gives some great insight into the man and his history, from his birth in Nancy, Lorraine to his move to Paris, to him becoming an artist, a revolutionary, a political cartoonist, to a bohemian and a husband.  His transition from caricature to illustration, and much more.  I find this section so important because it gives some real perspective and context to the imagery which ultimately sets the tone for the Fantastic Menagerie deck.  The following sections of the book focus on the cards:  Major Arcana, Minor Arcana and the Suits.  Following the card section there is a section on “How to Use the Tarot”, which includes the following Tarot spreads:  The Three Card Spread, The Classic Horseshoe Spread, The Humanimal Spread – designed to “explore your instinct vs. culture balance.”, and The Chalice of Choice Spread (by Dan Pelletier). The next section of the book is “Number Symbolism and the Tarot”, followed by “Sample Readings with the Fantastic Menagerie.”  There is also an extensive Bibliography.


Like all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one is extremely readable and ignites your intuition.  It looks at people from an instinctual point of view in contrast with the exterior we may present to the world.  As noted earlier in the review, it will expose egos and open your querents eyes to the roles in situations being played out.  I call the Fantastic Menagerie my “Social Commentary Deck.”  Personally, I find this deck witty, honest, and great for all types of general readings, I find it particularly well suited to inter-personal relationships and career related questions or situations.  Why? Because it shows the difference between how people may honestly feel, think, or be as compared as to how they act in a social situation.  This deck is truly a visual deck, and is so expressive that it practically reads itself.  By visual deck I mean the scene, clothing, actions taking place in the cards, etc. tell you the story of the card and often times the intentions behind or at play in them.  As for ethnic diversity, all of the characters that populate the deck have animal heads.  The animals tend to be representative of attitudes, thinking processes, or personal nature than anything to do with ethnicity.  The lithographs used as the basis for creating this deck are from 19th Century Paris, so they are the lens through which this deck sets its tone in readings.  There is no explicit nudity.


I recommend this deck to persons who enjoy the Victorian era, “humanimals,” as well as to those who enjoy satire and political cartoons, as you will recognize, laugh and smirk at that “biting wit.”  Writers would also really enjoy this deck for character building as it offers up our instincts, cultural biases, societal facades, and how we play them out.  Intuitive readers will have a hay day with it.  With the companion I would think beginners could learn with this deck, but it might not be the best choice if you are trying to establish Tarot basics that will translate from deck to deck.  Yes, it follows the Raider Waite-Smith system, but the imagery is very original for a Tarot deck.  For MRP fans this is a must have deck, I know I say this about all their decks, but seriously this is truly one of their finest.  I was lucky to purchase it when it was released, but I consider it one that is worth every penny of its “Out-of-Print” price.  How would my good old Aunt Fifi react to it?  Well she has a great sense of humor, so she would most likely think it was a hoot and find the perspective quite honest and refreshing … though I am not sure how she would react when I reference her or someone she knows as a sheep, wolf, sly fox, or an ass!

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