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The Fairytale Tarot


ISBN: 9780954500757 Publisher & Year: Magic Realist Press, February 2005 Authors: Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov Artist: Irina Triskova Card Size: 3" x 5" Pages: 232 pages Purchase at: Out of Print

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The Fairytale Tarot

By Jewel


Published in February of 2005, The Fairytale Tarot was the third 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, I purchased the deck because I like Fairytales and whimsy and this deck includes Fairytales from all over the world.  I also liked that this deck was drawn instead of photographed which was different than the previous two Magic Realist Press decks (The Tarot of Prague and the Baroque Bohemian Cats’ Tarot.)  Because the deck goes back to the original Fairytales, several of which I only knew the Disney take or had never even heard of, the deck turned out to have a very unique feel and voice, different from any other Tarot deck by MRP or otherwise.   There are other Fairytale Tarot decks on the market but this one is in a class all its own.  It does not highlight the clichés.  It captures the heart and soul of the Fairytales, not shying away from the darkness or pain inherent in some of them, it absorbs the richness of Fairytales adding depth and layers to the meanings of the cards.  Due to my lack of familiarity with the majority of the tales I learned to use this deck with the companion book and by looking online for the stories and reading them for more insight.  It took me some time to figure out how to use this deck, but it was well worth the effort.  This deck is where Baba Studios really separated themselves from the pack in terms of Tarot creation.


Unlike the majority of MRP decks which feature beautiful photo manipulation and other such techniques, this deck is drawn by Irina Triskova.  The deck is Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) based but the imagery is very different.   Instead of matching the actions we see in the RWS to a different setting, Karen Mahony matches the Fairytale stories and scenes to the meanings of the cards.  The story the card tells is all you need to understand the meaning and symbolism of the card.   As Rachel Pollack put it in the Fairytale Tarot Forward, in the companion book, “Karen has taken the concepts and themes of the [RWS] pictures and found particular stories that bring out those same qualities.  Thus the pictures do not at first-glance resemble the well-known Rider scenes … but under the surface they will strike a chord with anyone who knows the Rider tradition.”


As noted earlier in this review, there are other Fairytale decks on the market.  In the companion book Karen notes that these decks are primarily geared towards children or our own inner child.  Baba Studios wanted to do something very different, design a Fairytale deck for adults.  A deck that would embrace the oral traditions of these stories, including their darker sides as well as the sensuality that is part of some of the tales.  Fairytales that were not “sugared or censored.”  In the Introduction section of the companion book Karen shares how personal creating this deck was for her.  They were an inspiration to her and influenced her into going into Literary studies at the University.  She also notes that “rigid psychological interpretation systems of analysis such as the strictly Freudian Bruno Battleheim are too neat and tidy to be at all convincing.” While “Many of the themes that come up time and again in fairy stories seem to bypass the rational and classificatory parts of our brains and work instead directly on our imaginations and, indeed, on our dreams.”  This influence and perspective is the inspiration behind the Fairytale Tarot and why it is powerful and unique.


The deck has 79 cards, you have the traditional number of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, and one extra card.  The additional card is not titled nor addressed in the book, I use it as a bookmark.  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 for the most part retain the traditional names of Wands, Cups, Swords, the only exception Pentacles which are Coins.  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 and the Fairytale tells the story, and conveys the meaning of the card.  I usually include the elemental correspondences of the Suits in this section of my reviews, but in The Fairytale Tarot I do not see the elements or any other esoteric system really at play.  In lieu of these you have the Fairytales themselves.  The perspective of this deck is very different than what we traditionally see with Tarot but is very effective.


The cards measure approximately 5” X 3”, have a 1/8” golden ornate frame-like border on three sides, a ¼” border on the bottom with a white scroll with the title of the card and below the title the Fairytale from which it came.  The images are framed within an arch at the top, which gives one the sense that they are peering into the scene itself.  The artwork is drawn and the colors are rich and vibrant adding to the Fairytale theme.  Equal attention was given to the Major and Minor Arcana so the deck is seamless and cohesive.  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 show an intricate ornate gold Victorian era design, framed by a ¼” equally intricate blue frame, which is further framed by a think royal blue line.  The cards are reversible.


The original set came with a 232-page companion book written by Karen Mahony.  As all MRP companion books, it is excellent and honestly, I do not think I would have been able to understand or navigate this deck without it.  But that is me.  The book includes the following sections:  Fairytale Tarot – Forward by Rachel Pollack; The Girl Who Was Too Shy, which is a story Ms. Pollack wrote taking a card to which she did not know the corresponding tale and made her own based on the image; Introduction; Major Arcana; Minor Arcana; Wands; Cups; Swords; Coins; Reading with the Cards; Reading With the Fairytale Tarot; Some Fairytale Spreads; and finally the Bibliography.   Both the Major and Minor Arcana card sections include a summary of the Fairytale used for the card, Keywords and Phrases, and then Karen ties the story to the tarot card with detailed commentary.  This is why I said I would never have really understood or been able to navigate the deck without the companion book.  There are no key words or phrases for reversals.  The Reading with the Cards section is excellent and applicable to any Tarot deck, but in all honestly with this deck being so different in approach I am not sure it covers the basis for reading this particular deck, again that is just my personal opinion.  The Reading With the Fairytale Tarot speaks about how this deck is good for one-card draws, and also presents the following more general spreads two three-card spreads, a five-card spread, The Prague ‘Threshold’ spread (5 cards).  This section is followed by a section titled Some Fairytale Spreads, here we have The Fairytale Fool’s Story (6 cards) of which Karen says It’s an excellent spread when, like the Fool, you feel you are leaving a comfortable situation to set out on a riskier (but more promising) journey, venture or adventure.”  The second spread offered in this section is called Fairy Blessings, Fairy Curses (5 cards) of which Karen states “This is a spread designed to help you think about your basic good qualities, skills and talents – and your main ‘flaw’ or drawback in life.”  Sample readings are provided for both of these spreads.


Unlike all other MRP decks I have experience working with, this one was a bit tougher to read with at first.  After all these years I still use the companion book to get the most out of each card before formulating the narrative of the reading in its entirety.  This deck is more psychological and emotional than intuitive, though if you do not care about the fairytales you could intuitively read the imagery I suppose.  I choose not to do this because after all the card choices came from the Fairytales and they do add layers and depth to the readings.  This deck can be used for any type of reading and the readings do have a story quality to them.  This deck is a story teller, not a linear card reader.  There is no explicit nudity, and though the deck does not shy away from darker themes, there is nothing offensive here.


I would not recommend this deck to a beginner despite how good it is, nor would I recommend it to traditionalists who are looking for esoteric elements within their decks as there are none.  I would recommend this deck to persons very into, or very interested in, original Fairytales from around the world, readers who love creating a narrative story through the reading to answer the querents question, those who love literary based Tarot decks, those who do not mind using the companion book during the reading, and readers – like myself – that focus on the psychological aspects of tarot vs. the divinatory.  Those of you looking for diversity what you will find here is cultural diversity as the tales are taken from various Fairytales from around the world.  This is a deck of stories not races.  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 and there is nothing like it on the market even today 14 ½ years later.   I was lucky to purchase it when it was released, but like The Fantastic Menagerie, 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 loves Fairytales and stories so receiving a reading with this tone would be really enjoyable for her.

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