March / April 2014 Issue
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Review of the Tarot of the Elves
This article was written by Barbara Moore on November 30, -0001
The Tarot of the Elves creates a new and different world. And yet, we humans still relate to the inhabitants of this fantasy realm. This innovative deck explores and conveys the archetypal meanings of the cards through story. McElroy spins an engrossing tale in which we both lose and find ourselves.
The figures on the earliest Tarot cards were no doubt inspired by the popular medieval "triumphal processions"—parades that taught moral tales to the watchers. By mimicking these archetypal parades, Tarot decks also told stories. These were not new stories, but ones that were familiar to everyone of the time.
While the stories of the Greek and Roman gods may not be quite as universally familiar to everyone as they were in the 14th century, most people understand the archetypal story of the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is the most commonly recognized story in Tarot decks. One strength of this approach is that people know the basic story. One weakness is that because it is archetypal, it is very generalized.
Until recently, many decks told the same archetypal story simply dressed in different clothes. The stories were still general and could be applied to any situation. In some cases, they depict slightly different or more specific faces of the archetypes. But since they are not set in context (like a story), they are harder to learn.
The more recent narrative decks, such as the Tarot of the Elves, also tells a hero journey story, but it is specific story. There are specific actions, specific characters, and specific ramifications. In short, the stories provide context and consequently two very great benefits. The first is that the cards are easy to learn. You read the story and when you see the picture on the card, you know the part it plays in the story, and consequently, the meaning of the card.
The second benefit is that the story also allows a clearer understanding of the nuances in meaning. For example, the archetypal idea of Strength as a card has many facets. In the Tarot of the Elves story the Strength card shows the main character, Albrerich, fighting with an evil machine that contains a magical sword that Alberich needs. In this case, Alberich must overcome something by his force and his will and by doing so gains a great reward.
The downside of the narrative approach is that to gain the most benefit from the deck, one must have and read the book. This deck is available as a deck with a little booklet. While the booklet contains more information than most, it is still no substitute for the full-length book that includes the companion novella. Luckily, a kit is available that includes the book and the deck. If you get the deck by itself, the book is also available independently.
Aside from the approach, there are other considerations. One is the style of art and the other, the images themselves. The art style is computer generated. I will not say that I dislike computer-generated art, as that is like saying "I dislike watercolor art." The fact is that there are different styles and types of computer-generated art. For example, I like the art in the Legacy of the Divine Tarot very much. But unfortunately, I don’t care for Corsi’s work. After all these years of reviewing decks, you’d think I’d be better at verbalizing what I like and don’t like. Alas, I’m not that skilled. The best I can say is that the figures look stiff and unnatural. His backgrounds and inanimate objects are, actually, quite nicely done. It’s just the figures. It could be said that they should look "unnatural," because by "unnatural" I mean "not human." And these are not humans. They are elves. But regarding artistic style, it is always a personal choice, so do look at the images before making your decision.
The images, regardless of artistic style, warrant a separate discussion. Some are powerfully evocative and beautiful, such as The Empress, Temperance, and the 5 of Wands. Others are disturbing (to me) for various reasons. The Lovers card shows a naked man and woman embracing. They look to me like Barbie dolls—stiff, plastic, and unnatural. And while I am aware that the following cards are, at the end of the day, illustrations of the story and must look the way they do, I do not care for them: The Devil, the 4 of Wands, and the 5 of Swords. With these, it is the eyes that just freak me out. The black emptiness suits the story but as a reader, they are too distracting.
A discussion of this deck is not complete without talking about the High Priestess image. This card, with its murdered High Priestess on the altar, upsets and even disgusts many readers. They see it as an insult to feminine wisdom. I do not think it is that, though. I wrote a short blog entry about it:
"The High Priestess from the Tarot of the Elves is probably one of the most controversial images in Tarot. Many people were appalled and had a very strong negative reaction to this card. However, people don’t have a problem associating The High Priestess with the Greek goddess Persephone. She was kidnapped by Hades, the god of Death, and taken to the underworld to live—kidnapped, taken from her family and a life she loved to live underground. She was, in a sense, dead. Without the experience of her death, the joy and power of her consequent rebirth could not have been. Many initiatory experiences recreate a symbolic death. We find them in most mystery religions, many modern Pagan and shamanic traditions, and even in the Protestant full immersion baptism. Study, a function of The Hierophant, comes first, followed by experience or the initiation. There are things, truths of the universe, which cannot be learned by study; they must be experienced and death symbolizes a strong transformational experience. And despite the calm, peaceful demeanor of most High Priestesses, I cannot imagine that such a death is easy or clean. For this reason, the pain and the immediacy of this card draws me in, even as it does, as it is meant to, repels. It speaks of the experience that comes before the calm and the knowing."
Just one final note on the cards. The Major Arcana cards do not have names printed on them, just their number. The Minors have a number and a symbol representing the suit. The court cards have a symbol representing the rank as well as the suit symbol. I like this treatment, although I think it would be cumbersome but not impossible for beginners.
This deck could be used very well by a beginner who read the book. The story is a great way to remember card meanings. However, there are few people to whom I’d recommend this as a first deck.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I like to end with how the deck works in a reading. For me, it does not. In fact, I had absolutely zero interest in trying, even for the sake of this review. For me, this is a deck to study, but I would not read with it for myself or others. In my opinion, the images would be too off-putting and distracting. But for a study deck, I think it is a wonderfully creative and challenging work.
Again, if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written, you know I always give a "creepy kid" alert. Why is it that artists can be perfectly competent at so many things but be a disaster at children? Well, this deck, because of the story, abounds with creepy children. You’ve been warned.
Name of deck: Tarot of the Elves
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN (deck only): 9780738711713
ISBN (book only): 9780738711720
ISBN (deck and book kit): 9780738711737
Creator’s name: Mark McElroy
Brief biography of creator: Mark has designed many Tarot decks and written many books on the subject, such as the Da Vinci Tarot, Mona Lisa Tarot, Lo Scarabeo Tarot, Bright Idea Deck, Putting the Tarot to Work, and Lucid Dreaming for Beginners.
Artist’s name: David Corsi
Brief biography of artist: David also did the art for The Vampires Tarot of the Eternal Night.
Name of accompanying book/booklet: Tarot of the Elves
Number of pages of book/booklet: Book: 160; Booklet 63 (14 in English)
Author of book/booklet: Mark McElroy
Available in a boxed kit?: Yes. It has the deck and full book.
Reading Uses: General.
Artistic Style: Computer generated fantasy
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
Does it have alternate names for the Court Cards?: No
Alternative decks you might like: (The following have similar art)
Vampires Tarot of the Eternal Night
Legacy of the Divine Tarot
Other narrative decks:
The Jane Austen Tarot
Mystic Faerie Tarot
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