I am so excited. For the first time ever, I have the privilege of being able to review a deck when it’s released, and not five years after the fact when everyone already knows everything about it. We’re on the cutting edge of Tarot journalism today, ladies and gents, as I present you with a review of Barbara Moore’s Tarot in Wonderland, new this month from Llewellyn.
As the name might suggest, the Tarot in Wonderland is a deck based on the characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. It’s beautifully illustrated and whimsical, although it holds pretty close to traditional RWS imagery. As Moore notes in the companion book for the deck, “One of the best ways that tarot helps us is to disrupt stale thinking,” and the deck uses the whimsy of Carroll’s world to provide exactly that sense of (beneficial) disruption.
The structure of the deck is fiercely traditional (always a plus in my book), with the names of the suits and the Majors adhering to the RWS standard. Each card incorporates a character or characters from the Alice stories into something resembling the traditional RWS image.
I have always loved Lewis Carroll, and it’s delightful to see characters from my childhood appear throughout this deck. There are clever details throughout the deck, from the anxious White Rabbit checking his watch on the Three of Wands to the pairing of the Mad Hatter and March Hare on the Two of Cups.
That said, this deck strikes me as difficult to read with. I’m inclined to think of it more as a novelty deck or art deck, but not something I would break out regularly for professional readings. The whimsy is just a bit too much for me to use this deck with a client, unless I knew that client well and felt that the deck would be well received. Part of my concern is that I think the Alice theme might make some of the Tarot imagery less accessible to any querent not already familiar with Lewis Carroll’s work. For personal readings, or for a client I knew liked Carroll, this wouldn’t be a problem, but I would never break out the Tarot in Wonderland as a reading deck for someone whose familiarity with Alice was an unknown quantity.
Because there are so few characters in the Wonderland canon, most get reused. Alice herself is featured on most of the cards, but figures like the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter are peppered throughout. This presents an interesting divinatory opportunity, I think, because it could be meaningful to look at which characters recur (in which spread positions) during a reading. Similarly, because these characters already have defined personalities, their appearance in a reading could say things that a generic RWS deck would not (e.g. the White Rabbit representing anxiety and impatience).
As a theme deck, the Tarot in Wonderland has to walk a fine line between adherence to Tarot tradition and faithfulness to Carroll’s works. Some of the cards depict recognizable scenes from the Alice stories, at the expense of using more traditional Tarot imagery. Others (mostly in the Minor Arcana) are very close to the RWS originals, but put the characters in scenes never found in the books. All in all, I think the deck handles this challenge well, but this is definitely the greatest challenge of working with a themed deck like this. Sometimes, the deck doesn’t fit the theme, or the theme doesn’t fit the deck. While the Tarot in Wonderland succeeds on the whole in synthesizing two wildly different subjects, there were a couple of times I was left scratching my head.
Moore’s companion book is tremendously helpful for times like these. The 350-page book is beautifully designed, with a full-page color reproduction of each card. Each of the Major Arcana comes with a three-page explanation of the card’s symbolism and how Moore chose to connect Tarot to the world of Alice, along with a space for the deck owner’s personal notes. The Minors come with a two-page description. The LWB also includes a detailed section on how to use Tarot, some of the major overarching themes of the deck, and a couple of creative Wonderland-inspired spreads.
Readers who are confused by some of the artistic choices will find a thorough justification of those choices in the LWB. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the choice of the Cheshire Cat as the Hierophant, I can at least see what Moore was aiming for when she describes him as the character who “explains to Alice how Wonderland ‘works’ and about the importance of knowing one’s goals”. Each card description in the companion book also comes with a set of keywords for easy reference.
All in all, the Tarot in Wonderland is a thoughtful deck that seeks to do something new with Tarot–not an easy task by any means. This deck is whimsical, beautifully illustrated, and does a good job of capturing the soul of Lewis Carroll’s world and the expressive language of Tarot. I’d say it’s a great addition to Barbara Moore’s already impressive repertoire as a deck creator, and despite some of my practical concerns about using it as a working deck, I’m pleased to have it in my collection. For readers who already know Lewis Carroll’s work and are comfortable leveraging its symbolism, this deck provides a unique opportunity to delve into the symbolism of the Tarot in a new, wholly enriching way.
A brief note: I received this deck from Llewellyn for the purpose of publishing a review. Everything I’ve said in this post is my honest opinion.