The Literary Tarot: Classics Edition by The Brink Literacy Project

Being a small-time collector of Tarot decks who is really and truly not trying to own tooooo many of them, I absolutely could not resist picking up this set. Firstly, it’s themed on classic literature, with each card pairing contributed by a famous (or famous enough) author. Secondly, it’s overseen by the Brink Literacy Project, a non-profit dedicated to improving literacy in underserved communities. The Kickstarter promised a bargain price for the deck and guidebook, so I was super happy to pledge for my copy, knowing that proceeds were going to a worthwhile cause.

And the deck is a beauty, gilded throughout, from box to book to card. As an older person with tired eyes, I think there might actually be a little too much gilding of this lily, but it is undeniably a beautiful product. The cards do tend to stick a little bit to one another due to the slight lip on the gilt edges — something to keep in mind when dealing — but the cards are sturdy and of extremely high quality.

The art is exemplary throughout, with illustrative duties divided between five artists, one for each suit of the Minor Arcana and one more for the Major. The latter, Samantha Dow, was also the Tarot Creation Consultant on this project, so it wasn’t just a bunch of authors choosing their favorite books/characters willy-nilly for their assigned cards. In fact, there were six other volunteer Tarot experts who lent their skills to ensuring that this deck is as perfect a marriage as one could hope for of Tarot and literature. Unsurprisingly, the experts’ card choices sync best with the characters depicted on each.

Which leads to the one major flaw of this deck. While the pairings for the most part make sense — tho Temperance is a deeply weird choice to pair with The Cold Equations since it’s less exemplification than cautionary tale — the guidebook for the most part centers the entire work regardless of the actual character choice, making for some really strange moments. For example, The High Priestess references Cordelia from King Lear but her name isn’t mentioned at all in the text, which seems like a really odd oversight given that she’s the focus of the card art in addition to the literary character whose path is most congruent with the card’s meaning. If you weren’t familiar with the details of the story, there’d be a lot of “King Lear is wisely silent, wut?” And while The Age Of Innocence is an excellent choice for The Lovers, the description in the guidebook leans heavily into the romance angle when neither card nor novel is really about that.

The guidebook also makes the decision to use light print on a dark background (my tired eyes would weep if they weren’t so dry,) so when some of the printing smudges, as they occasionally do with projects like these, the text becomes almost completely unreadable. While I’m certainly not about to ask for my money back, I hope the creators decide to use a more standard dark print on light background for future endeavors of this sort.

Guidebook issues aside, the cards present a really lovely journey through the classic literary canon, with most of the literary inspirations discernible from just a glance at the cards. The characters depicted, like the source material, are multicultural; sure, some people will complain about characters from classic English literature being depicted as people of color, but it’s a fallacy to assume that the English imagination has always defaulted to being entirely white.

For literature lovers, this deck is a must-buy, tho I hesitate to recommend it to new Tarot readers. The suits have all been changed from the standard four, and while the Tarot advisors do a great job of making most of the literary content match up with the original card meanings, there’s enough difference for me to consider this more of an advanced deck than a beginner-friendly one. Compounding this problem is the relatively unfocused guidebook, and oh how I laughed when it compared a Celtic Cross spread to War And Peace. I personally find the Celtic Cross the most useful spread to suss out my emotions and fears, and it certainly does not take as long to read as Tolstoy’s magnum opus! There are, as a matter of fact, even more complicated spreads than my beloved CC. But if I want something focused and complete — like a perfectly balanced 300- to 400-page novel, regardless of genre — then the CC is where it’s at for me.

Ofc, no Tarot critique would be complete without a sample reading. Unsurprisingly, I used the Celtic Cross to ask a pertinent question that I’ll decline to share with y’all (tho experienced readers may well guess what I asked from the picture above!) I was actually really impressed with the thoughtful, reassuring tone the cards gave me in response. As far as advice goes, this was the sensible older sibling of decks, sort of a cross between Meg March and Elinor Dashwood at the end of their respective books.

I haven’t yet had a chance to use the deck for storytelling, but hope to soon. It offers such a wealth of imagination that it seems like it couldn’t possibly fail to inspire. I’ll update here once I get a change to use the deck for that purpose.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Literary Tarot and see if there are still copies available here!

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  1. I see Quills, Parchment and Light in the second illustration. What’s the fourth suit? And which traditional ones do they correspond to? I guess Rods -> Quills, though I guess Swords is also possible, if less mighty.

    1. The Quills are Swords, in what I’m certain is a play on the mightier. The fourth suit is Ink, and corresponds to Wands, whereas Parchment is Coin and Light is Cups. Not necessarily what I would have chosen for each, but good enough interpretations, in keeping with the rest of the project, IMO.

      1. Thanks!

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