Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles Comparison Review by Paula Gibby
The announcement of a new edition to an almost unobtainable tarot deck is usually met with very mixed reviews. There is, of course, the enthusiastic response from those collectors and tarot lovers who have never been able to find this very rare gem of a deck. And really, for 17 dollars (which includes shipping), this is an incredible offer and, before I proceed further in this comparison, I seriously urge you to make time to add this new edition to your collection as soon as possible. It is, in itself, a limited edition and won’t be around forever. Considering that it took years of begging and persuading from Ms. Nettles’ many admirers to even convince her to produce this new edition, I seriously doubt she will be talked into another. Ms. Nettles is obviously an extremely intelligent and canny individual who I’m sure understands that diluting the market with multiple editions of her work only reduces the collector value. For no matter how beautiful the gem, what would a diamond be worth if the market was flooded with them?
But getting back to the subject at hand. We’ve talked about the enthusiasm of a majority of tarotists; however, there is another group who can have quite mixed feelings on the subject. Who are they? Well, in this case, they are the proud owners of the original edition of the Mountain Dream; an edition which has been virtually unobtainable for years. Sure, some of these collectors were in the right place at the right time and probably purchased the deck for the ten dollars it originally sold for; however, the greater majority have added this deck to their collections at considerable cost. In the last year, the 1975 edition of the Mountain Dream has appeared twice on EBAY and both times it sold for well over $400. Before that, I have seen it surface only one other time on EBAY and that was several years ago when, if I recall correctly, it sold for somewhere between $250 and $300. I was fortunate enough to obtain my own copy through a very timely deck trade.
So, as you can see, the Mountain Dream is considered a "serious" tarot deck collectible and so, of course, a new edition is not exactly welcome news. For in the back of each collector’s mind is that nagging question: "Does this mean that my deck is now worth nothing?" Or even worse: "Did I pay too much and now I’ve basically poured hundreds of dollars down the drain?".
There is nothing a collector hates more than seeing a new edition that is a carbon copy of the treasured original…right down to the box, booklet, back design, etc.
For the owners of the 1975 edition, their nagging questions have probably already been answered because I have no doubt that each one of them has already purchased a copy of the new edition and done a card-by-card comparison.
But for those of you who do not have the original and may have never even seen it, or for you collectors who own the original, but not the new edition, let me address a couple of questions for you. The first question that I have been asked is if this new edition is a clone of the first; one of those carbon-copy "babies" of the grandmother of all photographic decks.
The answer is no. You’ve already read Diane’s review, so you know that the cards have been completed resized, have a completely new back design and come in a brand-new box. So, right away collectors can start to breathe a sigh of relief.
But not completely because, in order for a deck of this rarity and value to maintain its collectibility, there has to be more of a difference. There have to be reasons to still want the original – and to be willing to pay dearly for it.
And in the case of the Mountain Dream new edition, there are some pretty major differences. That’s why I am not calling it a reprint or a second edition. Because it is neither. The differences are too significant. It is a new edition and stands alone.
The significant differences have to do with the images themselves. In Ms. Nettles’ introduction to the new edition, she describes how she took the original photographs, scanned them into the computer and manipulated them digitally. One could assume that this was done simply to prepare the images for the new printing; however, this assumption would be incorrect – or at least incomplete.
For Ms. Nettles did much more than that. I don’t know whether she manipulated the images to the extent she did because she wanted to maintain the uniqueness of the original set of cards or because she is what I fondly call a "fiddler". But change them she did. We’re not talking about just a few cards either. We’re talking about most of the cards.
Now this will bring joy to the collector for a couple of reasons. First, the rarity and uniqueness of the original has been preserved. Secondly, Ms. Nettles has provided the collector with an activity that collectors just love…sitting down with two editions and becoming engrossed in the minute deviations between the two sets. Yes, I’m serious. We collectors love to do stuff like this. It’s grist for the mill.
And as I said, there’s lots of grist to be milled in this particular deck comparison.
Before we get to the intriguing changes in the card images, let’s take a step back and talk a little about the overall assessment of the original Mountain Dream as compared to the new edition.
First, there is the size. As Diane mentioned, the new Mountain Dream is about the size of a set of index cards with about the same consistency in card stock. It is unlaminated and rather thin, but frankly, for this price, buy two of them and read with one to your heart’s content. They are not flimsy cards and you shouldn’t allow yourself to be shy about handling them. So shuffle away.
The resizing has changed the proportions of the images. If you compare the models in the two editions, you will notice that they have grown considerably thinner in the new edition. This is due to the fact that the original cards were almost square, so resizing them has elongated the figures. What a nice way to lose weight!
Another item worthy of mention is the overall look and feel of the images. In the original, you really feel as if you are looking at black and white photographs. The sharpness of the images and the intensity of the lights and shadows, as well as that amazing clarity of detail (for example tree leaves and blades of grass), so apparent in the original are somehow muted in the new edition. This is due to the fact that the masters have now been produced from printings of the scanned images. Thus, grass is fuzzy, trees get a bit soft-focused and the intensity of the contrast between light and shadow is significantly lessened. The result is a very attractive series of images that are quite obviously photographic in origin, but rather "flat" in the final printing. However, you would never notice this unless you had the original at hand.
When I first sat down to compare the two decks, my immediate assumption was that the new card images would be easier to see. The originals were very dark and, upon seeing the lightened images in the new edition, my first impression was that the new edition would be easier on the eyes. This assumption proved to be false for the very reasons I outlined above. The 3-dimensional impact of the original edition has not been fully translated into the new edition and therefore the new cards are actually a bit more difficult to appreciate and don’t pack quite as much punch. More importantly, you don’t get a full sense of the amazing talent of Ms. Nettles. After all, accomplishing what she did artistically and photographically back in 1975 (before all this computer imaging) was really quite impressive and gave birth to an unforgettable tarot deck. Even after all these years and with all of today’s technology, the Mountain Dream remains the best of the photographic decks.
Okay, on to the cards. How were they changed? Well, the changes can be categorized into five main sections:
The last category is the most noticeable in that Ms. Nettles mentions it in her introductory card to the new edition. For the Pages of Swords and Cups, she has replaced the original models with shots of her own, now grown, son and daughter. Even though I miss the original renderings, I love the idea of the substitutions. To have her own son and daughter now take their places with the rest of their family members (some of whom were similar in age in 1975) celebrates the regenerative pattern of life; a pattern that is replicated and an intrinsic part of the tarot itself. We are all, after all, one great family.
Examples abound of cards in which the backgrounds have either been completely replaced or altered in some way. Pillars have now made their way into several of the majors -- High Priestess, Hierophant and Justice. Other backgrounds have been lightened considerably, such as in the Emperor. Clouds, buildings and other background scenes replace some of the more stark versions in the original, as can be observed in the Lovers, Chariot and Hermit. Flowers now bloom alongside Temperance and the blindfolded figure in the Two of Swords is now set against a background of water with a quarter moon shining in the sky. That same body of water appears in the Three of Swords while overhead, masses of storm clouds move rather threateningly towards the pierced heart.
I’m not a photographer, but I know that they take several shots of their models and make a final selection from those prints. The fact that Ms. Nettles has obviously drawn upon alternate shots provides a fascinating detecting opportunity. There are many examples, and I don’t want to spoil the fun for collectors who now own both versions, but the Hierophant is one such card. While the pose itself is almost identical, the costuming has been significantly altered. In addition, the poncho has been re-draped in the second pose. Notice how the chair’s armrest and leg now obscure part of the poncho in the second version. In observing many of the other changes in the card, I can speculate as to why this second pose was chosen. See how the Hierophant’s staff stands much straighter in the new edition?
You can observe much more of this tidying up in the minors, as well as a great many changes in the detailing. Many of the Sword cards have received completely new swords. The Four of Swords is a perfect example of a combination of changes that have been made. The image has been horizontally reversed, the swords have been changed entirely and now one of them lays sideways just under the reclining figure; a rendering more reminiscent of the Rider-Waite card.
Once again, the background is changed in the Six of Swords; the swords have been replaced by a new set and, most interestingly, they now point downward whereas in the original card, the swords pointed upward.
I have to mention my favorite altered card – the Five of Pentacles. In the original shot, the female model has quite a happy smile on her face, which is in sharp contrast to the somber expression of her male companion and to the overall mood of the card. In the new edition, the smile has been altered. It is not another shot as I first thought. Instead, it appears as if the artist digitally filled in the lips, thus eliminating the teeth gleaming in the original.
For me, the only real disappointment in the new edition is found in the Six of Cups. Without a doubt, it is the most endearing card in the original edition and I cannot fathom the reason for the alteration. Here, we have the same two darling children that you see in the new edition; sitting amongst the six cups. It’s a very cute scene, but the whimsy and imagination of the original is lacking. You’ll see what I mean when you view the original. Same beautiful blond children, but look closely at the cups placed right in front of them – they are filled with Cheerios! The child in the foreground clasps her cup and spoon, her attention momentarily distracted from her snack in order for a grownup to take her picture. To me, the Cheerios emphasizes the aura of nostalgia this card evokes, for who does not remember having their hunger pangs relieved when mother passed a small bag or bowl of these tasty little round things in front of us?
I could go on and on because, as I said, most of the cards have been digitally changed in some way. This is absolutely not a criticism. Quite the opposite. It is interesting to see an artist come back to a work completed so long ago and work with it once again I have enjoyed observing how Ms. Nettles has straightened up various implements, lining them up neatly or repositioning them in a more symmetrical arrangement. I do that kind of thing all the time and I feel validated when I observe it in the work of others.
So, how does the new edition hold up against the original? I would say quite well, because it makes no attempt to be a substitution or clone of the original. It is very well made, well presented, of nice dimension and an incredible value. It also represents what will probably be a collector’s only means of having this deck in his/her collection.
Will it reduce the value of the original? In my opinion, absolutely not. In fact, I think owning the new edition will make the original even more desirable to a collector. The 1975 Mountain Dream is a unique and rare work, created by an artist with a unique and rare talent. It is probably one of only a handful of decks that is actually worth the price you will end up having to pay for it.
But for a price of 17 dollars, as opposed to almost half a grand, the new edition is a wonderful opportunity to have a Mountain Dream of your own. Don’t let it pass you by.
You can read a review of the original version of the Mountain Dream here and a new version of the Mountain Dream Tarot here.
You can order the Mountain Dream Tarot here.
Images © 1975, 2001 Bea Nettles
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life. She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot. She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks. Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements. Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she created the Blue Rose Tarot and has now completed a Majors-only Animal Tarot deck, which is transforming into a 78 card deck. She is also presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.