The FairyTale Tarot by Karen Mahony, Illustrated by Alex Ukolov with artwork by Irena Trisková
Review by Dan Pelletier

You can order the deck/book set from Amazon here.

They are lovely.  They sparkle, they shine.  Colors and styles out of a fairy tale book.  And illustration-wise, there is zero standard tarot correlation.  None.  And they work.


Each card is a snapshot of a fairy tale.  Even if you don’t know the corresponding story, it’s still a snapshot of a tale (any tale), the telling of which shares or illustrates the corresponding meaning of the tarot.


And it works.


However, I always begin with the documentation.  In this case, it’s the companion book of the same name by Karen Mahony.


So I open it up.  I start reading.  The paper quality is wonderful.  Semi-gloss.  And each section begins with a halftone black and white print of each card – not a line drawing – a halftone print; and a really fine resolution halftone print.  The book is not just another good print job.  It‘s craftsmanship.


I was sitting under a light with my jeweler’s loupe looking at halftones…


I’m used to the US market new-age printing jobs where they hunt down the cheapest printer and the cheapest ink to produce a book that won’t last 60 years.  Magic Realist Press does a wonderful job of reminding the rest of the world what publishing standards mean.


And the content?


Each sections begins with a condensed version of the pre-post-Victorian-sanitized version of 78 ‘fairy tales,’ followed by a series of phrases that serve as story/parable themes and that also can be used as tarot mnemonic aids.


It is nothing but brilliant content that is scholarly without being pedantic, entertaining and presented by a master printer…a book nonpareil.


It is a wonderful stand-alone book.  If you’re a student of tarot, love fairy tales, wonder, oral histories, Gnostic thought, and/or good cognac, you have to have this book.


But back to the cards.  On one hand, it may be tempting to simply throw up your hands in despair, “78 stories I have to memorize!”


This is not the case at all.


Although each card corresponds to a specific fairy tale, the artwork evokes standard tarot symbolism; one need not even use the supplied fairy tales in conjunction with the cards. The deck stands on its own merits.


Let me show you an example.


The Two of Swords. Crowley calls it the ‘Lord of Peace,’ a stalemate or standstill; Waite tells us, ‘conformity and the equipoise which it suggests, courage, friendship, concord in a state of arms’; Kliegman tells us, ‘…she’s stuck,’ and, ‘Because we want to avoid taking action…it’s not worth fighting about’…  In the companion book, Karen Mahoney discusses the parallels with the tale “Iron John,” which shares a similar beginning as The Glass Mountain (the tale used to illustrate the Two of Swords).


I see a ‘Princess’ upon a glass mountain, with her arms crossed, holding a golden apple. She doesn’t look happy. What separates me, from her and the apple, is the glass mountain. The removal of the swords and the introduction of the glass mountain shifts the focus of the card, and the meaning becomes clearer – deeper – more personal.  It’s not about her sitting with crossed swords or the moon, or the water.  It’s about her and I…separated by a glass mountain.  I can attempt to scale it and perhaps fail, or do nothing and definitely fail.


I must attempt.


I don’t need to know the tale of the Glass Mountain to make this card work.


This deck does not demand that one memorize 78 stories.  In fact, you need not even familiarize yourself with each story!


The Seven of Wands has seven goat kids with sticks, and a wolf at the gate.  It’s beautiful.  Ponder it for a while…it works, don’t it?


I love the numerological pun of the Nine of Wands.


I really like this deck.  The artwork on some of the cards in my opinion leans towards being too simplistic, not simply childish, but flat.  However in the majority of the cards, this style works.  However the inconsistency of the art is troubling, it feels uneven.


Brief notes on some of my favorites:

The Ace of Wands.  A character driven piece.  Simple, subtle, suggestive.

The Chariot (at top).  A wonderful haunting work.  Here the duality normally shown by colors of the chariot pulling horses, or sphinxes is here illustrated by the cold/heat within the passengers.

The Five of Coins, what a wonderful new way of looking at this card.  I say “begone ‘church’ window!  Shukran.”

The Seven of Swords is just lovely.

The Six of Swords uses the story of The Six Swans.  When you first look at the card you may say, “Huh?”  It makes you think.  And it works (no I won’t tell you why).

The Six of Cups makes the exchange of plants the focal point.  There is only one cup shown – and it absolutely works, with total disregard for the underlying story.

The Four of Cups is perhaps my favorite card in the deck.  The boy sleeps, surrounded by nothing good and harassing menaces…he sleeps on, unafraid.  Don’t need to know the story.


The cardstock quality is the only negative point of the deck, especially after the quality of the book.  I’d like to have seen a thicker cardstock – since the cards are too lovely to not be used.  This is offset however by the lack of ‘printing aroma’.  Recently it’s been all the rage to print cards so they reek for years afterward.  The high quality printing shows it self again.


This deck lends itself to a storytelling type of reading.  It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here, a thousand multi-layered words from our cultural landscape are used, illustrating the symbology of the Tarot.

You can order the deck/book set from Amazon here.

Dan Pelletier lives 13 miles north of Seattle Washington with his lifemate of 19 years, Jan Welsh, his two cats, Spook and Pookha, and 31 rosebushes.  He has been reading cards for himself and others for 30+ years. Dan is also one of the owners of The Tarot Garden, a resource for tarot decks and related information on the Internet.

Images © 2005 Magic Realist Press
Review © 2005-2006 Dan Pelletier