Barnes & Noble Tarot Deck - Review by Lee A. Burstenbandn.JPG (21577 bytes)

This is a deck/book set published and sold exclusively by Barnes & Noble. It has no title other than "Tarot." It can be recognized by its purple package and its $9.98 price, which is very reasonable. Unfortunately, although the Majors are somewhat interesting, the treatment of the Minors is so odd that it pretty much ruins the deck.

It seems to me the artist, Shirley Barker, who I would guess is unknowledgeable about Tarot, had in front of her three decks -- the Waite-Smith, the Crowley-Harris Thoth, and the Marseilles -- and then simply threw them together in a random way.

This approach doesn’t work too badly in the Major Arcana. The art style is somewhat suggestive of woodblock prints, and is rather crude and simple, with bright primary colors. I find it fairly attractive. Each figure is placed before a solid, flat, deep color background, a different color for each card, which makes for a colorful effect when laid out. The images are simplified. Each card contains just a few symbols, haphazardly chosen from the tree above-mentioned decks. For example, the Chariot reflects the Marseilles, but with the addition of the spinning sphere on the charioteer’s abdomen from the Thoth deck.

If these Major cards were accompanied with Minors that were attractive or at least internally consistent, then I would not hesitate to recommend this deck as a nice gift set. Unfortunately, the artist (or designer) makes some truly bizarre choices. The Court cards are mostly ugly copies of the Waite-Smith Court cards, and not always the corresponding cards; the Queen of Wands is copied from the Waite 9 of Pentacles. The number cards are neither all pips or all scenes but a mishmash of both. The suit of Wands has scenes. The 4, 5 and 6 of Wands have more or less Waite-type scenes, with the 5 of Wands the only number card in the deck with a human figure, although it seems to be copied from the Waite-Smith 10 of Wands. The 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of Wands show an arrangement of wands suggestive of the cards’ meanings.

The suit of Cups contain only non-suggestive pips. Swords contain arrangements, some of which are suggestive of meaning and some not. The ones that are suggestive are copied from the Thoth deck. Pentacles are non-suggestive, except the 8 of Pentacles, which is a direct copy from the Thoth deck.

The only good thing to be said about the Minors is that the flat color background is the same throughout each suit (dark purple for Swords, blue for Cups, ugly yellow for Pentacles and ugly orange for Wands) which might make it easier for beginners to distinguish them quickly in a layout.

The book which comes with the deck is hardbound and small (64 pages). The author (Jonathan Dee) lists three Sasha Fenton books at the back for further reading and thanks "Sasha" in the acknowledgments, leading me to assume he is perhaps a former student of hers, and the meanings given seem to follow Fenton’s friendly, fortune-telling-style approach to the cards. The information is fairly well presented, with keywords, upright and reversed meanings, and six spreads (but not the Celtic Cross), as well as a chapter covering card combinations (i.e., two 8’s means surprises, three 8’s means good news about relationships, and four 8’s means journeys and news).

The Minors of this deck are so poorly conceived and so mediocre in execution that I cannot recommend this deck at all as a gift set, which it was obviously intended to be. I think a much nicer gift for a beginner would be the Waite-Smith or Universal Waite-Smith along with Mary Greer’s book, Tarot For Your Self. I would only recommend this deck to collectors who would be interested in owning a somewhat unusual set of Majors and who can’t resist the $9.98 price (as I couldn’t).

As an afterthought, the image on the backs of the cards is copied from the Marseilles 6 of Swords and is quite nicely done. The artist would have been better off doing all the pip cards this way.

Warning: The cards inside the outer packaging are packaged in a cardboard box which fits the cards snugly, as there is no little booklet. When you replace the cards in this box, be careful -- closing the lid may bend the top card.

See more images from the Barnes and Noble Tarot Deck

Copyright (c) 1998 Lee Bursten

Images Copyright (c) 1996 Parragon

Page Copyright 2000 Diane Wilkes