Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino    Review by Sherryl Smith

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I just found this book in my local public library and want to share my impressions. This delightful, inventive, surreal book is a must have!  It will send you spinning down a rabbit hole to a place between the worlds where a grid of tarot cards shimmers with continually shifting meanings. By the time you finish the book, you will have a collection of wonderfully creative images and associations to go with the cards.

The narrator of the book is a traveler who arrives at an enchanted castle where all who enter are struck mute. After a silent dinner, the host spreads the Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck on the table and the guests lay out cards as a means of relating their adventures and telling their life stories.

The first story-teller selects a court card to represent himself, then lays down a double row of eight cards each to tell his tale. The next story-teller selects his court card and lays down another double row of cards, incorporating a set of two cards from the previous speaker's rows. Each subsequent story-teller has to fit his row of cards into what has gone before, like playing scrabble, or constructing a crossword puzzle. 

Many cards are used numerous times, with a different meaning attributed to them each time. Some of the people sitting around the table are mythic figures, or characters from fiction. One story-teller could be either Hamlet's father, or King Lear. The cards seem to be telling both stories simultaneously, as each card's meaning shifts in an almost hallucinatory way. 

We eavesdrop on each person's thought process as they struggle to construct a meaning with only the appearance of the card as a guide. The author purposely avoided using cartomancy or astrological associations, and set it up so the characters relate directly to the cards with no preconceived ideas or associations from other systems of divination.

As each card is laid on the table, a small drawing of the card is placed in the margin of the book. Each character's complete set of cards is also illustrated. The end result, after all the stories have been told, is a grid of cards with the court cards around the edges at the head of the two rows that tell their story. This complete grid is also illustrated, so it is easy to follow along and lay the cards out yourself while reading the book. There are also eight full-page cards printed in color in the center of the book. 

The Tavern of Crossed Destinies is Part 2 of this book. The device is the same - mute travelers who tell their stories with tarot cards, this time using the Tarot de Marseilles by Grimaud. Instead of laying their cards out in rows, they arrange them in irregular blocks with much overlap from one story to the next. 

Here are some ideas for group exercises inspired by the book:

1. Tell the story of an adventure you had using tarot cards. Before narrating your story, have everyone tell the story they see in the cards. 
2. Tell a familiar fairy tale using cards, and have others guess what it is. 
3. Using Calvino's grid of cards - select a court card to be a narrator.  The two cards closest to him are what his story is about. Tell a story going across the grid in any direction you want. Ignore what has already been said about the cards and make up your own story. 
4. Create a group story: the first player creates the first scene by laying down a row of cards. Subsequent players create their scenes with a row of cards which must cross or build on what came before. 
5. Continue with Calvino's unfinished work. Before losing interest, he intended to do a third part to the book, The Motel of Crossed Destinies, which would have contemporary people telling their stories with newspaper comics, which Calvino considered to be the quintessential expression of the contemporary collective unconscious. Writing in 1969, he was probably unaware of the new tarot decks that were just coming onto the scene. So write your own version of the book using a contemporary deck. 

Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino,  translated by WilliamWeaver.
Publisher:  Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York and London, 1976 and 1979. 1st American edition, 1977 
ISBN#: 0156154552

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A related book is: 
Calvino, Italo, Tarots: The Visconti Pack in Bergamo and New York.  Published by Franco Maria Ricci, Parma Italy. English translation distributed in the U.S. by Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1976.

I only found a few copies of this book and the prices ranged from $300 to $490. This book contains color reproductions of the entire deck and the text of Part 1 of the Castle book. I don't know if it contains additional text. Unless this book has totally fascinating information you can't find anywhere else, you could buy a first edition of the Castle book for $30 and the US Games reproduction of the deck, saving yourself at least $250.

Sherryl Smith has been studying the Tarot for about 30 years, and is primarily self-taught.  She is a member of the ATA and ITS and is a CPTR. Sherryl has had book and deck reviews published in several issues of the ATA newsletter. She is fascinated by the hand-painted Italian decks of the 15th century and is currently focusing her Tarot energy on the exercises on the Antique Tarot e-list.

Review 2001 Sherryl Smith
Page 2001 Diane Wilkes









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