- Publisher: Sterling Ethos (August 20, 2014)
- ASIN: B00N4EL71A
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,425,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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By John Matthews The Sherlock Holmes Tarot: Wisdom from the First Consulting Detective (Tcr Crds/P) Cards – August 20, 2014
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I am not a "Sherlockian." As a kid, I watched the Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce movies on TV, and also the 1971 film "They Might be Giants," which I adore. I've read two Sherlock Holmes stories, which I liked, but not well enough to want to read more. I am not a fan of the Victorian Era. So, I can't offer a cognoscente's review. If the deck contains some violation of the Holmes universe or Victoriana, it slipped right past me, and given that I'm not religious about Holmes or the Victorian Era, I don't care. I am a fan of tarot and I can say that this is a respectable tarot deck.
Wil Kinghan's images are aesthetically pleasing and unusual. His technique is ink line work and digital painting, with photographs of friends used as models.
This technique results in images that are reminiscent of antique black-and-white photographs that have been hand-tinted with color. Kinghan's set pieces – one might almost call them dioramas – are faithful to the Victorian Era. There are high collars, high hats, cobblestones, and distant, domed roofs seen out of coal-dimmed windowpanes. But there are also some shockingly vivid colors: reds, purples, and chrome yellow, pulsing vividly. As is appropriate for a deck inspired by a criminal investigator, living in London, from the era before electricity, most cards depict dusk or night crossed with wisps of fog. Between the bright colors and the stygian atmosphere, this deck depicts a collision between neon and gaslight.
Kinghan's cards are so busy with life, they jump off the page. The Magician is Sherlock Holmes himself. He is sitting, thinking – but Kinghan infuses electric life into this seated thinker. He's about to jump up with a great insight and solve a case. The minor arcana are drawn with all the color, dynamism, and detail as the major arcana. The four of evidence – analogous to the four of wands – depicts Holmes and Watson celebrating at a pub. The scene is alive: there are chandeliers, booths with other customers, candles, bottles, curtains, and a waiter. The line of the table comes at the viewer like a Dutch angle.
Other scenes are more dynamic still. The eight of evidence (eight of wands) depicts a train, puffing smoke, hurtling into the distance over a bridge, moon overhead. Holmes, in a tall hat, is just glimpsed peeking out one of the windows. It's hard to look at this card without entering into the scene, and imaging a story to accompany the image.
The five of deduction (five of coins) depicts a woman's deathbed. That could have been a static scene. In Kinghan's hands, it is alive – no anti-pun intended. There are dramatic shadows, and Holmes assumes a posture tense with meaning as he is dragged by a beagle. The lightning-like gleam from a top hat highlights Kinghan's attention to detail.
The Sherlock Holmes Tarot is one deck for which the user will very much want, and will make extensive use of, the accompanying book. Matthews has a New York Times bestseller to his credit; he can write. Two beauties of his text are its specificity and that it does not over promise. This isn't fluffy New Age stuff about how if you focus your intention you will win the lottery. It's about more grounded, detailed, day to day stuff, with Holmes as your guide. Each card is accompanied by a quote from a Holmes story.
Matthews' interpretations of reversed cards are every bit as extensive as his comments for upright cards. Upright interpretations are called "the game," as in "The game is afoot." Reversed interpretations are dubbed "the fog," that obscuring meteorological phenomenon we associate with London.
Matthews reconfigures the minor arcana as observation (swords), evidence (wands), analysis (cups) and deduction (pentacles). The pages are Baker Street Irregulars, that is the street urchins whom Holmes employed. Pages are all too often throwaways; here they are especially good. Knights are peelers, a slang word for police officer like the more familiar "bobby." Queens are ladies, and kings are inspectors. Both major arcana and minor arcana are depicted using characters and events from the Holmes canon.
The meanings of the cards are made very clear in the book. For example, the five of pentacles depicting a woman's deathbed is explained as an event from a Holmes story that fits quite neatly with the traditional interpretation of the card. For me as a reader, this deck would have been more valuable if these meanings were made easier and quicker to grasp. I fear that I may be struggling with working out equivalences: "eyeball on card means the card is part of the observation suit and observation means swords." Since I am not a Sherlockian, I don't know all the plots the cards depict, and I would have liked reminders on the cards themselves: a small sword at the bottom of the card, for example, plus a discrete, one-word prompt like "regret" for the five of analysis (five of cups).
Second, we all know Sherlock Holmes had a problem with women, and, by extension, all that the cups suit represents. Rather than create a cups suit and have Holmes react to it, the cups suit is processed through Holmes; it is the cups suit through Holmes' limited and hyper-rational point of view. To me that's a mistake. Holmes may have been a great (if fictional) man, but he wasn't able to eliminate emotions, spirituality, the feminine, or the supernatural. Heck, I hear there is even a new tarot deck named after him. I wish the cups suit had been more traditional, and firmly, representative of that very side of life that Holmes found so challenging.
The cards themselves are slightly thick and also not so glossy, so if you like that style then no problem! I find it a little too easy to scratch or scuff up the cards and prefer a glossier card. The guidebook that accompanies the deck is also a great read and very well put together. Very informative on the Sherlock Holmes legend, and tarot! Many of the cards are renamed, so I can see how it might be hard to understand for a beginner (like me!), but the handbook is descriptive enough to really help dispel any worries about learning the cards with their new names. I'd recommend this for any seasoned tarot reader, but also every tarot lover and lovers of mystery.
I appreciate that these cards are not just another Rider-Waite derivative knock-off : every one illustrates a scene from a Holmes mystery. The suits are cleverly designated Observation, Evidence, Analysis, & Deduction.
I wish the trumps were more distinguishable from the rest of the pack however; and I find the colors a tad garish for my taste: I would prefer a more subdued Victorian palette -in which the accompanying book is very well designed in sepia and faux marbling.
Initially I couldn’t distinguish Holmes in the cards, because unlike the literary description (and many film versions) of his face as ‘hawk-like’, in these cards his face is round. I’m wondering if the Holmes and Watson of this deck are veiled portraits of the two authors?
Readings with this deck have been accurate; the Sherlock Holmes Tarot is definitely afoot.
But...this deck is wonderful. The artwork is beautiful and the name changes were not entirely out of left field. It does work, but I can't connect to it. What's nice is that I can simply add it as a collectible to my Sherlock stuff. I'm rating it 5 stars because it is truly a great deck and worth the money.
I will say that when my cards arrived some of the Major Arcana had damaged borders. This isn't a big deal as I can simply cut them off, but I've read that others had issues with card damage as well. It seems that there's a good chance of that happening.
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