Return of "The List"!
3.5.2023 . . .
First: A warm welcome to recent newcomers! If you haven’t browsed around the EP site yet, I hope you will. This quick tour is great place to start. And you might want to have a look at The List and The List Continues.
Second: A sincere apology for the long gap between posts. I’ve been working on a new way to bring all my Tarot projects together—but the big reveal is not ready yet, so I’ll catch up for now with a couple of timely notes.
Spring Training is underway, and baseball fans are thrilled. So I was keen to bring you an update on legendary artist/designer/teacher Arthur Corwin’s theory of prehistoric timekeeping and its connection to the baseball-themed Tarot de Cooperstown.
However . . . I haven’t been able to track down all the relevant parts yet. So as a temporary substitute, I’ll re-share the note about Tarot and baseball I wrote in 2021, during the World Series.
After many years of ignoring baseball, I suddenly returned to fandom this year—and like riding a bicycle it all comes back to you! The same thing is true of reading Tarot, when you’ve done it enough. So even if you’re away from that space for a long time, whenever you enter it again, the skills you developed in the past will take over.
Naturally I looked for a Tarot/baseball connection, and there are a couple of decks purporting to be baseball-themed Tarots. Personally, I didn’t like the illustrational style of either, and couldn’t figure out who they would appeal to. Or why.
But I was intrigued to discover that Topps--venerable manufacturer of bubble gum and trading cards—has been publishing a baseball line called “Gypsy Queen.” Early on, in 2018, the cards were actually what we might call Tarot-adjacent. For example:
After that year, it seems the Gypsy Queen line gravitated back toward the ordinary, and by now it’s distinguished only by a different style of background. But what I like about this is the parallel between collecting baseball cards and laying out Tarot cards . . . .
Either way, you just never know what you’ll get.
Meanwhile . . . .
In case you’ve wondered (seems like a long shot!) what “The List” looks like, here’s a snapshot of the first page:
If you can decipher my 1980s handwriting, you’ll spot several items that have faded into obscurity (“Peculiar Playing Cards), and several that are by now well-known (“Blavatsky”). You might also notice the entry that sent me off in search of Arthur Corwin, as well as two items I’ve covered already: Richard Adams’ Tyger Voyage and D.S. Davis’s A Death in the Life.
I’ve now tracked down one other item from this page—Louise Cooper’s The Book of Paradox. It was her first published novel, written when she was just twenty—and as far as I can tell, the only one of her many fantasy novels that had a Tarot theme. There doesn’t seem to be any available information about her personal interest in Tarot, though it seems likely that she had at least a youthful flirtation.
Despite the fact that Cooper became a popular and prolific writer, The Book of Paradox is long out of print and doesn’t exist in a digital edition. So I wasn’t able to get a first-hand look, but here’s what a Good Reads reviewer shared:
A forward by the author’s first husband Gary Cooper explains the design: “The Book of Paradox represents the journey of the Fool through the initiations of the various cards. This is Varka’s fated quest, and one which leads him and the reader through many strange lands, into contact with many strange people, as will the Tarot itself.”
Each chapter has a frontispiece with an illustration by Barbara Nessim of the card influence in the current chapter along with a paragraph explaining the interpretation. Many mini-stories span 2-to-3 cards/chapters; for instance, the cover of Varka approaching vampire women is a scene from a story spanning (a) Chapters VII: The Chariot (Reversed) and (b) VIII: Fortitude.
Here’s a glimpse inside:
I went looking for more of Nessim’s illustrations, and—courtesy of the inimitable scholar Adam McLean—found these examples:
According to McLean, “. . . each card incorporates part of a checkerboard, perhaps reflecting the idea of a chess game.”
There is much to be said about Adam McLean, but I will have to leave that for another post. In the meantime, there’s more to tell about The Book of Paradox—and about the way Tarot has typically been “packaged” for popular appeal.
As it turns out, the original hardback edition was published with a wonderfully atmospheric cover by Barbara Nessim:
But when the paperback edition came out, it featured a cover by the much-admired fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetti:
A Frazetti cover undoubtedly made the book more marketable. But it also changed completely the reader’s first impression of Cooper’s novel.
You can get a sense of Cooper’s life and writing from her website, which has remained online even though she passed away suddenly in 2009. She was just fifty-six, but had already published more than eighty books, and built a large fan base.
Barbara Nessim has had an extremely successful and influential career, often blurring the boundaries between illustration and fine art. But as far as I can find out, she was never again involved with Tarot.
If you’d like to know more about Tarot in fantasy literature, scholar Emily Auger has covered the topic impressively in An Annotated List of Fantasy Novels Incorporating Tarot (1968-1989).
It’s part of a special section published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Mythlore—and happily, you can download PDFs for each of these articles:
Thanks for reading—and I’ll be following up soon with some notes from page 2 of “The List.” C