Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Deck Review: The Zombie Tarot

The walking dead are everywhere in America today, and no, I’m not talking about high school students…I’m talking about zombies. We’ve had a fascination with them for many years but in recent times that interest has become more and more honed. Shows like “The Walking Dead”, games like “Resident Evil”, and books like World War Z fuel our insatiable hunger for brains. I meant zombies.

Anyway, the Zombie Tarot is not brand new, but it’s been shambling around in my mind for quite some time. I was lucky enough to receive it as an early birthday present and I just can’t get it out of my brain for some reason.

I have to give them props just for the BOX, folks. They eschew the standard packaging and go with a container that is much larger than the deck itself, but you get a look at the style of the deck before you even get it home.  We’re not talking about modern zombies here…it’s 1950s kitsch all the way. When you open the top of the box and look around the edge of the inside, it looks like a case of bullets.

The little white book—which is, in this case, black—is pretty good, with one card per page. It’s designed to sit right in the box with the cards, and has an interesting story about how you should make the Zombie Tarot your weapon of choice in these difficult times when everything—and everyone—comes back to haunt you. Some information on the suits and reading is also provided, and it’s just enough to be dangerous but not too boring. Because let’s face it: People want to get right to the zombies.  

The deck itself is a little smaller than the Rider-Waite and is easy to hold in your hand. The cards aren’t going to need much breaking in, either; they are fairly easy to shuffle. One of the drawback about some of the newer decks is that to me, if you can’t fit it easily in your hand, you’re less likely to pick it up. I love, for example, “The Gilded Tarot Royale”, but it’s too big for me to pick up easily.

It has 78 cards and stays true to the standard suits except in one area. Pentacles have been replaced by “Hazards” in this deck, represented by a biohazard symbol. Wands are actually bones, cups come across as skulls, and swords are…well, things to defend yourself with in the event of a zombie apocalypse, so no translation is required. On the pips, the number appears in the top left and bottom right corners of the card, with the appropriate symbol in the other two corners. This make card recognition easy.

 Court card names are King, Queen, Knight, and Page, with the pages all being represented as children. This reinforces the idea of youth and/or immaturity—my best friend Sam and I go back and forth on this—present in the pages. The first letter of the title of the person on the card replaces the number that appears on the pips, but they retain the suit designation in the same corner.

I think what impressed me the most is that the deck does a fantastic job translating the RWS themes in many respects, while staying true to its undead motif. The Empress, for example, has a woman kneeling next to some flower pots. I think it’s the woman from “Mommy Dearest”, but don’t quote me on it. Anyway, she has her arm around what probably was her child, now a revenant. In a fantastic addition, the little girl is chained to something out of frame.

[Just as an aside, what is it about zombies that make people want to confine them? I know they used to mean a lot to you, but SERIOUSLY:  Don’t you people know that they’re NOT going to get better?!?! Time and time again I see this. Just sayin’. And for the record, Jen, if I turn into a zombie, please do NOT chain me up to the television and try to hand me an Xbox controller. Just put me down. THANKS!]

The Five of Cups pictures a woman and child in a cemetery. The woman is crying next to a grave, while the little boy holds a box of tissues. Various zombies roam around behind them. Once again, the themes come through: Death, grief, and loss, all of which can affect us at any age.

The Queen of Wands, who is—or used to be—a nurse, is holding the bottom half of what was her right arm in her left arm, complete with bone protrusions. The right arm is holding what appears to be a femur. Her uniform is no longer completely white, either, but it’s just gory enough without going over the top. And that can be said of many of these cards: They don’t try to gross you out, but they reinforce the theme very well.  

My favorite card, hands down, is the Two of Cups. You are looking at two pretty 1950s place settings at a dinner table from above, with two different meals and two sets of hands. At the top of the card is a pair of women’s hands, holding a knife and fork ready to start eating a very nice-looking meat and potatoes meal. Her partner across the table was not so lucky…the left one is missing most of its flesh, while the right picks up a kidney or other organ. In the center of the bottom plate is a slightly bloody brain. Again, it shows the togetherness theme of the 2 of Cups; even after one of the parties has gone on to the world of the undead, they still have meals together. I have to wonder if the woman will be the guy’s dessert.

This probably marks the first time that I have felt the need to sit down and do a review on a tarot deck after just 12 hours of having it in my hot little hands. It makes my brain bleed to think that I’ll actually have to put it down. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. Go and buy this one so you’ll be prepared when the apocalypse happens.