The Edgar Allan Poe Tarot by Rose Wright and illustrated by Eugene Smith brings to life the dark, macabre world of Poe, envisioned through the tarot. This deck is a creative writing major’s dream come true. The rich references to Poe’s works throughout the tarot illustrations are sure to delight.
For a special interest deck like this, its companion guidebook is exactly what you’d want it to be. It’s got all the primer info a beginner would need to render this a perfect starter kit for a tarot newbie. The seasoned tarot reader is also going to greatly appreciate Wright’s interpretations of the cards and how she’s connected them to Poe. The full-color glossy pages are a feast for the eyes.
For each card entry, you start with a card description that sets up the narrative for what’s depicted in the illustration (the artwork here is done by Eugene Smith, and he’s amazing; I hope Llewellyn commissions more decks with him in the future). Rose Wright, the author and creator, tells you which stories or poems of Poe’s are being referenced in each card.
Then there’s a separate section that gives you the card meaning and how to interpret that card when it comes up in your readings. These card meanings by Wright are exemplary. I did a couple of readings for myself and looked up each card one by one in the guidebook to see what Wright had to say. She’s on point. Her writing style is crystal clear, practical, and always eerily relevant.
Let’s take the cards for a test drive together, shall we? Present a question and then choose one of the three cards above– left, center, or right. Remember your choice for the reveal at the end of this review.
You can click on any of these photographs for a slightly larger view of the cards. They’re absolutely beautiful and the cool tones with the accents of warms interspersed here and there are perfect. The deck is based on the RWS system, but this isn’t a clone. Wright and Smith have reinterpreted the essences of each card through the stories by Poe to create something unique.
In terms of deck design, the publishers went with borderless and a high-gloss finish. High gloss doesn’t feel right juxtaposed with Poe. That plus the choice to go borderless gives this deck a very contemporary 21st century feel. The digital art style here also feels very modern.
I love the choice to go with Eldorado for Key 21: The World card and getting to see Smith’s imagining of the Golden City. Wright goes in-depth with the symbolism here. For instance, the green mountains symbolize verdant success. The sunrise in the background represents a new era beginning while the setting full moon along the water’s horizon shows that the knight’s mission has come to its end. I love the keyword interpretation Wright has added for Key 21– world travel.
That’s one of my favorite Ace of Wands, by the way. “A large candle burns in an old library. Blank notebooks signify ideas on the verge of actualization. Gold pens represent the freedom we have to create the reality of our dreams.” Each illustration is saturated with adventure and suspense. It’s incredible how Smith captured so much of Poe into his art.
Take this Three of Wands, for example, which is a reference to “MS. Found in a Bottle,” about a narrator who sets sail from Batavia (modern day Jakarta, Indonesia) and gets trapped first in a sandstorm, then a whirlpool before the narrator is thrown overboard and drowns, leaving behind just his manuscript that he’s written of his adventures.
The illustration is vibrantly active, rich with emotion, and just moves you. Your heart skips a beat. Something gets caught in your throat. And you worry about the protagonist pictured in that card.
Special interest or themed decks are always a lot of fun, but don’t necessarily become go-to reading decks, so I was definitely curious how well this deck would read. I found it to be a great reading deck, and that’s to the credit of Wright and Smith as a powerhouse duo.
The suit of Swords brings to life the wit, the logic, and intelligence of Poe. The “Tell-Tale Heart” for the Three of Swords… of course. =) “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” for the Ten of Swords paired with that illustration is perfectly spooky.
Smith’s illustrations of figures in this deck tend toward showing sunken in cheeks and sallow complexions. It’s this perfect little detailing and touch to the style of the deck that I appreciate.
Smith’s ability to tell stories is on a genius level. I can stare into every card and just get lost in the story. He has a master level of control over color tones and values as well (which, I felt like, the production value for the cards didn’t support– while my camera auto adjusts color contrast so these photographs came out clear, the actual physical copy of the cards in hand didn’t print color contrast very well, and so the printed color looked muddy at times).
Here in the Nine of Pentacles, the coins are embedded into the scarab beads of the necklace around her neck. I love the concept. The way she gazes at the viewer and the ship in the background, the proportion of sky to sea all work collaboratively to tell the story of Scheherazade and her story of Sinbad the Sailor.
And now let’s get to your reading. Remind yourself of the question you’ve asked and which card you had picked. Here’s your reading result, based on the card descriptions and meanings attributed per the companion guidebook:
This is a reference to “The Fall of the House of Usher.” There are fissures in the house, a storm brewing, collapse, cracks in the foundation, and a story about illness and death. Collapse is the theme here, and events around you are certainly shocking. What a hit you’ve taken. But take heart, you will rebuild after this darker chapter of your life. What will result after reconstruction will be something magnificent, a grandeur that would not be possible without this current phase you find yourself in. What’s happening now is necessary for the greatness you’ll soon achieve.
Eight of Wands
This is “The Raven.” Suddenly there came a tapping… as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door… Changes are coming, and they come swiftly. Opportunity knocks and you need to be quick on your feet. Do not stall when making your decision. What decision to make, you ask? The one that brings change, that takes you forward. Heck, there may be travel in your short-term future. If you’ve asked a heavier question and received this card for your reading, consider the possibilities of relocation. If your inquiry was work-related, your career is about to take off and soar, in all the good ways.
Queen of Swords
This is the story “Ligeia,” about a highly intelligent, precocious polymath heroine. Likewise, you’re highly talented and gifted. In the story, Ligeia dies and subsequently her spirit possesses the body of her husband’s new wife, Lady Rowena Trevanion. The sphinx here is representative of your determination and intellect. You’re one who has never really had a filter, yeah? You’re the rational skeptic who is the only one in your group right now who can wade through the morass of falsehoods to get to the truth. You’re now being called to step up, be even more proactive, and take the helm to be the leader. Lead, dammit.
The dark romantic aesthetic with a tint of the macabre is beautifully executed in the Edgar Allan Poe Tarot. The guidebook is a great primer for beginners or those who know nothing about the tarot, so this deck and book set would make a perfect gift for anyone, no matter their proficiency or knowledge of the tarot.
Got a friend with a penchant for the gothic? A creative writing student or MFA candidate? Just someone you know who loves Poe? This would make the perfect gift for them. As a whole package, from the top notch guidebook to the concepts, the compositions of each illustration, the color palette, and how the writings of Poe have been reconciled with the tarot deck, the Edgar Allan Poe Tarot is a stunner.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received this deck for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion.