Book review: The Fool’s Journey

The Fool's Journey: the History, Art, & Symbolism of the TarotThe Fool’s Journey: the History, Art, & Symbolism of the Tarot by Robert Michael Place
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Published to coincide with an exhibition of tarot art curated by the author, The Fool’s Journey sits in a weird position. It’s a little too complex to be just an exhibition catalogue, but it’s also too slender to be a fully-considered work on the tarot. (Place is a respected artist, tarot scholar and has written more lengthy works on the cards, lest it be thought I impugn his credentials as a well-researched writer.)

Part of the difficulty with the book is that I think it’s a little user-unfriendly, at least as far as the layout goes. It’s a larger-format book, which is excellent for the graphics, but the text pages are one-column and stretch the whole page, making navigation difficult and reading a little tiring. I believe it’s a self-published work – the publisher’s address appears to be the author’s – so that explains some of the errant typos that appear through the work. It’s not a deal-breaker, though it does knock the faith in the work a little.

The good, though, is the amount of graphical reproduction on hand. The major arcana are discussed (as well as general tarot history, correcting some errors commonly held to be true, such as the ‘Egyptian’ background of the deck) and plenty of related art are included, to illustrate there’s more to the cards than the typically-imagined Waite-Smith imagery. Two of place’s own decks figure largely in the reproductions, though this is understandable – and they do provide stark contrast to other representations.

Place’s depth of knowledge is easily apparent in this work. It’s just at a weird crossroads – there’s a lot of comparative detail in the pages that would confuse the neophyte and merely whet the appetite of the more seasoned reader. The author’s background as an artist shines through, though, when he discusses the different card illustrators’ work – it’s an artist on artists, and a delight to read.

I’ve a couple of Place’s decks, and though I find them more to my meditative taste than for reading, I do admire his work, and can’t deny the reservoir of knowledge he contains about not only the tarot but cosmology and philosophy. I enjoyed this book for the larger-format presentation of cards, and for the fact it makes me keen to read some of his meatier works.

My Goodreads profile is here. 

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