Sunday, September 6, 2015

Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack: A Review

About six months ago, give or take, I first heard of Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack - a set of cards illustrated by this relatively well-known artist-of-scary-and-unusual-things. I was happily intrigued. As a child one of my favorite authors was John Bellairs, who wrote a series of frightening novels for kids, often illustrated by Edward Gorey. I always found the artwork to sharply enhance the spookiness of the story I was reading, and it became something of a trademark of those books; anytime I see a Gorey illustration I am immediately transported back to the thrilling fright of reading the Bellairs tales.
So I was interested in acquiring the deck, though slightly less-so once I realized that while many people referred to it as a "Tarot," in fact it is an oracle with just 20 cards. But in truth I really enjoy oracle decks - more and more with time - and there was something particularly amusing about this deck: it was originally meant as a very grim parody of divination. The symbols featured on each card are quite funny when understood in this light: the Blue Dog, the Limb, the Effigy, the Insects, the Yellow Bird, to name a few. The card descriptions are all rather miserable; there's not a hint of positivity in this deck, but some of the language is so unusual or unpleasant that it's hilarious (which is the point, really). The first night I had this deck I was laying next to my young son as he was going to bed, and was slowly reading through the deck's booklet. I read the description for the Waltzing Mouse:

"May, vertigo, loss of jewelry, a bêtise, morbid cravings, disorders of the large intestine, corruption, equivocal symptoms, a hazardous project, brawls, suicide, involuntary seclusion, shriveling." 

At that last word I just couldn't stop laughing, and began shaking the bed so badly with my silent fits that I was afraid I'd wake Gabriel up. Shriveling? Seriously? But it's so very Gorey.
A selection of cards from Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack
This deck was originally published in the December 1966 edition of Esquire magazine, and was meant to be cut out and glued to one's own blank cards. Later it was published as a proper deck, but eventually went out of print once or twice. Then in 2007 Pomegranate Communications issued a reprint, which is the one you can most commonly (and inexpensively) find on the market at the moment (the original decks are much pricier). It comes in a sturdy box with a nice little booklet, and the cards themselves are of good stock and highly glossy. No aspect of this box/deck is shrink-wrapped, so don't be surprised when you open it up and the cards and booklet are simply laid within!

I decided to finally purchase the Fantod Pack because I'm getting into the Halloween spirit and this deck is quite fitting for the holiday. I also wanted to avoid the disappointment that would surely come if I put off buying it for so long that eventually it went out of print, yet again! Now, the given card meanings are rather ghastly, it's true, and great for a good, morbid laugh. But I actually do plan to use these cards, and so I've gone through each one very carefully and attributed my own meanings to them. There are only 20 cards in the deck so it's hard to cover every circumstance or emotion in the global human experience, but they do alright! So I decided to pull a card regarding some major changes in my work environment, and drew:
The Burning Head
Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack
The updated definition that I've given this card is: creative energy; aggression; passion; desire; competition. And you know what? It's spot on for my question. I had a lot of fun making this deck "mine" via re-envisioned meanings, and look forward to experimenting with it in the future. It's clearly a great Halloween/Samhain deck, but we mustn't limit ourselves! If you decide to purchase this deck, feel free to give the booklet an appreciative pat-on-the-head and then proceed to do what you will - and have fun with it!

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