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A Word on the Cards



    In The Charles Dickens Tarot, the four minor suits have each been reduced to their basic element. As Charles Dickens was a thematic rather than a symbolic writer, the standard icons of the suits – namely: Wands, Cups, Swords, & Pentacles – have been replaced with Fire, Water, Air, & Earth respectively. The characters and events depicted in each card correspond in essence and on the whole to the commonly understood meanings and implications of the majority of Tarot decks, the most salient for the purposes of The Charles Dickens Tarot being the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and the Tarot de Marseilles.


 Broadly speaking, Fire and Air are associated with attributes commonly ascribed as Male, while Water and Earth represent qualities commonly considered Female. As the Male suits ascend numerically, there occurs a corresponding internecine clash of energies and a falling-off of focus; the Female suits on the other hand tend to increase as they ascend in both potency and depth. The name in large script at the bottom-centre of a given card is that card's central character; other characters may appear or be named but they are secondary or incidental to a card's primary exemplar. On two occasions – namely: the 10 of water and the 10 of Earth – cards are represented en famille by an aggregate of characters, underscoring an essential aspect of the ultimate cards of the Female suits. Another exception is the 10 of Fire: The Circumlocution Office, a male familial aggregate more than kin and less than kind.


 While the Victorian Era had its share of knaves, the standard Court designations of the Tarot are dated and out of place. As steadfast advocate for hearth and home, a more appropriately domestic allocation of station has been chosen for Charles Dickens' Court cards. The standard hierarchy – namely: King, Queen, Knight, Page – has been replaced with Father, Mother, Son, Daughter respectively, thereby retaining the male/female/male/female structure of traditional Tarot Court cards and the Minor Arcana itself.


 The Major Arcana of The Charles Dickens Tarot, while maintaining a similar fidelity to the above-named decks, places a special emphasis on the actual life and history of Charles Dickens. Many of the larger than life characters that over-flow from the pages of Dickens' fiction were based on people living - some the author knew intimately, some he observed from a distance, some he had described to him third-hand. Moreover, just as the Tarot is a repository of archetypes, so do certain key figures and associated tropes recur in Dickens' work – many of these being key figures in Dickens' own life. The Majors of The Charles Dickens Tarot make these correlations to the foundational and paradigmatic people in Charles Dickens' life explicit.


 One dramatic break from standard Tarot decks in The Charles Dickens Tarot is its use of a horizontal orientation. The vertical orientation of most Tarot decks suit one figure in an iconographic, poster-like pose; here, the horizontal card orientation suggests an open book or vista, with room for Charles Dickens' many characters to find their own deserving place. This change of format is a visual transliteration with any alterations of meaning accounted for and adapted to the new configuration. Where the most change will be felt is for the reader, in the physical placement of a spread and the revised interplay of emphasis exchanged between the cards.


 Beneath each card here on The Charles Dickens Tarot Key is an information box in which the names of the characters appear in the order that they appear on the card, reading left to right. The main focus of the exegesis which follows emphasizes the psychological and literary underpinnings of the characters as they relate to their place within Dickens' writing, his worldview, and the world itself.


 After each Minor Arcana tract is a section entitled Shorthand - a tribute to the shorthand technique Dickens taught himself as a young man, allowing him to record the essentials of a character and situation, as personified by The Pickwick Papers' Mr. Jingle. The emphasis here is on each card's fundamental meanings and allusions, presented succinctly to facilitate the reader. Each Major Arcana tract is followed by a section entitled Notes for General Circulation - a nod to Dickens' American Notes, which detailed his trip to North America and presented his expedition there as though it were the critical findings of a commission on the state of the union's progress. As accurate as these observations may be, such scrutiny and analysis is, admittedly, not everyone's cup of tea.


 Be that as it may - and further to Dickens' spirit of embracing the bracing - a deliberate desegregation has been followed to commingle the positive and negative attributes found in both the Major and Minor suits, mirroring how such energies are constituted in nature. Arbitrary man-made allocations, Reversed or otherwise, can thereby be made - or not - by each reader at their own discretion.

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