My In-Depth, Very Very Long Review of the Bohemian Gothic 2nd Edition

Monday, August 23, 2010

(My original review for the Bohemian Gothic Tarot can be found here. You can view images for all of the cards in the deck at the Bohemian Gothic Tarot website.)

It's no secret that I am passionately, fanatically, and deeply devoted to my Bohemian Gothic tarot. It's unusual, because I hate horror movies, scary books have no place on my shelf (sorry, Stephen King!) and I despise being frightened. Anything that falls into that arena, therefore, is normally an automatic "no" for me. However, much like I will play any game that Bioware releases simply because they are the very, very best in their business, I will at least try any deck that Magic Realist Press releases because they never, ever disappoint. Their decks don't always work for me (Fantastic Menagerie, anyone?), but they're always gorgeous.

The BG isn't my normal cup of tea, but it is, somehow, perfect for me. I have said before that I think it's because the deck's inherent darkness makes it impossible for me to twist the message into something purely good and happy. I hate giving bad news, but there's a dark side to everything, and the BG doesn't let you forget it. I also appreciate that it's a dark deck, but it's not a violent deck. Many of the images, while dark, still evoke a sense of stillness and peace.

My second edition arrived on Saturday, while I was out clothes-shopping with my daughter. Instead of a shiny new deck to play with, I got a yellow slip telling me to go to the post office and pick it up on Monday morning. To make my anticipation more painful, Sunday evening my car, The Prissiest Minivan in the World, refused to start. The horror! So, this morning, I hopped on my bike and rode to the post office in 90 degree weather. (See how devoted I am?) As soon as I got home, I washed the sweat off my hands (ew!) and peeled open the new deck.

I was quite impressed with the box. It's lovely, opens and closes smoothly, and it's quite easy to get the deck in and out. One corner was a wee bit crushed from shipping, but that's happened with every deck I've gotten that comes in a cigar-style box, and it doesn't really effect the appearance of the box. More importantly, the deck was fine. I would feel perfectly comfortable carrying the deck, in the box, in my purse.

See? You can't even tell.

Inside the box, there was a LWB and a coupon for 10% off my next purchase. Very nice! The deck itself was wrapped in cellophane, which was secure but not so snug that I feared damaging the deck in my attempts to get it off, as I do with some decks.

First, my observations and comparisons of the deck as a whole:

The deck is thicker than the first edition. The cards have a matte finish; the first edition cards feel absolutely slick in comparison. The cardstock feels slightly stiffer than the first edition, as well, but that might not be a valid observation, since I'm comparing a broken- in deck to one I haven't even shuffled yet. The cards are also slightly smaller than the first edition, by maybe 1 millimeter in both height and length, and the corners are slightly more rounded.

The Second edition is on the left.

A second edition card face down on top of the Nine of Wands from the first edition. You can see the size difference on the top and the right edge.

The back of the card is the same design as the first, but done completely in black and silver. (The first edition deck was black and white with silver shadowing.) This gives it a much softer, darker feel than the first, almost like if you put your hand towards it, you could get pulled in and swallowed up. Which, now that I think about it, is pretty creepy.

On the front of the cards, the biggest change to the deck as a whole seems to be the clarity of the pictures. In the first edition, the images were so sharp you could cut yourself on them. In the second edition, the images were softened, giving them a more dreamy quality. I prefer the sharper images of the first edition, myself; the new version is lovely, but I like the harshness of the original. The Hierophant, for example, has always struck me (in this deck) as an uncompromising man, who is almost cruel in his absolute authority. His unwillingness to bend or to see other viewpoints isolates him, but as far as he's concerned, that's the fault of others.The sharp lines around him made that clear; there was his way, and his way was right, and that was that. The new card is almost exactly the same; the red hat is a bit brighter, the blue robe is a bit softer a blue- but the biggest change was softening the image.

There are many other slight color changes throughout the deck. For example, a gray which is bluer in one deck might be greener in the other. The small border on the bottom that carries the card's name is a bit shorter in the second edition, as well, although the text appears to be the same size.

In some cards, the colors seemed more muted and less vibrant, such as the reds in the Eight of Wands, the smoke in The Magician, and to a lesser degree, the Hermit's lantern. I'm not really a fan of this; I loved those vibrant, passionate, eye-catching colors!

Card By Card comparison:

I am not going to actually do every card in this deck. Many of the cards are very nearly exactly the same as the first, with slight changes in tint or sharpness that I have already mentioned. I'm just going over the ones that struck me, for whatever reason.

Where the 2nd Edition wins:

The Moon: They changed her face. She has a regal, calm look now, a certain tilt to her head that is confident , mysterious, and almost haughty. In the first edition, she looked worried and weak willed. The new card is a win.

Justice: The cover of the book is actually much clearer, and the robe on the figure in the background is red now instead of black. The judge's different colored eyes are more noticeable, and the furnace in the background is much more muted in color. I love these changes.

The Devil: I adore the addition of a gold earring on the woman. Somehow such a small thing adds so much to this image!

The Sun: Another card with simple color changes, yet the new card is beautiful and powerful.

Judgement: The painting behind the angel is now muted and fades into the background, giving the image a sense of depth and allowing the reader to focus on the people in the card. as a result, the contrast between her peace and his horror is more tangible.

Two of Wands: Not much was done to this card, mostly cropping, I think, but the woman seems more ghostly and more wistful, bringing the emotion of the card to the forefront and involving the reader more than the first edition.

Nine of Wands: At first glance, you'd think it was exactly the same, but the softer focus of the image is more reminiscent of early morning light, and underscores the meaning of the card. Love it.

Six of Cups: The new picture on the headstone is a definite win. It makes the image far more personal, and easier to relate to.

Nine of Cups: They changed the glass style in the drinker's hand. I love the new glass, it seems to fit more readily with the mood of the card.

Eight of Swords: I really like the addition of the rats. It suggests that, yes, there ARE things to be afraid of, but it's not something you can't overcome.

Knight of Wands: LOVE the new background!

Queen of Pentacles: Thank you, MRP, for NOT CHANGING HER FACE! She is my favorite card in the deck, because of that look on her face, and I am delighted you left it alone.

Where I'm Undecided:

The Lovers: I'm kind of split on this one. The woman in the new card is far and away lovelier than the woman in the first, and looking at her does evoke images and emotions; she appears to be making a difficult choice, leaving something behind for the sake of something that means more. It's a more emotional card, compared to the more physical composition of the first edition Lovers. The problem is her male counterpart. In the new one, he has this expression on his face that suggests he's just about had it with her Edward Cullen obsession. He doesn't appear loverlike or passionate or even a little creepy. He just looks bored and slightly irritated. I also much preferred the original background, with the light of the moon peeking from behind the black clouds. The new card, on the whole, is much prettier, and I suspect in time I'll prefer it. I just have to reconcile that look on his face, and the fact that it is vaguely Twilight-esque.

The Tower: I adore the new red shadowing on the statues; however, I also adore the purple sky in the first.

Six of Pentacles: Do I prefer him with horns or without? I can't decide.

Where the Second Edition leaves me cold:

The Emperor and The High Priestess: I preferred the original backgrounds. The skulls on the ceiling in the Emperor were much clearer and more powerful, while the forest behind the HP was more symbolic, to me, of mystery and the unknown.

Queen of Wands: There was a wealth of emotion in the first Queen's expression; wistfulness, hope, sorrow, even quiet laughter. Her successor looks irritated, or even bored. I suspect she's in a secret society with the gentleman on the Lover's card, where they read Very Serious Literature and eat very small sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Also, the fact that the original Queen was likely a transvestite added an entire world of meaning to the card that is now missing.

Five of Wands: for some reason, simply cropping this card neutered it for me. It has always been representative, to me, of either making things harder for yourself by fighting things that aren't there, or refusing to see what is. Having those ghouls closer gives them more substance, and alters the way I read the card.

Three of Cups: I don't like the vampire puncture marks in the oldest girl's throat. (Assuming that is what they are, and I didn't just get a misprinted card!) They feel unnecessarily violent.

The King of Cups: Expression again. In the original, he clearly felt both wistfulness and hope, sadness and longing. This time, I rather get the impression that his lady love ate broccoli and beans for dinner and is emitting some rather indelicate odors there at the window.

Queen of Swords: I loved the old Queen of Swords, because at first glance she looks so unassuming, but if you take a second look at her face you know she will cut you. She is perfectly lovely, and yet her direct, unwavering and calm expression says, "I see through you." She looks powerful and unafraid. She doesn't need to keep her hand on her sword because the sword is just a distraction- the truly dangerous thing in that image is the Queen herself.

Although the symbols of power and danger are more overt in the new image, with her hand on her sword and her teeth all vampire-y, I would be far less intimidated by the new queen than I would the old, and far less confident in her wisdom and impartiality.

After showing the deck to Wakingspirit, she commented that the new deck "looks more cohesive and less photo-edited, which is good. The colors are clearer and brighter, but because of that, the deck is less creepy. Still creepy, just... less." She was also extremely taken by the Momento Mori card, which is lovely.

So, overall, it appears that the deck is a win. To finish this post up, I finally gave the deck it's first shuffle, and it is stiff and hard to manage, I suspect it will soften up beautifully in time. It will be interesting to see how the gilding wears with use.

The fact that this deck has always reminded me of campy B-Movie horror in the very best ways has always been one of my favorite things about it. Even though the characters in the cards should seem dangerous or evil, when you really look at them, you get the feeling that they're just as prone to bumbling mistakes as the rest of us. These monsters throb with humanity, and we can relate to their struggles and their triumphs. That is what makes it a great reading deck, and that is why I love the Bohemian Gothic, both old and new.

Images used with permission, Copyright @Alex Ukolov and Karen Mahony, Baba Studio 2010.


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