New year, new edition of an old favourite. I’d hate to think I’m repeating myself here but there’s comfort to be had in reflecting on old favourites, undistracted by shinier, themed novelties. And heaven knows there are enough variations on a Lenormand theme coming out right now to entrap the unwary newbie or seasoned reader looking for something bright and gimmicky. You can’t really go wrong with this, or any, reproduction of Hechtel’s 1799 Game of Hope deck. So as one who much prefers duplicate copies of firm favourites rather than new-theme-for-the-sake-of-it releases, I decided to review it again. It’s a different edition, so a different deck, right? I first became aware of the Game of Hope Lenormand deck a few years ago via the Tarot Association’s edition in partnership with Ciro Marchetti which I reviewed here and whose green hue seems to throb darker with each passing year, but for which I nevertheless retain a fond affection. I also have Lauren Forestell’s edition and her mini version is one of my staple favourites for any Grand Tableau laid out in limited spaces. This latest version, by Alexander Glück (he of the lovely Wahrsagen à la Lenormand deck, reviewed here) is published by Konigsfurt /AGM Urania – “by kind permission of the British Museum, London” – and belongs to that category which is slowly creeping in now of larger sized Lenormands. First there was the Lo Scarabeo Lenormand Oracle deck which feels very big indeed, then a few others have since come out published in a larger format, something I’m not always too keen on. Leave size to the Thoth, I say. But this one is a decent, useable size. Perhaps not ideal for a Grand Tableau on anything less than a dining table, but for those 3-card, 5-card, 7 and 9-card spreads which many do, including myself, this deck feels quite comfortable to work with. It feels, prior to actually measuring it, more or less the same size as a standard playing card deck, perhaps a little wider. It shuffles easily in the hand. In fact, for my hand size, I would say it is the perfect shuffleable size; 11 cm by 8 cm, that’s just under 4.5″ by just over 3″. That’s actually quite a bit bigger than a standard playing card deck; a Bicycle playing card box is slightly smaller than the card image. Then of course there are the borders. I have a wild theory that we might correlate ease of card shuffling and hand span with shoe size. There must be some connection and it would help in reviews if one could prove it. If I tell you my shoe size is 11 (U.S), 45 (Europe) and I can’t shuffle the Rohrig but can just about shuffle a large Thoth and that this deck (albeit with fewer cards) is very easy to shuffle, does that mean anything? Probably not. The cardstock is in the heavenly category – firm, with just enough “give” and it seems durable (though I don’t riffle shuffle; I’m not flashy by nature) and with the lightest of laminations, silky sheen rather than reflective gloss. Some might feel the size inappropriate – too big perhaps for the traditionalists, plus there is now the ingrained cult of the mini, so a deck produced this size feels as if it is going against the grain slightly. I have a selection of Lauren Forestell’s mini historical decks and quite frankly I cannot imagine better minis than these ones, and am happy with the ones I have so I’m quite open to a new size – ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a traditionalist and the more I shuffle this edition of The Game of Hope, the more I like it. The card backs feature a duplicated clover and scrollwork as can be seen below right.The deck comes in a sturdy two part box with a lightly linen surface texture (one feels it could perhaps have been 1 cm more compact as inside the box the cards rattle slightly) which is graphically stylish, depicting the Rider card and – with the gothick lettering and sepia wash – you know that this is old school Lenormand before you even open it. And while we’re on the subject, isn’t the Rider card from this deck superb? A crack of the whip then exit stage left. In the historic Lenormand decks, most symbols are two dimensional and frontal. The Rider here shoots off at an angle on a foreshortened horse – it really brings home the sense of speed and urgency. It would be a shame not to use the box as it is so beautifully produced. There is a LWB included; 59 pages but in English, French and German, so that must be an average of 19.666 recurring pages per language. The LWB tells the story behind the deck (and the history of its publication) largely from the gaming perspective, yet there is invariably something ambiguous for me in the leap from parlour game to divination. Not through any fault of the author, but the connection – in any of the literature – never feels fully convincing. Mary Greer’s theory of the Coffee Card symbols may well be the missing link but there is no mention of it here. I’m not sure what I think about the idea that some cards like these (or perhaps even these actual ones, as is implied) were found among Mme Lenormand’s possessions after her death. I have no contrary evidence to doubt this, but doubt it I do. The LWB then goes on to talk about the upsurge in the popularity of Lenormand cards since the year 2000 and includes a translation of the original instructions for how to play the Game of Hope “with a new figures’ card [sic] in illuminated 36 sheets”. The last four pages contain brief information about divination with the cards; a short introduction and card meanings. No details are given regarding the Grand Tableau or any other spread. I don’t know why this deck has not long been fast-tracked to undisputedly classic, indispensible status. This is the deck to which all other Lenormand decks are indebted. This is the starting point, the Visconti-Sforza of Lenormands, or as the cover of the LWB proclaims, The Primal Lenormand. All other Lenormands are variations of this grandfather deck – or rather, grandmother deck because Lenormand cartomancy always seems to be in the feminine. I think that part of the Lenormand craze is a sort of relief that we have found a female deck to counterbalance the old men of tarot, the Waites and Mathers and Crowleys. And yet this deck is sturdier, less frilly and rouged, than a lot of the other historic Lenormands. For whatever reason, there seems to be a subtle side-stepping of this deck in the Lenormand community which I don’t quite understand. The delicate, feminine, slightly grannified decks like the Piatnik seem more in line with the style we have come to expect from this branch of cartomancy and perhaps there’s something a trifle robust about the Game of Hope deck. This is all idle speculation – I really have no theories as to why this deck isn’t more championed or loved. Editions of it come out, which we admire and know are important, then readers go back to the familiar Blue Owl. Yet there is so much charm, whimsy and sensitivity in this deck, but few seem to profess to publicly love it. I guess there are just too many other themes out there vying for attention. Readers might feel a duty to rate and respect these historical decks but in practice prefer something collaged and contemporary. These historic decks may just be considered too stark and dry for modern readers’ tastes. I’ll be honest, I think a deck such as this has much more character than a deck such as the Piatnik.I think this is a deck where the issue of card inserts is very admirably solved. You feel that some deck creators don’t quite know how to deal with something this asymmetrical – where can one put a single floating playing card? Here there are two card inserts on each card; the standard spades and clubs etc (French pattern? English pattern?) on the right-hand side and the German suits (acorns, bells etc) on the left-hand side, with the card number between the two. As a result, the upper part of the card balances well with the symbol in the lower part of the card and there isn’t that odd blankness, that cloudless sky with the single card insert floating like a hot air balloon. Instead, the inserts feel like little boxes, distinct divisions in the upper corners of the card. When you get two courts on a card they are like the harmonised figures in a cuckoo clock, waiting for the chimes in their respective compartments. I am intrigued by the compositional solutions found in this deck; some things enter into the sacred space between the playing card inserts – the Gentleman’s tricorn, the Lady’s tottering peruke, the flag of the ship – and yet others which could (like the top of the Cross, the top of the Anchor, the turret of the Tower) do not. No idea why I find myself reflecting on this, but it’s something I keep thinking about; the pictorial aspect of where things fit in these cards. This version of the Game of Hope is a truly beautiful deck in every single aspect; colouring, printing quality, durability, retained staining. Mr Glück has done an excellent job with this edition. I have nothing but praise and admiration.
- A New Game of Hope
- The Alice Tarot
- Le Tarot Noir, Imagerie Médiévale Populaire; Small Review of a Large Deck
- The Deck of the Dead; Antithesis of a Gentle Tarot
- Those Holy Grail Decks
- The Burning Serpent Oracle.
- On Being Read to
- The Tyldwick Tarot; is there anybody there?
- The Destroyed Dondorf
- Press Pause
- Musings on The Moon Card
- Vampire Decks; Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here
- The Joy of Spreadcloths
- Resuscitating the Dondorf