Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

It is not known whether playing-cards first arose as a means of gambling or as a method of divination, but they have long fulfilled both functions. Users of the divinatory Tarot pack, of which the conventional deck is a stripped-down version, have constructed many elaborate pseudohistories while attempting to justify their interpretations of the 22 enigmatic picture-cards which form the "Major Arcana". Prosaic explanations link the pack with the game of Tarocchi, but fantasy writers have offered far more fanciful accounts, the most extravagant being found in The Greater Trumps (1932) by Charles Williams and the trilogy begun with God of Tarot (1979) by Piers Anthony. Other Tarot novels include Louise Cooper's The Book of Paradox (1973), Carl Sherrell's Arcane (1978), Coriolanus, the Chariot (1978) by Alan G Yates (1923-1985) and The Labyrinth Gate (1988) by Alis A Rasmussen. Italo Calvino's The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1973) uses a Tarot deck as a linking device for a series of stories; the deck inspired Tarot Tales (anth 1989) ed Rachel Pollack and Caitlín Matthews (?1952-    ). Magical cards with Tarot-like "trumps" are a key motif in Roger Zelazny's long-running Amber series.

The more familiar pack features in many ironic tales of cruel Fate, often involving Satan or some other diabolical figure; examples are Edgar Allan Poe's "The Duc de l'Omelette" (1832), "The Queen of Spades" (1834; filmed six times, in 1916, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1960 and 1982 [tvm]) by Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), John Masefield's "A Deal of Cards" (1913), "The Devil Deals" (1938; vt "The King and the Knave") by Carl Jacobi (1908-1997) and the pop song "Spanish Train" (1975) by Chris de Burgh. A borderline fantasy in which a card game exemplifies fate is The Music of Chance (1990) by Paul Auster (1947-    ). By far the most original and complex fantasy involving playing cards is Tim Powers's Last Call (1992). [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.