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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Deck Review -- Lord of the Rings Oracle by Terry Donaldson

Today at the TABI Conference I acquired The Lord of the Rings Oracle by Terry Donaldson (Godsfield 1998). The front of the box marks it as 'an official Tolkien Enterprises gift set product,' which might at first seem like an endorsement from the Tolkien estate, but in actuality probably means permission was granted to use the name and intellectual property, which is not quite the same as being 'endorsed'. The set consists of:
  • large sturdy box designed to look like a book, with green ribbon tie closure
  • 79-page hardback guidebook
  • large heavily laminated (sturdy) map of Middle earth
  • plaster/resin disc with a hole in the middle decorated with runes which is meant to be the One Ring (the book calls it the Great Ring), but to me looks more like a dwarvish protection charm (an interpretation I actually prefer)
  • 40-card deck of illustrated cards 

The Map
My husband is both a Lord of the Rings fan and a cartographer. When he was a child, he drew maps of Middle Earth and this inspired him to create and draw maps of his own fantasy worlds. He grew up to be a mapmaker. So of course the first thing I did upon unpackaging the deck was hand him the map and ask 'Is this accurate?'

Instantly he pointed to the coastline around Gondor and said, 'This is wrong.' Then he noticed that Caradhras (a mountain that should be sitting on top of the Mines of Moria), Rivendell, and Lothlorien are all in the wrong place. And that the forest of Mirkwood is the wrong shape. It puzzles me. Tolkien maps abound -- and it's a small matter to put a name in the right place on a map. I mean, it's just as easy to get it right as to get it wrong.  It's a shame, because it is heavily constructed for a lot of use, and it is colourful. But knowing it's inaccurate puts me right off it. So I won't be using the map. I can get accurate maps of Middle Earth on Amazon for £3, if I decide I need one.

The Ring
You're meant to use the Ring item on the end of a string or ribbon (which you provide) as a pendulum with the cards and the map. You can also cast it across the map without a string and see where it lands. I haven't read this part of the book too closely yet, as I am not that much interested in this type of divination. I'm a card girl.

The Book
At 79 pages, the book is brief, but makes a decent effort at explaining how to use the items in the kit. After 15 pages of explanation, the card meanings begin, pages 16-57. Each card gets one page with full colour thumbnail, a description of the card, then three columns: 'Esoteric Meaning', 'Personal Indications' and 'Reversed Meaning'. There is more explanation and a series of card layouts at the end of the book.

If you've read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, you will understand these cards without the book. If you haven't, the cards won't make sense to you even with the book. This is only a 'plug and play' deck if you are a Tolkien fan and remember who everybody is and where everything is in the stories, and you are prepared to make connections and find meaning in these things as they apply to your own life. (Or the seeker's).

The Cards 
The art in this deck is widely criticized. Aeclectic Tarot gives the deck 1.5 out of 5 stars. It has been called 'vague'. I am guessing that is because the art is not detailed and is more like sketches done with colour pencils. Personally, I like the artwork. I find that the 'fuzziness' makes it more otherworldly. I'm glad it doesn't look like Tolkien's artwork or David Day's or Alan Lee's, and that it doesn't hearken to anything remotely like what is seen in Peter Jackson's films. This is good. I believe it helps to access my own inner versions of these beloved characters and settings, without becoming locked into popular imagery.

Lord of the Rings Oracle, Donaldson 1998
You can see from the above that the art looks, as some describe it, 'sketchy'. But I take exception to it being called childish or unaccomplished. This appears to be artist Alice Englander's preferred style. I like it. I don't like Ciro Marcetti's art style. Some do. It's as simple as that, really. 

There are also complaints that major characters have been left out. That's true, a lot of names are missing, but can you imagine how huge the deck would be if everybody got a card? The places represented in the deck do a good job of triggering thoughts of certain characters, and the system seems more about evoking places (journey through Middle Earth = journey through life) than about particular characters. 

I got this deck as part of a trade for my unused Daniloff Tarot. I am pleased with my trade, because I love Lord of the Rings so much, and this deck is a cross-collectible for me, as well as a tool to help me work more deeply with the themes, archetypes, characters and settings of Tolkien's truly gifted and rich imagination. These books have meant so much to me for most of my life, whereas I only bought the Daniloff because there was a group buy on TABI. No brainer. 

If you are a fan of Lord of the Rings and you respond favourably to the art work, you will probably enjoy this deck. If not, probably ought not bother.

 Namárië, ar nai aistalë Eldar ar Atani ar ilyë Léralieron hilya le
Eleni sílar antalyannar! 
(Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves, Men and all the Free Folk go with you. 
May the stars shine upon your faces!)

-- Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring


  1. I don't own this deck, but can appreciate the artwork on the cards. I think the pencil sketches make it more interesting and set apart from the others. :)

    1. As I was saying to James Thomas Faulds Inglis, until something appears that better captures the scale of LOTR, this is the best attempt I've seen so far and a useful oracle deck. :)

  2. I quite like the art, but haven't read the books often enough to feel confident it'd make sense to me. Glad you're enjoying it, though 😃

    1. It doesn't seem to be a popular deck, but I saw a used one in a Glastonbury shop and was gutted to find some cards missing, so didn't buy it. Very happy that I found it on offer at the TABI conference. :D

      I think you probably could read this just on the pictures without knowing anything about LOTR, but that might defeat the object of a Lord of the Rings Oracle, and there are certainly prettier ones out there if all you want is an oracle. :)