Karen Kuykendall,
Tarot of the Cat People
(U.S. Game Systems, 1992)

The late Karen Kuykendall, an exceedingly talented Arizona artist and writer, wrote the instruction book and designed the 78 cards for this unique and gorgeous tarot set. Well-known for her fantasy artwork in a variety of media most often featuring cats, Karen here enriches the traditional tarot deck with imagery and characters from her very personal and original invented otherworld, The Outer Regions.

The Outer Regions are conceived as existing in a parallel universe, a very magical place divided into six kingdoms that are represented by various precious gemstones that serve as the defining emblems for each ecologically distinct territorial entity. The human inhabitants dwell in sophisticated civilizations that nevertheless maintain harmony with the forces of nature. Cats are the favorite animal in all these realms -- everywhere revered, loved and even obeyed. The people in each sextet have distinctive appearances, cultures, dress and spiritual/magical practices but all acknowledge a basic underlying sacred Cosmic Order.

Karen's visuals depict appealing and wondrous folk, strong men and women that reflect in physiognomy and ornament the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asia and Africa, all accompanied by felines of a variety of species. They are rendered in the artist's unmistakable style rich in exotic detail, gorgeous colors and dazzling lighting effects set off by beautifully stylized, complementary backgrounds. The tarot pack contains full-length portraits of fascinating people in elaborate costumes with intricate jewelry and headdresses. The Major Arcana cards are represented by the Diamond Kingdom. The suit of Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles are embodied by the Ruby, Emerald, Topaz and Sapphire kingdoms, respectively.

The 192-page book describes the Outer Regions in the first section, in considerable detail that reads like an ethnographic account, yet all of it fascinates being the creation of a very imaginative and talented woman. All the cultural and survival activities of these imagined people, fraught with spiritual significance spelled out in the text, are then directly related to the tarot deck as a means to interpret the image, the divinatory meanings and the reverse meanings. This embues the process of interpreting the tarot with the exciting feeling of traveling and exploring in a fantastic new world as if the plot of a fantasy novel were unfolding while reading the cards. Nevertheless, the relevance to the reader's personal life is also crystal clear. Thus while using the included spread sheet for performing ancient ten-card readings of the past, present and future, the seeker for knowledge and guidance will enjoy a very special tarot experience, for these cards are adorned with appealing and lovely personages both human and feline that obviously represent characters with rich and complex lives of their own!

The Tarot of the Cat People can't be too highly recommended for anyone who appreciates exquisite artwork, cats, special tarot decks and fantasy world-building. For those who crave more of Kuykendall's Outer Regions, she co-authored (with grandmaster Andre Norton) Mark of the Cat, a novel of fantastic fiction set in that world. (Although long out of print, the book has been republished by Meisha Merlin in an omnibus volume with a sequel, Year of the Rat.)

Serious ailurophiles, collectors and fans of Kuykendall's art should also seek out her two solo books: Cat People and Other Inhabitants of the Outer Regions: the Fantasy Art of Karen Kuykendall (1979) and Karen's Cats (1980), containing photos and memoirs of her cat companions. These beautiful volumes will amply reward those who search for them, for although this lovely artist is sadly no longer with us, her wonderful work lives on.

[ by Amy Harlib ]