Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Using the Tarot deck as a shorthand system for establishing the bases of characters can be as effective as any other approach. Whether the mysticism behind the Tarot deck or the Jungian brand of psychoanalysis, which shares some of the same notions concerning human nature and the human condition as the Tarot tradition proposes, is true or even valid is debatable at best. However, fiction, by definition, is itself not true; it needs only to be true to life, or believable, and whatever approach to personality and human behavior appears plausible is likely to be acceptable to most readers. Psychology, after all, is an inexact science, with many schools of thought concerning why people behave as they do, and fiction has always been pragmatic in electing to use whatever theory, of psychology or any other discipline, might promote its own literary aims. Before psychology existed as a study, writers referenced the theory of the four humors to explain human conduct, and some students of human behavior refer, even today, to the ideas of both Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Horror writers need be no different than other writers.
So, what can horror writers gain from Tarot? The positive aspects of the cards (especially those of the major arcana) provide traits useful for characterizing the good guys and gals of your narrative, while these qualities, reversed (opposed or blocked), suggest possibilities for the characterization of the bad guys and gals.
I won’t go through all 21 of the major arcana cards. Information about them is readily available. To illustrate my point, I will suggest how three of these cards could be employed to create protagonists, antagonists, and other sympathetic or unsympathetic characters.
In most stories, the protagonist is apt to be an embodiment of the Fool, who seeks a new start, embracing life’s possibilities as he (or she) embarks upon a journey, actual or figurative, sometimes without planning all that well, if at all, for the eventualities that are likely to be encountered. The Fool has a profound, albeit perhaps rather naïve, faith in the notion that he’ll be able to get by, that his needs will be fulfilled, that he will be all right regardless of how much he plans, works, or strives. In fact (especially in a horror story), he may not be, of course, and his shortsightedness and spontaneity might help to bring him to misfortune.
Reversed, the Fool is apt either to have trouble getting started upon his adventure (that is, he may suffer from the failure to launch syndrome), or he might get stuck in his ways, failing to find the inspiration that motivates him to continue the adventure he’s undertaken.
When you think about the Fool, chances are you will recall having read about him in a horror novel or seen him in a film of this genre. Gordie LaChance and his buddies, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio, the boys in Stephen King’s The Body (and the movie, Stand By Me, based upon it), come to mind.
The Sun character is the successful, triumphant man or woman who, having discovered a great truth (or maybe several great truths) about life enjoys pleasure and fulfillment. He or she enjoys his or her day in the sun.
According to Jung, the Devil archetype represents the repression of desires, impulses, and other aspects of one’s unconscious that are condemned by society.
Opposed. This character is subject to emotion and superstition and is apt to reason falsely, taking evidence out of context or reaching warped or twisted conclusions about the facts before him or her.
Blocked, the Sun character suffers from confusion, perceiving things as through a glass darkly, and he or she may have trouble interacting with youngsters.
When you think about the Sun, chances are you will recall having read about him in a horror novel or seen him in a film of this genre. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow Rosenberg is an example, as is Smallville’s Lex Luthor.
The Devil card does not refer to Satan or a lesser demon. Rather, this card alludes to unbridled ambition and a lust for power. He or she can be authoritative, powerful, even manipulative and controlling.
Opposed, the Devil character can succumb to temptation.
Blocked, this character is repressed and timid in the face of risk and unwilling to take chances.
When you think about the Devil, chances are you will recall having read about him in a horror novel or seen him in a film of this genre. Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau are examples.