Placement: The Major Arcana
In some French and Italian decks, those used in tarot-based card games, The Fool is known as The Excuse. Historians also associate it with the wild card Joker in modern playing cards. The Fool, however, is unlikely to escape from Arkham Asylum on an enormous Jack-In-The-Box.
In some traditional illustrations for The Fool, a man in bright colours joyfully steps past the edge of the cliff while a little dog watches, smiling. The answer to the time-honoured question, “Who’s a good dog?” does not include The Fool’s companion.
In many, often older versions of the card, The Fool’s pants have fallen down and a cat eagerly bites his leg. Sometimes The Fool’s genitals are also out on display and the cat pounces to claw those. In one of the rarest forms of the card, The Fool is not at all visible, but a boa constrictor naps in his living room, a man-sized lump in its middle.
Right side up:
The Fool epitomizes naïveté, in the sense of both innocence and sheer dumbassity. He is freedom, in that falling without a parachute is freedom from solid ground.**
The Fool also represents a call to adventure, the first stage of heroic transformation in mythology and genre fiction. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote entire books about The Fool’s journey. Short books. Pamphlets, really. It takes almost no time at all to journey from the top of a cliff to the bottom.
The Fool is Cinderella cleaning the fireplace, Jim Hawkins serving drinks at the inn, Maria von Trapp hiking in the mountains, Bilbo Baggins eating alone at Bag End, Jon Snow eating alone at Winterfell, Oliver Twist not eating enough, Charlie Bucket not eating at all, Batman with parents, Anne Shirley without, Edmond Dantes sailing the sea, The Little Mermaid “Under The Sea”, Harry Potter in the cupboard, Jesus building cupboards, Jack The Giant Killer on the farm, Jay Gatsby on the farm, Luke Skywalker on the farm, Dorothy Gale on the farm, James T. Kirk on the farm, Superman on the farm, The Dread Pirate Roberts on the farm, that fellow from Interstellar on the farm…
Apparently, the entire food supply of our civilization depends on the phone being unplugged when adventure calls.
The reversal of a card is less like an opposite and more like a subversion. It is the difference between an ice tea served in Long Island, and a Long Island iced tea.
Both upright and reversed, The Fool is foolish. The first is innocent to the point of endangering himself/herself/themself by accident, the other is jaded to the point of endangering himself/herself/themself out of spite. The right side up Fool dies of exposure by wandering outside in her nighty while it’s -20 degrees Celsius, because in her eagerness to leave the house it did not occur to her to get dressed. The Fool reversed dies of exposure by wandering outside in her nighty while it’s -20 degrees Celsius because she has been outside before and “appropriate clothing is an outdated societal construct.” The gruesome result is the same.
*Contrary to their reputation in the popular imagination, lemmings are not cliff divers. Still, zoologists do not credit them with astute planning skills. Lemmings build no cities, crown no kings, manufacture no guns, declare no wars… Planning skills may be overrated.
Classic The Fool deaths:
- Using soft plastic packaging as a toy, despite warning
- Eating a laundry detergent pod, despite warning
- Leaving the hiking trail, despite warning
- Bumper-hitching a rocket
- Waving to your chums with a metal spoon in your hand while standing in the middle of a field during an electrical storm
- Hey, what’s this button for?