Vampires of 'Adventure Time!' and the Tarot Deck Picture


'Adventure Time' has FINALLY come back with an 8 episode long story arc focused on Marceline entitled 'STAKES'! These episodes in my opinion have so much quality they are now among my favorite episodes. So much happened or been revealed it's tempting to discuss what the main characters went thru- But that's not my goal. THERE IS one aspect of 'STAKES' that is highly personal to me and I think is fun trivia though- You see, I am a Tarot card reader for many years and I love all the card tropes. The ultra vampire bosses in these episodes (and possibly more yet to come) represent 5 major Tarot Cards: THE FOOL, THE EMPRESS, THE HIEROPHANT, THE MOON and...we'll get to Him later...) For a symbolism theory, for once I can pin this down as fact: Adventure Time waves back and forth in how subtle their innuendo and messages get; sometimes they are so eccentric it's anyone's guess if they're just putting in stuff to be weird, or to see if people will assign it any meaning when there isn't any. But far as these monster designs go it is deliberate and also very sneaky and clever: in a show whose cast can be LITERALLY ANYTHING, can have almost any powers, and often talk in odd slang or do eccentric nonsense, these characters could belong in just about any episode without any themed connection and still come off exactly as 'normal' as any of them do. You don't NEED to know what they mean card-wise to explain how they act or why they look as they do. But knowing lends such depth to their being. Let's look at them all a little bit closer, shall we?

THE FOOL: Marceline's first encounter with an ultra vampire, who is physically not the weirdest or most unsettling (chalk that for The Moon or the Empress) but he is definitely the least....vampire-LIKE, next to the king. So much in fact that watching for the 1st time I mistook Fool before his race was revealed to be a regular gnome. And happened to have snake fangs and could inflate his cheeks like a butt. (This IS 'Adventure Time' so why the hell not?) But there's more to him. Fool has some definitely foolish qualities- he cracks jokes, likes to prank people, and has little seeming regard for his own safety. He might be your typical overly cocky annoying minion: Except The Fool is actually the first card in the Tarot Deck and it equates with New Beginnings. He is the first boss to start Marceline on a journey to gaining her new powers and ultimately a first step toward her fate in becoming the Vampire Queen. Fool seems like a gnome, which maybe he might have been before he got turned, but what he wears on his head might also be a dunce cap, symbolizing Immature Stupidity, something this Tarot Card in represents. Upside down in a card reading, the Jester card can mean too much confidence and Blind Recklessness, which both Marceline and this foe demonstrate too much in battle. Fool also has the power to fly, and in the traditional Rider Waite deck while he is not flying The Fool can be seen about to cheerfully step off a cliff as if gravity never occurs to bother him! As a vampire trope, this one could be equated with creatures like brownies or pixies or any impish sort of fae, which most people now wouldn't associate with malicious vampire qualities but in reality many cultures told old stories of such pesky little goblin buggers like the redcaps or the German 'Alps' (Elfs) who would drink human blood and played cruel jokes like giving them night terrors by sitting on their chest. Alps could shapeshift too, but notably, always had to be wearing their magic pointy hat!

THE EMPRESS The Empress is an odd interesting reimagine of your 'sexy lady' or 'succubus' vampire. She is dominant in personality, and creeps up to Ice king while in bed after a nightmare- succubi were said to provide a similar paralyzed 'night terror' state like their imp cousins mentioned above, while making mortal men often become empty devoted husks enslaved to their sexuality. The Empress CARD meanwhile represents beauty, persuasion, resourcefulness, marriage and feminine dominance. She is also (when concerning an event) representative of taking a problem and using analysis and diplomatic measures, taking a step back and communicating with others instead of charging forth with heat into battle. Marceline and the Ice King both are both shown to be linked to this theme- The Empress uses these persuasive tactics instead of brute force to try to corrupt the Ice King, while the Ice King has to take a step back and recall what's really more important to him and tries to talk with her about it. Marceline meanwhile learns she should rely on communicating more with the team, as Bonnbell clearly proves when she saves her life. While less on the pure sadistic side, and more on the matriarchal power side, the Empress card also represents depending on the question often states of love or being a good wife, and Ice King clearly mistakes her for that. He's apparently served her under thrall before, back when Simon wasn't wholly corrupted, and it's interesting to wonder how much they were in any sort of a true relationship at all? -Or at least the illusion of one because Simon maybe had true feelings for her and she merely took advantage of them... or was he simply hypnotized from the start? Finally, in her introduction the Empress complains about how animal blood is too lowbrow for her- "Where is the good stuff, with the gold flake in it!" The Empress card almost always is depicted in opulence, covered in jewelry, a gold crown, and always on a gold throne.

THE HIEROPHANT The Hierophant is a self proclaimed 'old school' vampire. That goes for his vampire qualities AND Tarot card ones. The Hierophant card usually represents a pope or a bishop or some other important figure with two men bowing to it. The Hierophant card represents Traditions and Rules. It does not like change, youthful rebellion, or radical new ideas. It tells us that in order to succeed we need to follow old dogmas. Meanwhile the Hierophant himself hates the new world he is brought into. He thinks what the King is doing with animals is weird, and complains they should return back to the olden ways. He also is old school in Vampire Custom, which means probably a lot of things, but notably he cannot enter into someone's house uninvited. Old World Vampires actually ARE unable to enter people's dwellings without invitation. They are actually quite OCD, and had a lot of strange rules and weaknesses beyond garlic, holy water and a cross. They were afraid of roosters crowing, and had compulsion to count things so leaving beans on the floor was another way to distract them. Hierophant's main ability is to shapeshift into beasts, which is also old school. Most people rarely give vampires nowadays the ability to shapeshift, it seems to have fallen out as being 'uncool' or solely attributed to demons or werewolves. The only things they seem allowed to become anymore is mist, or bats in kiddy depictions. Vampires used to be THE number one main terror shape-shifters, who could turn into not only just bats or mist but often more legendarily into wolves, boars, giant black dogs, panthers and rats. The French werewolf/vampire hybrid 'the Loup Garou' was notorious for bloodsucking, climbing down chimneys and also even being a bit of a warlock sorceror. The Hierophant has a blended look of many European devils and warlocks, with an added touch of Bela Lugosi's classic taste.

THE MOON The Moon is by far definitely the creepiest and may be one of the most memorable forces of toon nightmare fuel I've seen in in a while. Looking at her I did not expect this, and I dont think anyone has... the designers who came up with The Moon are GENIUS. She is a self-healer and healers tend to be stereotyped as wise and kind or morally confused innocent, not truly bad guys. If there are rare healer baddies, they usually are at least tranquil in personality. But the Moon is NOT tranquil. Instead about halfway through, we realize what a violent and horrifying nightmare The Moon really is; that either she is somebody very different when the sun goes down, or the whole cute mute thing she usually plays is always an act. She is nightmarish not only in voice or form, but also personality...As if speaking in riddles in a horrible deep demon tone wasn't enough, she has the ability to always follow you no matter where you go and never get tired. She can paralyze you with a gaze of pure fear, and if you lock yourself away in hiding it will not help you. She will only just keep screaming things like: "PIG! PIG! OPEN PIG!! PIGS!!! PIGS!!! DIE LIKE PIGS!!!!!" until the lock breaks open of its own accord. THAT. IS. SCARY. I can't tell you why this word choice is so ungodly awful but it really is like something out of a bad dream. If you look closely the urn the Moon sleeps in is decorated with pig motifs too. The Tarot card of The Moon she is based on has no pigs on it or mythological connection with pigs that I'm aware of. But everything ELSE about the card is spot on: The Moon card represents Deceptions, Unsatisfactions, Confusion, Paranoia and Fear, and Finn and Jake are easily misled by the Moon's seemingly innocent appearance and confusing abilities then subsequently terrified as much as we are. They are also confused by Princess Bubblegum's verbal commands ("Wait, did she say, 'You guys STAKE HER or TAKE HER back??"). I have been unable to determine what if any folklore vampire archetypes she is supposed to represent. But I could pose the idea that MAYBE she is based on a vampire-like creature from the Cherokee tribe called the U'tlu'nta. This creature feasts on the livers of men, and can take the form of anything she wants but usually that of a short old woman whose body is covered by a rock hard skin that is impossible to penetrate. If you noticed the Moon's urn is covered by what looks like Native American folk art, and her pontoon floating hut appears to be sort of a wigwam. She also like many tribal myth characters somehow is both her own personal being yet ALSO represents the moon in the sky. Could it be this is where the idea for her self-healing and terrifying powers comes from?

THE VAMPIRE KING Finally we get to the last boss. The King is your typical 'handsome princely' vampire, almost like Lestat, but he is an animal hybrid, and a mystery as we don't have official name for him asides 'King' or any title that bears name for a Tarot card, but his design choices and dialogue are NOT coincidence and are in fact just as likely part of the Tarot motif. Which card does he represent? There's lots of possibilities, and are 3 likely choices- The first and most obvious would be THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE card. The WOF is a card that depicts a bunch of different symbolic animals: A Lion, a Snake, a human angel, An Eagle, and a Bull. This card is by name actually mentioned by the King himself in a speech that he gives, among others (we'll get back to that), and the king's body is made up of a mixture of bodyparts from all of these animals to a certain extent. He has the head of a lion, the body of a human, a snake tongue and green scales on his claws along with green snake eyes, and the feet of an eagle. At his side is the Bull, or the cow, who is his maiden. The card meaning is about coming to a new crossroads, about Luck and Destiny, and snatching gifts when opportunity presents itself. Luck can hold mixed blessings as well, and the King offers both to Marceline when he enters the crossroads of her life. At some point the King gives a melodramatic crazy speech about choosing one's path and not falling into the same fated battle; he even makes mention of "I am not afraid of the Unknown! I have the power to change DESTINY!...By turning you [into a vampire] it would subjugate me to the Wheel of Fortune!!" during his speech. Another card that he might be is THE WORLD. The World card is the big heavy climax at the end of a story, it too is about Fate, but more about Endings and Resolution. It is about Great Epihanies and your Final Destination. All the same listed creatures are upon this card too, and after Marceline battles him, all the loose plot threads from throughout the whole season have been nicely tied up. During the previous speech scene I mentioned, he asks Marceline to describe The World and how she sees herself in it: she describes the world as seeing everything in a tiresome series of cycles. She complains that nobody ever sees anything beyond their mistakes, because they do not get to live long enough past them. But she has as an immortal, and so she understands the full meaning of the actual World card, that everything changes AND everything stays ultimately exactly the same...just like her song. When she slays the cloud monster at the end, but becomes a vampire again, Marceline both gains and loses a part of herself, and realizes more about her place in life. She has both been changed forever but also has returned back to being exactly the same, only this time with him in her mind. By the way, both The Wheel of Fortune Card and The World Card have backdrops full of clouds, and when the King gives his massive speech, he is surrounded by clouds too. Finally, there is THE CHARIOT card. The Chariot is a card about progress, travel, success, victories, and moving forward looking to the future. The King of the Vampires is VERY progressive, seemingly not interested in recreating the old ways, or bitterly harboring the old conflicts like some of his clan. As a vampire he is part lion, and turns fully into one after having his essence drained, and the Lions pulling the chariot in the Chariot Rider-Waite card art might be linked. He can travel very fast, and is the ultimate symbol of victory. Finally he makes mention of 'a sick flaming CHARIOT!!" at the end of his monologue. While all of these might seem like reaching for straws, all taken into account together, along with all of the other Tarot card coincidences for the other characters, I am truly sure that the main reason the King does not have a proper Tarot name is BECAUSE he is an amalgamation of some sort of combination of these cards, or because simply calling him 'The World' or the 'Wheel' or 'Chariot' or even any of the rest of card deck titles would have been too weird or confusing. It just was less confusing to call him King of the Vampires, and leave it at that.

Well there you have it. This is all speculation and I can't say I know all of what is true and what is not. But I hope you enjoyed reading this essay and perhaps might see new layers to this and other Adventure Time episodes when you rewatch them!
Continue Reading: Sun