Monday, July 13, 2009

Tam Lin Retellings

Have you ever heard of The Ballad of Tam Lin? If you have, you’ll know that it’s an old Scottish ballad that tells the story of young Janet, and her romance with Tam Lin. Tam Lin was stolen away by the Fairies, and in the ballad, although he now dwells in our world (at least partially) the Fairies still have a claim on him. In the end, Janet rescues him and they live happily ever after. This ballad proved to be a great inspiration to many authors, as I have read numerous retellings in both short stories and novels. Here are a few novels that you might enjoy reading…

O I forbid you, maidens a’,
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

In this retelling, Janet is a college student at Blackstock (one of the buildings is called Carter Hall), and Tam Lin is a fellow student by the name of Thomas Lane. Set in the early 70’s, I thought the hippie era worked great with fairies! This novel is definitely a character study above all else, and I liked the way that Janet (along with the reader) saw little glimpses of things that weren’t quite normal throughout the book, until finally figuring out what was going on… My only problem with this book was that although the first three-quarters were captivating, near the end it started to drag. I think the story should have been re-worked so that it covered only Janet’s first couple of years at college instead of following her until her senior year. I loved that this book has the complete Ballad of Tam Lin at the back of the book, complete with old Scottish spelling.

An Earthly Knight by Janet Elizabeth McNaughton

In this version, set in 12th century Scotland, Jeanette (better known as Jenny) is the daughter of a minor nobleman, and is therefore expected to marry whomever her father chooses. She, however, has other ideas, especially after she meets Tam Lin. This novel follows fairly closely to the ballad, and the setting adds interest, but I found this novel a rather average read. Of special interest to historical novel fans.

Fire and Hemlock By Diana Wynne Jones

This novel, by one of my favorite fantasy authors, is by far the strangest retelling I have read. The story opens were Polly is packing to go away to college, and having problems with dual memories, one set of happenings overlaying the other. In an attempt to find out what really happened, she casts her mind back ten years to when it all started… I highly enjoyed this unorthodox (although normal by Diana Wynne Jones usual standards!) version, full of quirky characters and unexpected twists. Highly recommended!

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