Literary Friday: Tam Lin

Synopsis according to Goodreads:


"In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic, Tam Lin has become a cult classic—and once you begin reading, you’ll know why. This reissue features an updated introduction by the book’s original editor, the acclaimed Terri Windling."


Tam Lin is a modern retelling of an old Scottish ballad that is basically a fairy tale. It was recommended to me because I lovedy love the musical adaptation of the ballad, done by Tricky Pixie. And although the book had some issues, it didn't disappoint in remaining true to multiple versions of the ballad itself.


This book does have pacing issues, and plods for a good 3/4 of the book, jumping odd time frames within chapters, and distancing itself from the emotions of every single character. This serves to keep the reader from being too invested in their stories, pretty much up until the final 8 or so chapters. 


I really enjoyed the setting of a liberal arts college in the 1970s. The political and social turmoil of that time was a muted backdrop to the story, and the concept of coming-of-age meshed very well with the primary points of the original story. Plus, there were fun allusions to elements of the original ballad (such as roses), as well as a multitude of references to literary works, authors, plays, critics, etc.


As an English major, I recognized many of the authors mentioned. But most of the constant quotes and references went over my head. Maybe it's just me, but the effect was snobbish and somewhat off-putting. However, it's hard to hold that against the book because Janet's personal intellectual snobbishness (and cold, unsympathetic, haughty nature) was the entire point of the coming-of-age aspect. By the end, she's slightly more likable/relatable (slightly)...and really, given the Janet of the source material, it's fitting that she'd be a bitch.


I definitely recommend this to fans of the slower, more subtle adult fiction, especially ones who have read many classical authors (especially 19th-17th century ones...which I guess would be fellow English and Lit Crit majors). If you went to college in the '70s, you might find this more true to your experience of higher education than it was to mine (and if so, I'd be curious to hear about it!).

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