Obscure Fairy Tale: Tam Lin
I adore Tam Lin. Kick-butt heroine. Awesome big confrontation scene. Lots of plaid. I suppose it doesn't qualify as a fairy tale since it's a ballad and you don't normally sing fairy tales. (Imagine "Twelve Dancing Princesses" to the tune of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Doesn't work. But "Tam Lin" can be sung to the tune of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Click here for lyrics.)
You can find a collection of the various versions of this Scottish ballad here. I also love the version by Jane Yolen and the retelling by Pamela Dean. But here's the basic tale:
Tam Lin (from Francis James Child's ballads)
Everyone is warned, "Don't go to Carterhaugh. Yeah, it was once a pretty house, but it's owned by Faeries now. You don't mess with Faeries-with-an-E."
You see, all faeries started out with an "e." But when prissy goody-two-shoes faeries like Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether took jobs in Disney World, they changed their name to "fairies" with an extra "i" so that they could dot the "i"s with hearts.
But Janet, rightful heir to Carterhaugh, goes anyway.
She's not going to simply be ornery; she wants to reclaim her rightful property. I think that's awesome. I also think she should have come prepared. Perhaps a weapon or two. Or a magic spell to banish faeries. Or, you know, any kind of plan at all. Just sayin'.
She plucks a rose, and a handsome man appears.
Wonder which came first: this rose or the rose in Beauty and the Beast. Also wonder where one could buy man-summoning rose seeds...
They talk. He tells her his name is Tam Lin, and he was captured by the faeries decades ago when he fell off his horse. She tells him that she's Janet and she's taking the house back. He thinks that's kind of cool.
I know I've said this before, but I love tales where the hero and heroine get to know each other before we're supposed to buy the "true love" thing. Sleeping Beauty, she's asleep. Snow White, comatose. Even Cinderella... while they do have one date, their conversation is so shallow that it doesn't even include, "Hey, what's your name?" But both Beauty and Janet have a nice chat with their boy wonders before saving their lives.
She returns home, and her dad notices that she's pregnant. He says, "I told you not to go to Carterhaugh. You're grounded."
Okay, perhaps they did more than chat.
Back in Carterhaugh, Janet confronts Tam Lin, who trumps her news by telling her that he's going to die on Halloween.
Yeah, that's a conversation-stopper.
Every seven years, the faeries kill a human captive as a tithe to Hell. Prior years, the queen loved Tam Lin best and spared him. But this year, she loves another and has chosen him as the sacrifice.
Talk about a bad break-up. Sheesh.
Janet declares she'll save him, and he tells her how to do it.
I think this is quite decent of her. After all, he's just revealed that he's recently come out of a long-term relationship. And that his taste in women leans toward the evil side.
On Hallow's Eve, she returns to Caterhaugh with faerie-queen butt-kicking equipment: holy water and earth.
Yay, a plan!
She hides and waits. Soon, horses gallop by. Following Tam Lin's instructions, she lets the black horse pass then the brown horse. When she sees the white horse, she leaps from her hiding place and pulls Tam Lin off the horse.
I'm totally not coordinated enough to do that.
The faery queen and her retinue encircle her, and the faery queen says, "That's not Tam Lin you hold." And she transforms Tam Lin into a snake. Janet holds tight.
I think this is the most romantic scene in all folklore. I'm not saying I want my next night-out with my husband to involve snakes and super-scary amoral women with supernatural powers. I just like the scene.
The queen changes him into a lion. Janet holds tight. The queen changes him into red-hot iron. Janet dumps him into a well.
Sensible and brave. Go, Janet! Such an improvement over your standard idiot-heroine like Snow White. (In one of the earlier tales, an old peddler woman nearly kills her twice yet she STILL eats the poisoned apple.) Or Little Red Riding Hood (though I'm open to the argument that she's not dumb; she just needs glasses).
She then pours holy water on him and spreads earth in a protective circle around them. Tam Lin transforms back into a (naked) man.
Most versions of Tam Lin specify that he's nude. Kind of cracks me up that this is a detail that gets preserved. Also, I like imagining the conversation at home when Janet brings back her naked boyfriend... Awkward.
The faery queen says lots of impolite things, but her power is broken. She rides away with the dawn, and Janet and Tam Lin live happily ever after in Carterhaugh.
Sigh. A real happy ending. I have nothing to say here except I love this tale. And really, someone should sell man-summoning roses...
For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.
Labels: Obscure Fairy Tales