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Some old notes on Tam Lin

I kept a blog before this one, which devolved into mostly memes (with the occasional urging my readers to support the Save Tara movement, etc.). But I also had notes in that blog about Tam Lin, and since I'm working on the Tam Lin story (finally!) that has been kicking around in my head for years now, I thought I'd repost.

Part I:
If you've never heard the story of Tam Lin, you should do a google search on it now and see if you can get a summary that's better than the short synopsis I'm going to give. The story goes like this: Tam Lin's lover is stolen away from her by the fairy queen. As the heroine, Tam Lin tracks down the fairies and discovers the secret to rescuing her lover--when the fairies go on their nightly parade, she must grab him and hold onto him, no matter what. So she does--she sees him in the parade, tears him from the fairy horse he's riding, and clings to him, her arms tight around him, not letting go. The fairy queen uses her magic to change Tam Lin's lover into beasts that gnash and tear at the girl's skin, but no matter what, she never lets go, not until dawn, when the fairies are banished to their kingdom and the spell over her lover is broken.

There's something incredibly special about the person you choose to spend the rest of your life with--and I think that thing is just the fact that you've chosen them. That no matter what happens, no matter how hard things get, you're going to stick by them, stay with them, because you've chosen that one person to be *the* person for you for the rest of your life. I don't buy into the fates, nor do I buy into that "perfect person" existing out there for everyone. Tolkien (as in J.R.R.) wrote to his son Michael that almost all marriages are a mistake, that there's almost always someone better out there for you. But the fact is that the person you marry is the one you *chose*, and that's the reason they become your soul mate. No stars, no destiny, just human choice. And it's a decision you hold onto, no matter what.

Part II:
So, I'm still stuck on Tam Lin. I am, in fact, putting off reading a book that I've been anxious to read for a few weeks now because I'm focusing on this Tam Lin story. For your entertainment, I'm posting more of it here.

This is apparently the earliest version of the story. It actually came from a Scottish ballad, apparently, and it doesn't go at all as I remembered:

The woods of Carterhaugh are guarded by Tam Lin, a man who demands payment of all maidens who pass through, in the form of a belonging or their virginity. A maiden named Janet travels to Carterhaugh and picks a rose, causing Tam Lin to appear. He questions her presence, to which she replies that Carterhaugh is rightfully hers. She then travels to her fathers house where she exhibits the early signs of pregnancy, much to the concern of the household. She states that her lover is elven, and then returns to Carterhaugh, once again encountering Tam Lin. He reveals he is not elven, but a mortal captured by the queen of Faeries, and that he may be sacrificed to hell as part of the faerie tithe. He then details how she can save him to be her mate, if she will undergo a trial on Halloween night. She must pull him from his horse as the faeries process through the woods, and hold onto him as he is transformed into various beasts, then plunge him into a well when he turns into a brand of fire. When he regains his own naked shape she must cover him with her green mantle and he will be free. She does all of this, much to the anger of the watching Queen of faeries.

So, Tam Lin? He's the guy. What's more, he's not very nice. Bah.

The story I remembered went much more like this: a girl falls in love with a boy--it's a fairy tale, so it was probably love at first sight or some other fantastic device, because real relationships are much too complicated to be included in fairy tales. At any rate, the boy is stolen, kidnapped, and forced to become a slave to the fairies. She goes undercover, with the aid of a local wise woman or a priest, who give her the tools she needs to survive in the fairy realm: she must count her steps, so as not to get lost; she must wear a cross of cold iron (unforged), which will protect her from fairy whiles; that sort of thing. She risks all, becoming a slave to the fairies, until she finds out the way to rescue her lover. Having counted her steps, she is able to retrace them and escape from the fairy realm. The bit about pulling him from his horse is the same, as is the transformation into various beasts.

Frankly, I like the version I remember better.

But the fact is that I'm not satisfied with it and now that I've begun to identify with the girl, I'm determined to do something with this story. You know, a modern rewrite--something like that. I really need to submit some writing to Realms of Fantasy magazine coming up soon, and I'm thinking this would be a good theme. Not that it hasn't already been done. But really, what story *hasn't* already been told?

So, there's my writerly brainstorm for the evening. Note how I choose to write about what I want to be writing as opposed to actually working on the fiction. This is why I remain unpublished. :)

--

Back to the present.

Notably, there is an excellent retelling of Tam Lin that I've mentioned here before: Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. It's one of my all time favorite novels (and is actually the story I remembered, rather than the ballad). But it's also quite different from the story that has been working in my head for four years now. It's time to finally write it down. (In order to tag this so I'll be able to find it again, I'll also say that I'm setting it on the Isle of Man, which is where "Nomi's Wish" is set as well.) In theory, I owe Dylan a rough draft of this story tomorrow, so no more percolating! Time to put words to page, and if not finish a whole draft in a day (because really, that's a little over-ambitious) at least send *something* in tomorrow.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
May. 1st, 2008 03:40 am (UTC)
There've been several versions of this, as you point out. What do you think is the attraction of this storyline, that so many want to retell it?
alanajoli
May. 1st, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
If you trace it back far enough, the concept is much, much older, back to the story of Thetis and Peleus has the same trope, only this time, it's the man who has to hold onto the woman as she's changing shape, and rather than freeing her, he binds her to marriage by completing the task. What the Tam Lin story does is changes the traditional male/female roles. Rather than oppressing the female and her position (condemning a nereid who was arguably once a goddess to her place as a mortal wife), in Tam Lin, the hero is a woman who is responsible for setting the captured male character free. He is the dude in distress, and she's no damsel. So I suspect, given that most of the versions I've seen have been written by women, the appeal here is the strong figure of the feminine.

The particular theme that always appealed to me was holding on, no matter how bad things got, which certainly stretches the theme a bit! But the idea that you can win if you just hold on long enough has definite appeal to me (and makes me feel that stubbornness and persistence is a virtue!).
sartorias
May. 1st, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
The female strength and the holding on...yes, that makes sense.
eyezofwolf
May. 2nd, 2008 05:35 am (UTC)
How amusing that I just came across this post and yet I emailed you earlier about the story. LOL Great minds think alike?
alanajoli
May. 2nd, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
How funny! I was almost sure it was the other way around... you saw the post and said, hey, she's supposed to have given me a synopsis by now! ;)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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