Since I am focusing on the "Tam Lin" ballad and retellings this month, I first wanted to give a brief synopsis of the tale, which I based primarily on Child Ballad #39A and Jennifer Holm's version.
Maidens throughout Scotland have been warned to stay away from the land of Carterhaugh, where the elven knight Tam Lin resides. It is rumored that any maiden who passes through the lands must either give up a trinket (such as a ring), part of her clothing, or her virginity to Tam Lin.
Young noblewoman Janet believes that Carterhaugh is her birthright/inheritance and decides to ignore all the warnings. While traveling through Carterhaugh, Janet picks a rose and draws Tam Lin's attention. After interacting with Tam Lin, Janet ends up leaving pregnant.
She goes home for differing amounts of time before her father's people discover that she is pregnant. After refusing to marry any of her father's men to save her reputation, Janet returns to Carterhaugh to either confront Tam Lin or find a herb to rid herself of the unborn child.
Tam Lin appears before Janet again and convinces her that he is nothing more than a human who had the misfortune of being taken by the Queen of the Fairies when he was young and has been her captive ever since. In itself, it would not be so bad if the fairies did not pay a tiend (tithe) to Hell every seven years on Halloween night. He worries that this year he will be chosen as the new tithe and tells Janet how she can save him.
That evening Janet hides to watch the fairy procession and pulls Tam Lin off of his white horse, holding on to him as he transforms into various animals and objects. He eventually turns back to a man, freed forever from the fairies.
Notes: Because "Tam Lin" was first a ballad and therefore part of the oral tradition, it it impossible to pinpoint its exact origins. That accounts for many different name changes within the variations. Tam Lin is sometimes called Tomlin, Tom Line, Tamlin, Thomas, Tam-a-line and more, while Janet is also referred to as Margaret and Jennet. Even Carterhaugh has different spellings.
From my research, there are a few main points that define the "Tam Lin" tale:
- Tam Lin is a mortal man under a spell/the power of fairies
- Janet has some connection to Carterhaugh, which is why she travels there (usually out of a sense of curiosity or rebellion)
- Janet meets Tam Lin there and becomes pregnant with his child
- As Tam Lin's true love, Janet is the only one who can save him from the fairies' sacrifice, which she must do by holding on to him as his body morphs into many different shapes
- Janet is successful and Tam Lin is saved
A warning: Future posts this month will assume that the reader has a general knowledge of the "Tam Lin" story. They will make reference to it and, for my reviews, will contain spoilers if they're actually part of the original "Tam Lin" tale.