Tam Lin– a Tuesday Tale

(While I know this will be very familiar in some circles, it is clearly not known to the population at large. It ought to be. Naturally this is just one version out of many.)

A handsome young man was being held captive by the fairy folk. Tam Lin had been a favorite of the Queen’s for some time but she had finally found a new toy, and Tam Lin was to be the fairies’ next human sacrifice.

He met in secret with his lady, Byrd Janet, and told her what would happen, begging her to be brave enough to rescue him from his fate. Giving her detailed instructions about how to identify him among the crowd, he explained what would happen.

On All Hallows Eve Byrd Janet was to make a circle of holy water to stand in for protection, then watch the procession of the fairy folk. She must let the riders of the black horse and the brown horse pass by. Tam Lin would be riding the third– a white horse. Janet was to run to him, pull him down from the horse, and hold him; no matter what might happen.

He warned her the fairies would change his shape in her arms, but she must never let go, until she could render him human again.

It all happened as he had described.

When Byrd Janet pulled Tan Lin from his horse the entire procession halted. The folk gathered all about, trying their magic on Tam Lin. They turned him into freezing ice, a poisonous serpent, and a struggling dove who almost escaped.

Tam Lin was brought through a surging struggle of transformations until the fairies turned him into a piece of red-hot iron.

With this in her arms, Byrd Janet rushed to a nearby well and cast it in, revealing her beloved, naked, in his true form. She threw her green mantle around him, covering his nakedness and claiming him.

At this there was a great grief and wailing among the fairy folk, and their Queen declaimed in verse that she would have blinded Tam Lin, or exchanged his heart of flesh for a heart of stone, rather than lose so fair a knight to a mortal girl.

4 thoughts on “Tam Lin– a Tuesday Tale

  1. I actually had not read this tale. What drew you to it? What about it makes you feel that it is worthy to be a well known read?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. A couple things.

    First because I have always been drawn to physical transformation stories (all three of my longer works have this in common).

    Second because I fell in love with Elizabeth Pope’s The Perilous Gard, which draws on it and mixes tremendous imagination with the question, What if this story was, on some level true? In this case my familiarity with one increases my affection for the other.

    We tend to see what we want to see in a story, but even knowing that, I like to interpret Janet’s tenacity as an example of valuing a person enough to hold on to him even through times of great difficulty, and doing what you know needs doing even if it’s frightening or it hurts.

    You can draw more than that, of course, but I’m not ready to do a whole essay in addition to the story each week.

    More accurately, I am willing, but I don’t have the time to do the actual research and comparison I think this type of essay demands. “Comments” on it, sure. That’s just my opinion. But for an actual explanation I’d like to give more time and thought.

  3. Wow.

    I used to make these a lot shorter than I do now. Or is it the difference between a story I know cold (or a traditional story) and a story I merely love…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *