Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.
Even before I knew about this book, I was vaguely familiar with the ballad of Tam Lin, and I read the Jane Yolen version when I worked in the children's department of the college library. Over the past few years, two friends have separately and enthusiastically recommended Pamela Dean's retelling to me. I even went looking for it once, only to find that it was out of print. Then, last year, I was puttering around at Barnes & Noble and saw it in a glossy brand-new paperback. The next time I talked to my friend Tamsyn online, I told her, "Hey, guess what I saw at B&N! Tam Lin in paperback!" She replied: "*bangs head on desk* I'm sending it to you and the Untamed Shrew for Christmas. Don't tell her."
And she sent it! Most fun of all, I had actually completely forgotten about our conversation by the time the book arrived, so it was a surprise after all. I had it in my to-be-read stack until last month, when I packed it for our camping / wandering trip. Dean's Tam Lin is set at a Midwestern liberal arts college in the 1970s. The classic ballad actually plays a somewhat small role in the overall scheme of the book. Most of the tale is the story of main character Janet and her college years. Dean perfectly portrays the exciting but intimidating freedom of the first years away from home, the forging of intense friendships and the desperate sadness in the fleeting moments when you realize those friendships may not last forever, and the topsy-turvy emotions of 18-year-olds falling in love.
When the final magical encounter at last occurs, it's rather short and matter-of-fact, but it works. In Tam Lin, Dean spins a believable and very readable tale with just the right amount of magic mixed in. It's a great read for lazy summer days or cold winter afternoons in bed.
Labels: Pamela Dean