“Tam Lin”

Tam Lin
Tam Lin by Anonymous
Genres: Poetry

Tam Lin

Rather than reviewing a book today, I’m going to take a look at the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.  This ballad has served as the inspiration for a great many novels, including The Perilous Gard, Winter Rose, and Tithe.  I first became interested in Tam Lin after reading The Perilous Gard as a teenager.

As Tam Lin is an old ballad, there are many different variations in the story, depending on what version one reads.  The story is, loosely, that Tam Lin dwells in the forest near Caterhaugh and takes the virginity of any maidens who pass by.  A woman, generally known as Janet or Margaret, passes through and becomes pregnant.  She refuses to name the father of her child, claiming that he is an elf.  Janet returns to Caterhaugh, where she learns Tam Lin’s story–he was captured by fairies and will be used to pay a tiend to hell.  Tam Lin tells Janet how she can stop his death, and she rescues him.

Different versions of the story can be found here.

The ballad is both eerie and awesome in each of its variants, providing an inspiration to modern adaptations.  Several musical adaptations do exist, including one by the band Fairport Convention.  However, my favorite modern adaptation is by an obscure band called Outgrabe, and can be found here.

One of the things that I find interesting about Tam Lin is that it features a strong female character, even though the ballad comes from a time period where women didn’t have much social position at all.  It also shows the triumph of humanity over the fairy folk.  Some versions seem to portray the conflict between mortals and the faerie folk as a conflict between Christianity and paganism.


Edit 6/17–I just realized that I’ve had the wrong song linked since I posted this.  I fixed it.

5 thoughts on ““Tam Lin”

  1. I’ve never read any of the original Tam Lin stories, so I’ll have to check out some of your links. I think I’ve read at least one adaptation of it though, can’t remember what it was though 🙁

  2. It really does sound lovely. I need to check out your links. After having read Winter Rose and planning on reading Tithe soon, I thought I need to read Tam Lin.

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