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Tam Lin (1991)

by Pamela Dean

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,948738,457 (4.01)110
Fantasy. Romance. Historical Fiction. Young Adult Fiction. In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her loverâ??s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic, Tam Lin has become a cult classicâ??and once you begin reading, youâ??ll know why. This reissue features an updated introduction by the bookâ??s original editor, the acclaimed Ter… (more)
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» See also 110 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
I adored this book—an atmospheric college saga about adolescence, literature, and enchantment, told in a confident literary voice reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers. It would be the perfect book to curl up with on a stormy autumn evening, but it was quite compelling enough in late August.

Tam Lin tells its story with a lot of negative space—often the supernatural elements and emotional content are just beyond Janet's apprehension. You spend a lot of time dancing across the surfaces of her life, which I found incredibly effective, although it might bore some readers. I prefer my supernatural fiction shadowy and subtextual, just like unspoken desire, just like the meanings of the stories that Janet surrounds herself with as an English major. This understated approach to fantasy reminds me of Alan Garner's Owl Service, even though Tam Lin is far wordier.

It's such a sprawling octopus of a book that I plan on rereading it to decide how well all the threads hold together and why Dean chose to combine the elements she did. I will say that the ending was clever but didn't blow me away, but it's not really fair—I was comparing it to Fire and Hemlock, the other Tam Lin retelling about books and concealed emotional truths.

I do have to lodge a complaint that Dean retold Tam Lin on a college campus and didn't name one of the academic buildings Carter Hall. But maybe that would have been too obvious. ( )
  raschneid | Dec 19, 2023 |
This is one of those classic fantasy books on my TBR list forever. I finally got around to reading it, and am I glad I did. To be fair, this book barely has any overt fantasy, mainly in the last few pages, but it's set in the early seventies at a college in the Midwest. I'm from that era, so I appreciated the story anyway.
It's based on an old Scottish ballad, so there are actually a lot more fantasy references if you know the story. In the song, Janet Carter is pregnant by her lover Tam Lin who belongs to the Queen of Elfland. She must rescue him by pulling him from his horse and keeping hold of him as the Queen transforms him into different creatures, finally not dropping him as a burning brand.
Ms. Dean transplants the story to a college setting, which works very well. I'm not sure that a younger reader would appreciate the details she weaves into the story. Still, I delighted in the references to purple Mimeo sheets, checkbooks, political and music asides, and other iconic symbols of that time.
I also appreciated the quotes and references to other books and plays that were part of a college education (at least back then - do they even teach Latin and Greek in school anymore?). It took me back to my own college days when we left notes in Elvish for each other and shared music/books in free-for-all discussions late at night; there's a definite nostalgia element in reading this book for me.
The writing is lyrical, a descriptive love letter to the setting and the characters. The protagonist, Janet, is practical, testy, and strong. She deals with contraception, difficult roommates, and her studies. She wants to get the most out of her college years while constantly feeling she's missing things. She struggles with which courses she wants to take or the secrets her friends may be hiding, but also doesn't have the time to delve into them much. This leads to the first few years seeming stretched out and the ending feeling a bit rushed. It's not enough to bother me as I enjoyed the book immensely. Tam Lin is a throwback to the fantasy books I read in my youth by Charles de Lint, Patrica McKillip, Robin McKinley, or Terri Wilding. It may not be for everyone, but I'm firmly in the camp that loves this book and plan to reread it in future. ( )
1 vote N.W.Moors | Sep 12, 2023 |
I have been somewhat roundly and gleefully ravished by this book over the last couple days- I took it with me to a New Years' party and this morning, at around 4am, I cheerfully relinquished the last remaining pretense of sleep and went to make a plate of pasta in my underwear so I could finish it. I have actually had the sneaking suspicion it would have this effect on me for several years now, I think, and thusly put it off- look, everyone's got a thing, alright, and for whatever unknowable reason, mine's Tam Lin adaptations. Every time I think I've escaped them I find another one and they stick to my brain like treacle. Anyway, this was an easy and immediate five star, everything Pamela Dean's written is now on my kindle, I already want to reread it (but I'll hold off for a little). It made me work to piece everything together, always good with a ballad retelling, and it was Bisexual As Hell. ( )
1 vote obahcypt | Apr 1, 2022 |
Was recently reminded of this one by [b:A College of Magics|382870|A College of Magics (A College of Magics, #1)|Caroline Stevermer|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1312062335s/382870.jpg|1407092] ( )
  VictoriaGaile | Oct 16, 2021 |
I read the first third of this book thinking it was Perilous Gard by Pope that I last read in junior high. This book is not that one. I'll be checking to see if PG lives up to my memory.

If one had attended college in Minnesota in the 70s or 80s I think this book would be a pleasant way to spend time. I found it too long, too heterosexual and too old fashioned in its English academic opinions.

Also the switching of boyfriends was unexpected and I never understood the appeal of the one true love. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pamela Deanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Canty, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duewell, KristinaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, StevenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Windling, TerriEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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This book is for Terri Windling
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The year Janet started at Blackstock College, the Office of Residential Life had spent the summer removing from all the dormitories the old wooden bookcases that, once filled with books, fell over unless wedged.
Introduction: There is no satisfactory equivalent to the German word märchen, tales of magic and wonder such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm: Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Six Swans, and other such familiar stories.
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Fantasy. Romance. Historical Fiction. Young Adult Fiction. In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her loverâ??s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic, Tam Lin has become a cult classicâ??and once you begin reading, youâ??ll know why. This reissue features an updated introduction by the bookâ??s original editor, the acclaimed Ter

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