Literature / Fire and Hemlock

A novel by Diana Wynne Jones, based on the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, with a modern-day setting.

While staying at her grandmother's, Polly Whittaker wandered onto the grounds of an old neighbouring mansion, Hunsdon House, and met a man called Thomas Lynn, with whom she struck up a peculiar friendship. Together they created stories in which their alter egos were heroes - but soon things from their imaginary world became real (though not always as expected), and Tom's mysterious relatives persistently badgered Polly to stay away from him.

Now nineteen and preparing to leave for university, Polly has no memories of Tom or anything to do with him. But when she realizes so many bits of her life don't make sense, she slowly uncovers her hidden memories and becomes determined to find out what happened to her friend.

Tropes include:

  • Distressed Dude: Laurel and Mr. Leroy are extremely possessive of Tom and attempt to control his life and actions. In keeping with Tam Lin, Polly has to save him in the end.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Tom. It's established that he can get away with this because his life is protected from danger until it's time for Laurel to claim it.
  • Exact Words: Being a fairy, Laurel is bound to adhere to this.
  • The Fair Folk: Laurel and Co.
  • Fat and Proud: When they are young teenagers, Polly admires Nina's body because it is curvier than her own. Towards the end of the book Polly also is somewhat plump.
  • Forced into Evil: Seb. Polly doesn't have much sympathy for him, but consider this: the first time she ever saw him was at a funeral for his own mother, who had been killed to help Laurel live even longer. He grew up knowing he was the second least valuable member of the family, and that if Tom wasn't there to die they would have no compunction about sacrificing him instead. Can you really blame him for not wanting to die?
  • Honey Pot: A male example. Seb convinces his father that there's a better way to keep Polly away from Tom.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Polly is manipulated into agreeing to forget about Tom. Subverted, though, as while they removed all her memories of him, they didn't (or perhaps couldn't) remove all the memories and knowledge he was linked to, leading to bits of information she couldn't have possibly learned anywhere and conflicting memories. These open the door to remembering Tom.
  • Maybe Ever After: The Mind Screw ending leaves some readers confused about where Tom and Polly's relationship will go.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Tom and Polly. They meet when she's a child, and he's old enough to have been married. Polly gets a bit of a crush on him as a teen, but they don't actually start a relationship till she's in college. The age gap is still about 14 years.
    • Both Tom and Leslie were teenagers when the (actually ancient but physically twenty - thirty looking) Laurel took an interest in them. Justified, in that she has to ensnare men and use them to prolong her husband's life, and presumably it's easier to get them under her thumb if she starts young.
  • Mind Screw: Wait, what happens at the end again?
  • One Steve Limit: Averted, and it's something of a plot point. Tom's alter ego is Thomas Piper the hardware store owner. And Polly's grandfather, who was also ensnared by Laurel, was called Tom as well.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They're made of garbage! And Tom's friend Sam.
  • Parental Abandonment: Polly. Twice. Her mother sends her to live with her father, under the belief Polly is the reason for all her failed relationships. Her father's too cowardly to tell his girlfriend Polly's staying with them indefinitely, so he pretends it's only a short visit and then has her leave, with no way to get back home. Lucky for Polly her grandmother steps in.
  • The Power of Love: The only way Tom (or any of the men Laurel targets) can be saved.
  • Purple Prose: An in-story example - Polly writes like this until Tom gives her some rather odd tips to cure her "sentimental drivel".
  • Rewriting Reality: Tom and Polly's stories have a slight tendency to come true.
  • Shout-Out: To various literary works.
    • The whole story is based on the ballad of Tam Lin.
    • Tom scolds Polly for plagiarizing The Lord of the Rings.
  • This Is Reality: Part of Tom's criticism of Polly writing Purple Prose. Namely, he takes her to task of writing of a handsome man's back "rippling" and explains why the prose is sentimental drivel.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: It's Laurel's.
  • Wife Husbandry: Tom has a fundamental role in Polly's development, something that's referenced in the book itself. They hook up in the end.