Burd Janet waits for the Fairy Ride (Vernon Hill, 1912)
"If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wad na gie my ain true-love
For nae lord that ye hae."
"Tam Lin" is Child Ballad
#39, stemming from Oral Tradition
, and one of the most popular ballads, both as a song and as a source for literature. It is from southern Scotland; the oldest known version was printed in 1549.
In a nutshell: Headstrong young Janet hears that the mysterious Tam Lin has forbidden all maidens to go to the wood called Carterhaugh (a real place; it's near Selkirk), on pain of... how shall we put this... no longer being maidens
. She declares that she will go to Carterhaugh, but she has no sooner picked a rosenote
than Tam Lin himself shows up...
Some time later, a knight at Janet's father's court remarks that Janet looks knocked up. Janet agrees, but says the baby's father is not any of the men at her father's court. She returns to Carterhaugh and speaks to Tam Lin.
Tam Lin tells Janet that he was once mortal, but was captured by the Queen of the Fairies. The fairy folk must make a sacrifice to Hell every seven years, and Tam Lin fears that he's going to be offered.note
Janet can save him, he explains, if she waits by Miles Cross until midnight on Halloween
. That's when the fairy folk will ride by, and Tam Lin will be on a white horse. She must pull him down off his horse and hold on to him throughout his transformations. Janet does this, and the Queen of the Fairies is obliged to let Tam Lin go. Tam Lin and Janet marry.Joseph Jacobs
rewrote the ballad into a prose fairy tale, "Tamlane", published in his 1894 More English Fairy Tales
. In "Tamlane", Burd Janet and Tamlane are lovers and engaged to begin with, but Tamlane disappears mysteriously (i.e. is kidnapped by the elves) before the wedding (thus getting rid of the whole knocking-up business
The numerous variants collected by Francis Child can be found here
. Joseph Jacobs' "Tamlane" can be read here.
The song or songs inspired by it have been recorded by numerous artists, including Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span
, Current 93
, and The Decemberists
(the latter a loose adaptation of it as The Hazards of Love with a Downer Ending
Tropes featured in the ballad:
- All Hallows' Eve: Janet must wait until midnight that night to save Tam Lin on account of it being when the Fair Folk will ride.
- Distressed Dude: Tam Lin is held captive by the elves with magic, and needs Burd Janet to rescue him.
- Eye Scream: The Fairy Queen says she should have done this to Tam Lin after Janet rescues him.
And adieu Tam Lin, but had I known
the secrets in your mind,
I would have picked out your two fine eyes
and left you beggar-blind!
- The Fair Folk: The main antagonists and the titular character. Tam Lin himself seems to be an adult changeling if anything, having been a human who was taken and turned into a fairy. Lucky for him, he seems to have been afflicted with a curse that can be cured.
- Fantasy Contraception: In some versions this is why Janet goes back to Carterhaugh.
- Human Sacrifice: Tam Lin knows the fairies pay a tithe to hell and thinks it'll be him.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: As is common in ballads and stories, unmarried noblewoman Janet—the last person who can afford to risk sex before marriage—gets pregnant pretty much instantly.
- Liminal Time: Save him between Halloween and All Saints' Day.
- Narrative Poem: One of the most well known.
- Plucky Girl: Rather than scream and run from the Fairy who everyone is terrified of, she mouths off to him that she can come and go as she pleases, it being her kingdom and all.
- Pregnant Badass: Janet rescues Tam Lin while she's pregnant and wearing a miniskirt.
- Rebellious Princess: Janet was explicitly told not to go to Carterhaugh, doesn't stop her.
- Rescue Romance: Granted the rescue comes second, but it still fits.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Inverted, Tam Lin tells Janet how to save him and then the poem goes into detail about her actually doing it and it goes off without a hitch.
- White Stallion: Tam Lin claims that he was given this honor in the wild hunt because he was once a human knight.
- The Wild Hunt: What the fairies are doing when Janet rescues Tam Lin.
Works derived from this ballad:
- Charles de Lint's short story "The Butter Spirit's Tithe."
- Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock
- Elizabeth Bear's Blood & Iron
- Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard
- In Discworld, both Magrat's rescue of Verence in Lords and Ladies and Tiffany's rescue of Roland in The Wee Free Men have elements of Tam Lin. Magrat is even inspired by hearing the ballad, despite Shawn's insistence that real life isn't like folk songs.
- Janet McNaughton's An Earthly Knight
- John Myers Myers's Silverlock contained a Shout-Out chapter.
- Pamela Dean's Tam Lin
- Tam Lin has shown up on several occasions in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
- While not a direct reference, there's a character called Tam Lin in Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion.
- Patricia A. McKillip's Winter Rose.
- Mercedes Lackey's Home from the Sea of the Elemental Masters series is strongly based off of this tale. To the point that the main character has to do the shapeshifting hold - with the twist that she also has to shapeshift to keep hold of her love.
- In the Dresden Files series' 14th book, Cold Days, it is revealed that Tam Lin once served the Winter Court as Winter Knight, and was one of the few Knights to call Maeve/The Winter Court to task for their treatment of humans before Harry took up the position.
- A chapter in Phil Foglio's XXXenophile has a character do this to rescue her love. It's a bit more explicit naturally, as she has to have in a "lover's clasp" throughout the transformations. Naturally, this series being what it is, you don't have to guess what that entails.