Review: Tam Lin

Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is slippery and solid at the same time.  As an interpretation of a ballad about Faerie, that’s delightful.

I found my way to it by way of Jo Walton’s glowing review in her excellent What Makes This Book So Great, a gift that keeps on giving.  That collection of reviews is well worth reading.  Tam Lin seems hard to come by electronically, which also delayed me.  The LA Public Library has a solid electronic version.  Now that my hat tipping is done, let me talk about Tam Lin.

Tam Lin is  part of a series of fairy tales re-imagined, and much of the introductory and other supporting materials in my edition describe that clearly.  It would be interesting to spring Tam Lin on someone without that warning. For much, if not most, of the telling the book is a sweet coming-of-age story set at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota in the early 1970’s. The narrator is a winning young woman, Janet Carter.

As a character, she’s tough to beat.  She’s universal enough that anyone can relate to her – including a male hillbilly from Western New York born a decade later – but specific enough to be instantly memorable and recognizable. The rest of the cast is equally well-realized. I love the idea of spending time with her and her literary, witty, quirky, friends.

Most of Tam Lin follows Janet and her compatriots through almost 4 years of school, with the shifting alliances, hard work, incongruous moments, and other excitement of that thrilling time.  I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stuff, and this is brilliant.

All that was such good stuff that without the introductory materials, I wouldn’t have noticed the fantastic elements coalescing.  When they do, the world cants in exactly the way it would if one woke up in a horror movie.  Janet doesn’t let us down in any way: she’s resourceful, intelligent, and every inch the capable hero.  The world she’s in changes its details and fundamentals – a literary world becomes a genre-based one – but she’s constant.  New rules, but everyone stays who they are.

As is my wont, I’ve talked about the details and features I liked about Tam Lin, but forget all that.  Tam Lin is a great story well told.

A must.

Comments are closed.