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The Tale of Tam Lin

Ian J Chalmers-Worth

I love fairy stories and recently discovered this enchanting old Scottish ballad. A Tale of a headstrong young woman, Janet the heroine, love, enchantment, a knight captured by a fairy queen whom he now serves. This story is named Tam Lin: the name of the handsome knight: not the hero. The story has many connotations due to being sung through the centuries, but overall the essence of the story remains.

My telling of this tale will not in any way be as poetic as it is when sung by entertainer’s, but I hope you enjoy. I have added links to rhythmic versions at the end.

People tell stories that in the far reaches of the Kings land at a place called Carterhaugh lives a handsome knight: Tam Lin. The faerie queen was captivated by his beauty and captured him using her enchantment to bring him into the faerie realm. Now an enchanted Fae being Tam Lin waits in Carterhaugh to take a toll from those who pass through. For young maidens this is a mantle of green, gold or even their maidenheads!

The King is naturally cautious and forbids his daughter, Janet, to go to Carterhaugh; despite the family ownership of the place. She is young, impulsive and certainly not afraid to disobey her father. The headstrong Janet travels to Carterhaugh, here she picks roses. Tam Lin is summoned: damage has occurred to the rose bush. He appears; Janet explains she is the owner of this place and he has no right to demand any toll. With this knowledge Tam Lin demands a considered toll: To take Janet’s innocent body in embrace. Janet had no power to resist this enchanted act of intercourse, and the magical act rendered Janet to fall deeply in love.

Some weeks later during a regal ball the King notices his daughter is pregnant and questions the identity of the father. Janet’s strength and resolve ensures no man is incorrectly accused and she tells her father that she is with babe from an “elfin grey”.

It is uncertain exactly why Janet decides to return to Carterhaugh as the bards very greatly: she may have been looking for herbs to cause an abortion or to seek Tam Lin. She does however return and picks another rose, as expected Tam Lin materialises again. “Do you have any human blood or are you Fae?” demands Janet. Tam explains how he became a part of the Fae realm and although it is pleasant there, he fears he will be the sacrifice on Halloween. Every seven years on Halloween the Fairies sacrifice one of their kind so that the others may thrive.

He does not hesitate in explaining how he can be rescued: The Faerie folk will ride past Miles cross during the midnight hour, three horses will pass through, black, brown and Milk white. To be able to save him she must let the first two pass and pull the rider (Tam Lin) to the ground. Janet must keep tight hold as he turns into many frightful entities, including a newt, snake, lion and hot coals. Strong willed as always Janet agrees, and does not fail! Tam Lin is human again, thanks to Janet and her unending love.

 

The fairy queen is very angry, but the deed has been done and she regrets not replacing Tam’s eyes or heart with stone.

 

A sung of this ballad can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e196Jsd-oQ

Written versions by various people can be found by following the link:

http://bestoflegends.org/ballads/tamlin.html

 

 


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