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Tam Lin (The Fairy Tale Series)

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  4,669 Ratings  ·  457 Reviews
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 lover’s body and soul.
In this version of "Tam Lin" 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. Th
Paperback, 468 pages
Published August 3rd 2006 by Firebird (first published January 1st 1991)
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Sep 04, 2007 Anu rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Young Adults, Adults
Shelves: finished
If you can get over the fact that this is some sort of retrospective paean to Carleton College and the author peggy sue's (whatever that phrase is) herself on to the protagonist, you'll enjoy the book. It's somewhat irritating in that everyone in the book is incredibly boring (and the book largely seems to be about how people in college get into really boring sexual relationships but they're having SEX, so apparently it's super adult and interesting) but then after 8000 pages, all the relevant a ...more
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
This is one of those books that some people love and others can't stand. I happen to love it, but (lawyer-talk here) you'd be well advised to check out some of the reviews and descriptions of this book to see if it's likely to be your cup of tea.

This novel is a modern-day retelling of the old ballad of "Tam Lin." Here's one version of the old tale of the pregnant girl who tries to save her love from the Queen of Faerie. I suggest reading it before you read this book, to help you catch the subtle
Mar 18, 2009 Melody rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Melody by: A plethora of Burtons
Letting this one simmer a bit, I'm not ready to review it. Hell, I'm not sure I was ready to read it.


I loved the literary allusions. I found the characters, for the most part, quite believable- and the unbelievable ones were Myth Incarnate, so that was wonderful. The pacing was uneven and I'd have been just as happy had the last three years been as leisurely told as the first one. I'm familiar with the legend, and loved this treatment of it. Did I mention the rich literary trove this st
Feb 20, 2009 Amanda rated it it was ok
I've read 200+ pages and I'm throwing in the towel. So far, all that's happened is the main character, Janet, has gone to class. Romantic poets and playwrights have been discussed, bunk beds have been dismantled, a bust of Schiller has been stolen, bowls of tapioca have been eaten, the merits of various college professors have been weighed, and everyone--EVERYONE--goes around spouting random bits of poetry and prose. After perusing a few other reviews, I feel confident that it's not going to get ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

I almost never give 1 star to books I've actually finished, because they're bound to have some redeeming quality that will at least bring the rating up to 2. But the best I can say about this one is that it's not offensive--in fact, I share many of the author's opinions--and that the prose was at least competent enough for me to continue reading, but that isn't very redeeming when it so utterly failed to entertain that I threw it against a wall. (I really did!)

The (alleged!) premise of this
Jun 17, 2010 Nikki rated it really liked it
How to review this? I have complicated thoughts. For a start: I love the ballad(s, there’s various versions), and I’ve read quite a few Tam Lin retellings now too. I expected to like Tam Lin, per Pamela Dean, quite a lot, because it came highly recommended and because of all the other things I was told were involved in this retelling — the ‘college as magic garden‘ aspect, primarily. And there’s a lot to like about that, because I did experience university as a magical garden in many ways, and I ...more
O I forbid you, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.

These are the first lines of the best-known version of the Scottish ballad Tam Lin, about a young man doomed to be given to hell by the faerie queen, and the young woman who saves him. It's a ballad whose fascination is enduring and which has inspired a number of retellings, of which Pamela Dean's is my favorite (followed closely by Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock).

Dean's versi
Sing it, Sandy.

So, for those of you not in the know, Tam Lin is a Scottish ballad about the liberation of Tam Lin from his love and capture, the Queen of the Fairies. Oh, those pesky fairies again. Always getting involved in shit they shouldn't.

Pamela Dean writes a contemporary version of that story. Reading it is kind of exhausting.

Janet is a freshman at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Hey, I went to one of those too! Except I attended one in Missouri instead of Minnesota. There ar
Oct 16, 2007 Paxnirvana rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: the brave or bored
homigawds... This book is a lot of work. I don't mind a lot of work reading, sometimes, but cripes, I honestly don't care what classes she takes each quarter. If it moved the plot, I might, but it doesn't. No. It doesn't.

All the action(!) -- what little there is here, and by "action" I mean "plot" -- happens in the last 150 pages... which I've just reached.

Why did I pick this up again? Oh yeah... recs. *headdesks*


DONE. Finally. *sighs deeply*

Unfullfilling ending. Just. Ends. Gods. After s
Jun 04, 2007 Trin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, american-lit
Mixed feelings, once again! On the plus side, I absolutely could not put this book down. Dean makes the setting—a midwestern liberal arts college in the early '70s—come alive so completely that even when the biggest issue at stake is what classes Janet, our heroine, is going to take, I was utterly entranced. In fact, the straightforward college narrative is so convincing and so good that I would have been perfectly happy for the book to be about nothing but that. Which is not to say that I didn' ...more
First Second Books
I reread Pamela Dean's wonderful TAM LIN this weekend while traveling to my cousin's high school graduation party, because while this book is a fairy tale, it's also a book about how college life works (a land equally strange to me as fairyland was when I first read this book in high school).

This book is so good. It's phenomenal as an ethnography of the mysterious and fantastical land of college, with discovering first love and also learning new things -- and it's also a great reading list (and
Jan 18, 2011 C. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, 2011
The very worst thing about this book was the horrifyingly clunky prose, and the author's need to describe everything in exhaustive detail in the most boring way imaginable, like a fourteen-year-old's daily entries in her diary (I kept a diary a lot like this at fourteen - I think it might have been better written). I mean, almost the entire first half of the book described the first term of the first year of the protagonist's college degree. I was so close to giving up at that half-way point. I' ...more
This reads like Dean's got something to prove. I’ve yet to see a character so undeservingly bullied by her author as Tina. She’s pre-med, she doesn’t read, she doesn’t have the intellectual weapons to be awed by Janet, but that hardly make her deserving of the oceans of irritation that Janet bestows upon her “healthy hair”.

Dean has her characters quote Keats and Shakespeare and the Iliad and lets the poets do the heavy lifting of giving flesh to their students. But the only bones in their bodies
Sep 16, 2008 Sasha rated it did not like it
This is a book I wish I could have liked. And yet don't feel bad at all about loathing. I think that describing one of the male protagonists as madly attractive and then spending much of the book having to imagine him (unironically) with billowing, ruffled front silk blouses was beyond my capabilities to suspend disbelief. Madly attractive and billowing silk blouses on an early 1970's college campus doesn't work for me. Especially with the mad quoting of great literature. Jennifer Crusie quoting ...more
Jun 17, 2009 Raya rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Instinct was telling me to stop at page 100. I should have listened, because this was a strange, strange book, the kind that makes you scratch your head and say “err…uhh…huh?” However, I was compelled to finish it, only because I wanted to find out how the story ended. Plot-wise, the story was actually pretty interesting, but the storytelling was inconsistent and erratic. She expends so much detail on what classes Janet is taking and what everyone is majoring in....did the reader really have to ...more
May 07, 2007 Cat rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the beginning SO much. Dean well establishes the texture of college life, and I especially enjoyed the roommate tensions. I thought I was going to love the book, but as time went on, I was worn down by the novel's structure...which delays plot gratification till the very very end. Also, the heavy-handed allusions outweighed even the pretentiousness of my college friends and me...which, at that point in life, was quite pronounced indeed. :-) Enjoyable, but okay rather than awesome. Star ...more
Jun 22, 2008 GraceAnne rated it it was amazing
I simply adored this book, but I confess when I tried to teach it (In YA Lit, in the Reimagined Fairytales and Other Magicks unit) most of my students just didn't get it. They didn't get the lusciousness of the school setting, nor the magic of the late fantasy. Ah well.
Feb 14, 2013 Leonie rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy
This is a book for English majors or people who wish they were English majors. A lot of people seem very disappointed and let down by this. I think it's okay for an author to write for such a specific audience, though I agree it's better if everyone understands who the book is written for first off. I knew this was more about people talking about books than the ballad retelling. The problem for me was not the lack of fantasy, just that I thought it wasn't a very good book about people talking ab ...more
Nov 17, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 18, 2007 Jessica rated it it was amazing
I've read this book at least four times. It's one of my all-time favorites. When I went to college, I was very disappointed that not everyone ran around quoting Shakespeare and lived to read, as they do in this book. Also, my dorm was not haunted, which only made for more disappointment. Dean has created something wonderful here: a brilliant tapestry of the best of her college experience along with the best of Celtic folklore. A charming book, a fun book, a romantic book, a clever book, an intri ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Dec 03, 2015 Rebecca McNutt rated it really liked it
Tam Lin is a great story, featuring Scottish heritage, 1970's nostalgia and an adventurous plot. It kind of lost momentum at some parts though and became repetitive.
Jan 26, 2015 Alexandra rated it really liked it
I have thoughts. They will be written at some point.

I was in my mid 30s when I finally watched The Breakfast Club. I rally enjoyed it but I'm glad I didn't watch it when I was at high school; school was already something of a disappointment.

I read Tam Lin for the first time this year, 15 years after finishing my undergrad studies - yes, with a BA. I am really glad that I didn't read this before or during my studies. I thoroughly enjoyed university, but there was very little spontaneous Shakesp
Her Royal Orangeness
“Tam Lin” is an ancient Scottish ballad that tells the story of how Tam Lin is rescued from the Queen of the Fairies by his true love, Janet. The first recorded version of the song appears in the 1549 book "The Complaynt of Scotland.”

Tam Lin abides in the Forest of Carterhaugh, where he collects either a possession or the virginity of any maidens who pass through the wood. One of these girls, Janet, discovers she is pregnant after her encounter with Tam Lin, and returns to the Forest of Carterha
Aug 26, 2012 Molly rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
A retelling of the 16th-century Scottish ballad by that name, set in a 1970s Liberal Arts college in Minnesota – because every story must eventually be retold to be about American teenagers.

I'm a big ballad nerd, so it was cool seeing how the novel fit into the story, but I have to admit, I really hated this book to begin with. The first few scene-setting chapters read like they were written expressly for the notional bookish 13-year-old girl, dreaming of college (and, in places, by her). Janet
Michelle Morrell
Nov 11, 2014 Michelle Morrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faerie, x-read-2014
I took my time reading this. Other novels came and went (usually dictated by library return times) but I kept coming back to this, savoring it.

The story revolves around Janet, a college freshman beginning her higher education at the college she's been around all her life. Her father teaches there, she's wandered the grounds, her life in one way or another has circulated around it, it is definitely a major character in this novel.

Tam Lin was suggested to me because I wanted something "October" to
Jun 19, 2012 Hazel rated it liked it
I almost aborted this around Chapter 2, because it seemed to be a story about a girl going to school. Both my girlhood and my schooldays are too far in the past for this to appeal. But I kept on, and was rewarded with a sense of nostalgia for the liberal-arts education I never had. Dean made me regret my physics degree and consider whether the OU would let me do a course or two on literature. Her story is light on plot, and the folk-tale/faery-connection both slight and obvious. Her pacing is un ...more
Jun 28, 2015 Emily rated it did not like it
Shelves: dropped
I found this book insufferable!!! I got 300 pages through it and flipped haphazardly through the rest to learn random things, like "main character breaks up with dreamy weird boy #1", "i guess she starts dating someone else", "pregnancy????", "oh here's the actual tam lin bit, like 450 pages in"

I think my status updates do a decent job summing up my feelings while reading, but in short: characters are pretentious as fuck and largely intolerable! Pretty nifty slow burn with the fairy stuff, but h
Re-read October 2015

I understood more of this than I did the first time, but I fear I don't have the right kind of brain to ever fully comprehend it. That is, sure, I could learn more of the literary allusions, but sometimes the connections between them and what's happening in the book are too obscure for me.

This made me glad I wasn't in college anymore, which suggests to me it's a more realistic college picture than most college-set books.

Original Review

I really enjoyed this book! I liked that
A retelling of the old folk ballad, starring a small liberal arts college in the early seventies. I really dug this clever book, intended for lit geeks much like myself. The heroine is so vibrantly a literature major that I want to alternately hug her and smack her. My one complaint is structural -- this is the sort of book which accumulates 400 pages of weird happenings and saves up the explanation for the last 30 pages, ensuring that you will miss
details and some of the deeper emotional resona
Dec 07, 2009 Minli rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: liberal arts majors, lovers of english (and books), people who like reading about awesome women
Recommended to Minli by: Sherwood Smith
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Black Thorn, White Rose
  • The Nightingale
  • Jack of Kinrowan
  • Thomas the Rhymer
  • Fitcher's Brides
  • Finder (Borderland, #8)
  • Bordertown (Borderland, #2)
  • Fire and Hemlock
  • Snow White and Rose Red
  • Winter Rose (Winter Rose, #1)
  • White as Snow
  • The Perilous Gard
  • Elsewhere (Borderlands, #6)
  • The Magic Circle
  • The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
More about Pamela Dean...

Other Books in the Series

The Fairy Tale Series (8 books)
  • The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars
  • The Nightingale
  • Snow White and Rose Red
  • Briar Rose
  • Jack of Kinrowan
  • White as Snow
  • Fitcher's Brides

Share This Book

“Look," said Janet, irritated, "if the thing you liked best to do in the world was read, and somebody offered to pay you room and board and give you a liberal arts degree if you would just read for four years, wouldn't you do it?” 29 likes
“At the moment, if you asked me, I would say that this book is about keeping the heart of flesh in a world that wants to put in a heart of stone; and about how, regardless of the accusations regularly flung at them from all quarters, learning and literature can help their adherents accomplish that.” 6 likes
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