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Tam Lin

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  5,522 ratings  ·  568 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. The bo
Paperback, 468 pages
Published August 3rd 2006 by Firebird (first published January 1st 1991)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  5,522 ratings  ·  568 reviews

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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is one of those books that some people love and others can't stand. I happen to love it, but ... it's different, mostly a fairly straightforward story of a girl's college days, with just a few brief glimpses of magic around the edges.

This is a modern-day retelling of the old ballad of "Tam Lin." Here's one version of the old tale of Janet, the pregnant girl who tries to save her love from the Queen of Faerie. I suggest reading it before you read Tam Lin, to help you catch t
Sep 04, 2007 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
Feb 20, 2009 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
Mar 18, 2009 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
Jul 18, 2007 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
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
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
Oct 16, 2007 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 17, 2010 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
Jan 18, 2011 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
Jun 04, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit, fantasy
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
I have no idea what to make of this. Did I like it? I don't even know.

(five months later)

I DECLARE REVIEW AMNESTY. And I still don't even know if I liked it.
Jun 17, 2009 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
Aug 26, 2012 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
Francesca Forrest
Feb 14, 2018 marked it as gave-up-on
I really adored The Dubious Hills (review here), and I am sure I'll enjoy more stories set in that world. This version of Tam Lin, however, is not for me.

It's really a story about college friendships and the college experience, with just the barest whiffs of magic around the edges, if you sniff very, very hard. I'm pretty committed to the Tam Lin-as-Tam Lin story, and here it seems incidental.

The college scene is very authentic (the scene at the beginning where they're taking apart bunk beds co
Jun 22, 2008 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. ...more
Due to current events and the end of the world as we know it, this book is going back on the shelf again for now, to be continued at a later time. Hopefully.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Oh Lordy. I have such polarizing internal reactions to this book. Two sides of me are shouting at each other, just as passionately, and one side wants me to give it 5 stars and put it in my Favorites shelf, and one side wants me to give it 1 star and file it under Actual Trash.

Part of me really feels this book and these character. They are NERDS. Not just kind of nerds, I mean SERIOUS nerds. They dicker back and forth about the subtext about Shakespeare or Greek philosophy or postmodernist play
Sep 16, 2008 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
May 07, 2007 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
Dec 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
read in fits & starts over a couple of weeks, which i think strained the already v uneven seams of pacing & plotting that hold this book together; my brain kept slipping, sidling away, vague & distracted, and often feeling a little like i didn't want to meet the book's eyes.

but honestly, i think that discomfort is also the thing that compelled me to read to the end? until now, i'd never read something that could so gently and so mercilessly feed me my own memories until i had to step away -- mu
Jan 26, 2015 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 Shakes
Nov 29, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I tried really hard to enjoy this book, but my effort was in vain as I still found myself unbelievably frustrated with it.

As a non-English major, and someone whose upbringing and science background gave a limited understanding of the so-called classics, I felt intimidated, and ignorant each and every time the characters spewed poetically about various authors and their works. On quite a few occasions, the references were to works/authors that I'd never heard of, or knew only in passing. Was it
Feb 14, 2013 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
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reread, jan 2021:

oh, to take the ballad of tam lin and turn it into this: a campus novel stuffed full with literary allusions and puns; a novel made for you to feel something, nostalgia, or longing, something for your college days, whether past or future, and really, whether you want to or not; a novel in which, unbelievably, a romance unfolds entirely in the BACKGROUND of four hundred and fifty pages, and that actually only reaches what could generally be called "plot" in its last twenty (???);
Dec 07, 2009 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.
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Where do you go for fantastical, must-read book recommendations? This summer we're turning to the experts of illusion,...
141 likes · 36 comments
“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?” 39 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.” 8 likes
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