Tam Lin retold

These are only three of many retellings of the Tam Lin myth. The story itself is powerful, yet difficult to recreate for younger readers, given the powerful sensuality of the imagery. Perhaps that is why these examples seem less than what I want them to be… I will continue to seek out other retellings, and add my reviews to this page as I find them…

Fire and Hemlock (1985), by Diana Wynne Jones

As a retelling of the tale of Tam Lin, Fire and Hemlock falls short.  There is not enough magic in the first two-thirds of the novel to create a prescience of where the tale is going. Like Polly, we do not follow the hints that are laid out for us, even if we know the original.  The balance between realism and fantasy is amiss, and we are too focused on Polly’s disastrous home life to enjoy her growing acquaintance with eh magical realm (in fact, this could have been stronger for her, as well as the reader).  In the end, the magic surfaces and carries us on a wave of narrative power, but the backstory has not been powerfully enough built to support the finale, and we flounder through what seems to be based on a mythological tale, but does not hang together logically within Jones’s own creation. There is such potential here, but I feel it is not realized… This comes nowhere near the imaginative genius of the Chrestomanci series.

Tam Lin: A Ballad Retold (1990), by Jane Yolen

Retold by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak. While this is an illustrated text, it is a fine example of a modern author using traditional oral narrative style to retell a poetic ballad. This version is simplified and sanitized such that there is no mention of sexual relations, only love (excepting perhaps the child that appears at the end of the illustrations…).
The illustrations in this version are fabulous; they augment the story, showing the brightness of the colours and the magic of the space.

Tam Lin (1991), by Susan Cooper

Retold by Susan Cooper; illustrated by Warwick Hutton.  While I love Susan Cooper’s writing, for the most part, this retelling of the Tam Lin story is inferior to Jane Yolen’s 1990 retelling.  Rather than creating a tale seeped in the magic of faërie and moonlight, as Yolen has done, Cooper has written a story for younger children, with Margaret as a headstrong, disobedient girl, rather than the proud, willful but capable Jennet of Yolen’s tale.  The requisite plot elements are both retained and removed from the original to recast it for younger readers (no mention of sex, although Tam Lin promises Margaret a baby at the end), but the narrative style is that of a modern picture book, rather than a simplified oral narrative.  Read Yolen’s!

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