Tam Lin

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.

TamLinI 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 Shakespeare and Milton and Keats quoting going on.

I’ve heard about this on and off over the years; Tansy is a huge fan. I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect – I don’t know the ballad on which it is based, and although I knew there was some Fae element I think I was expecting a kind of Tom’s Midnight Garden experience, going in and out of fairyland? Or something. So it wasn’t what I expected, but mostly in a good way.

Spoilers ahead, if you’re like me and not up on your faery-tinged-undergrad-learning love story!

(That is, it’s a love story to undergrad learning. Although there are love stories in the novel as well.)

Like I said, I was expecting the fairy stuff a lot earlier than it actually turned up. To the point where I got to wondering that because the university experience was so exquisite, was that actually the fairy land? And Janet would eventually wake up? Or something? It was amusing to note the similarities in Janet’s experience of college and my own, as well as the differences, some of which are temporal (25 years different), many I suspect are geographical (US expectations of a ‘liberal arts degree’ are very different from Australian ones… doing physical education? As a compulsory unit??… plus I will never, ever understand the necessity of rooming at college – and I lived in residence for two years), and most of them are of course fiction v reality. With the hindsight of my mid-30s, I enjoyed this fantastical take on college, while acknowledging just how unreal it was. I really liked the discussions Janet and co had around poetry and theatre and what to major in – those discussions can be, and sometimes were, glorious – as well as the fact that Dean includes in-class stuff, with good lecturers and bad. It did make me a little sentimental for my own experience, which I am definitely seeing with a rosy tinge these days. I was also interested in the fact that, published in 1991, it was set 20 years prior. By the end this decision made sense – the stuff about pregnancy and being on the pill would presumably have been a much more raw and radical issue in the early 70s, socially speaking, than in the 90s. Plus I suspect that many people look back on the early 70s rather romantically, as a time of liberation and so on.

Obviously there are hints that things are A Bit Odd from quite early on: the stories about Classics majors (heh; I only have a minor in it), the odd temporal questions and connections, the intensity of some of the relationships…. I admit that I cracked about 2/3 of the way through and looked up some of the names… and yes, there were a couple of them, in the roll of Shakespeare’s company. So that gave me a bit of a clue of what was going on. Like a few reviewers on Goodreads I found the denouement a little bit rushed – in, what, the last 40 pages? it’s revealed what Medeous actually is, and is doing. But… ultimately, for me, the faery aspect isn’t what the book is actually about. But still, I liked the triumphal-tinged-with-doom ending – although a sequel would be extremely ill-advised. I hadn’t picked up the Thomas Lane/Tam Lin connection! Oops.

I liked Janet. Yes, she’s a bit spoiled, and she would almost certainly have driven me a bit mad if I’d met here at 18 – she’s so confident in her own knowledge. But I admired that, too, and the fact that she struggles and overcomes. I liked that her friendships weren’t always easy and that she acknowledged the necessity of working on them – even if she didn’t always do it well; I’m a nerd so I definitely liked her dedication (mostly) to learning!

I can imagine reading this again. I would love to recommend it to young friends, but I don’t think that in good conscience I can – not until they’ve finished at university.

2 responses

  1. Might I recommend Laura Anne Gilman’s duology. HEART OF BRIAR and SOUL OF FIRE. It’s a modern take on the story.

  2. […] Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch; A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge; Clariel, Garth Nix; Tam Lin, Pamela Dean. Abandoned: Orphans of Chaos and Hidden […]

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