Tam Lin [Child 39]

DESCRIPTION: Janet goes to Carterhaugh to pull flowers. She meets Tam Lin, who makes her sleep with him. She finds herself pregnant, and demands Tam Lin marry her. But to do so, she must rescue him from thralldom to the Elven queen. With difficulty, she does so.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1769; perhaps cited in 1549 (see notes)
KEYWORDS: magic pregnancy marriage rescue shape-changing
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland,England) Ireland US(NE)
REFERENCES (24 citations):
Child 39, "Tam Lin" (15 texts)
Bronson 39, "Tam Lin" (4 versions plus 1 in addenda)
BronsonSinging 39, "Tam Lin" (3 versions: #2, #2.1, #3,1)
ChambersBallads, pp. 186-193, "The Young Tamlane" (1 text)
GreigDuncan2 330, "True Tammas" (1 text)
Lyle-Crawfurd2 86, "A Fairie Sang"; Lyle-Crawfurd2 99, "Janet and Tam Blain" (2 texts)
Dixon II, pp. 11-20, "Tam-a-Line, the Elfin Knicht" (1 text)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 250-254, "Tam Lane" (1 text; tune on p. 422) {Bronson's #4}
Leach, pp. 136-141, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 38-43, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
OBB 2, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 41, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
PBB 23, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
Gummere, pp. 283-289+360, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 129, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
DBuchan 27, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
Tunney-SongsThunder, pp. 163-169, "Tamlin" (1 text)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 449-453, "The Young Tamlane"; pp. 453-454, "Tom Linn" (2 texts)
Darling-NAS, pp. 28-31, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Emily Lyle, _Fairies and Folk: Approaches to the Scottish Ballad Tradition_, Wissenschaflicher Verlag Trier, 2007, pp. 110-111, "Tam Lin" (1 text plus an excerpt); pp.116-117, "Lady Margaret" (1 text, 1 tune, a much-worn-down version from Betsy Johnson); pp. 118-119, "[Leady Margat]" (1 text); on pp. 119-121 Lyle compares various texts of "Tam Lin" with portions of several other ballads
Katherine Briggs, _An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblines, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures_, 1976 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback), pp. 449-453, article "Young Tam Lin, or Tamlane" (1 text plus discussion)
Iona & Peter Opie, The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse, pp. 32-37, "Tam Lin" (1 text)
James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #558, pp. 658-663, "Tam Lin" (1 text, 1 tune, from c. 1796)

Roud #35
Anne Briggs, "Young Tambling" (Briggs2, Briggs3)
A. L. Lloyd, "Tamlyn (Young Tambling)" (on Lloyd3)

cf. "The Seven Virgins (The Leaves of Life)" (tune)
NOTES: Carterhaugh, also mentioned as the site of magic in "The Wee Wee Man," "is a plain at the confluence of the Ettrick and Yarrow in Selkirkshire" (Scott).
The idea of gaining a lover who is changing shape has ancient roots. We find it in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," where Peleus (the father of Achilles) has the problem of coupling with his wife Thetis.
The problem was, Thetis was very attractive, and a lot of the Gods (including Zeus and Poseidon) wanted her for themselves. But there was that prophecy that her son would be greater than his father. (This is the prophecy that finally got Prometheus free of his torture, because he knew who was involved and Zeus didn't).
Once the gods knew that Thetis was the dangerous party, they decided to wed her off to a mortal so she could have a son and they could get back to the serious business of hitting on her. They chose Peleus, and held a great marriage feast (it was at that feast that Eris threw out the Apple of Discord, causing the fight between Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera which led to the Judgment of Paris, and hence to the abduction of Helen and the Trojan War).
The gods could marry Thetis off; they couldn't make her like it. Peleus found himself in the interesting position of having to locate and, in effect, capture his wife. Given help from the gods, he found Thetis in a cave and attempted to couple with her. To defeat him, she turned into a bird, a tree, and a tigress. The latter scared him off, but eventually he caught her while asleep (Metamorphoses XI.225ff.).
Dixon quotes a possible mention of this song from Wedderburn's Complaynt of Scotland (1549): He refers once to a dance of "thom of lyn," and elsewhere to the "tayl of yong tamlane." But Lyle, p. 110, points out that the full reference in the latter case is to "the tayl of the 3ong tamlene and of the bald braband," with the meaning of the latter item being unknown. Hence we cannot prove that either of these is this piece, even if it's the same story. Indeed, Dixon hints that the references might be to "Tom o' the Linn," which appears to be the song we index as "Brian O'Lynn (Tom Boleyn)."
Lyle catalogs a number of parallels to other ballads, noting especially (pp. 123-126) a link to "The King's Dochter Lady Jean" [Child 52]. The points of lyric contact are interesting, but "Tam Lin" is at the heart a ballad of the supernatural, "Lady Jean" an incest ballad. The only fundamental point they have in common is rape.
Some versions of the ballad end with the Queen of Fairie, deprived of Tam Lin, being forced pay another tithe to hell. Lyle, p. 128, connects this to the legend of changelings four, e.g., in "The Queen of Elfan's Nourice" [Child 40]. The story is that the Elven people carried off unbaptized infants to pay their tithe. The difficulty with this link is that it implies that Janet could have saved Tam by bringing in a priest to have him baptized, rather than going through the rigamarole on Hallow's Eve.
Nonetheless Wimberly, pp. 390-391, follows a hint from Child and argues strongly that there is a baptism ritual involved -- it's just that the versions of "Tam Lin" have so disordered the transformations that this is no longer true. Presumably the transformations continued until Janet could bring Tam to water (perhaps a holy well?) and throw him in. From that, he would emerge "an utter naked man" -- but also cleansed of the taint of the Queen. This raises interesting questions about the possibility of re-baptism (which most sects would deny is possible), but maybe such analysis is too much to ask of a ballad.
For observations on shape-shifting in ballads, see the notes to "The Twa Magicians" [Child 44]. Lyle, p. 139, argues that the use of elements of other ballads in "Tam Lin" implies that it was compiled by a ballad-maker who did not believe in the literal truth of the elements. In other words, if I understand her right, there was no underlying folktale; it was composed as fiction.
Briggs, volume A.1, p. 502, does not say quite the same thing, but she does call the song "a compendium of Scottish fairy beliefs." She also notes that Sir Walter Scott turned the idea into the poem "Alice Brand." "Alice Brand" is a long and complex poem, being sections XII-XV of "The Lady of the Lake" (pp. 154-156 of Scott-Works), with other elements, but it is clear that Scott did have traditional ballads in mind when he wrote it.
Interestingly, Hallow's Eve is not the only night of a wild hunt, and the Elven Queen not the only leader. Hole, p. 59, reports a legend of King Arthur and his men riding a ghostly road on Christmas Eve.
According to Williams, p. 48, "On the plain at Carterhaugh, which is situated where the Ettrick and Yarrow meet about a mile north of Selkirk, there are two or three rings where grass never grows. People say these are fairy rings which survive from the time of Tam Lin.... - RBW
Whitelaw-Ballads "Tom Linn" has 26 stanzas instead of Child 39D's 34. The source is Child's 39Db (see Child's notes and Maidment, A New Book of Old Ballads (Edinburgh, 1844), #16 pp. 54-60, "Tom Linn" "taken down from the recitation of an old woman"). - BS
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