Re Tam Lin

Ven vendersleighc at
Sun Dec 12 22:08:52 EST 2004

Deborah wrote

<You know, I reread Tam Lin, too.  Yet
I don't think it's
that *good*.  I think it's self-indulgent 
name-dropping English major
fiction set at Carleton ... er .. fictional 
Blackstock.  Yet I'm a
self-indulent English major, so I get off on all 
the clever
referentiality.  I like it for many of the same 
reasons I like much
fanfic, actually -- it pushes many of my fiction 

Otter agreed, adding (about Greek) <But I still
get the urge to go back to it now and then ...>

Yes, the nostalgia for learning is a definitely
part of TL's appeal.

Sally trenchantly criticised TL further but said
< still it has SOMETHING. I pick it 
up and read a page or two
and next thing I;m halfway through and the 
bathwater's getting cold..............

......I think its appeal for me really lies 
in the not-officially-fantasy's like
the college experience I wish 
I'd had. And that's probably as much fantasy as 
the rest of it.>

It is a fantasy of course but it also captures
the feeling at university that learning fills
your life, that you have this vast field of
knowledge to explore, to frolic in even  -- or as
Mary Gentle put it back in the days of full
grants "you get paid to to read books" but there
is also the feeling that goes along with it, as
the terms go on and the end of the course gets
nearer, that there is never enough time and there
are all these other things crowding in, trying to
get your  attention. There's other people of
course, in my case there was sex and drugs and
rock and roll, the desire to "make a difference",
there's the need, at the end of it all to earn a
living. Tam Lin is a story of university life as
sacrifice of youth, and the need to make that
sacrifice count for something worthwhile.   This
isn't unique to academia of course, the feeling
that life is spread out before you, simultaneous
with a feeling that time is running out and you
cannot, actually have it all. 

Youth is a currency that must be spent one way or
another -- all youth is doomed to age, to grow
stale or cynical, to die, to die the thousand
litle deaths of responsibility, work, houses, 
babies, pets  and so on and yet, not to do these
things -- like Medeous (sp) and her Shakespearean
hangers on is also to lose, to lose life,
maturity, growth, fertility........ and, yes, to
lose the peace that is death. In fact to not go
on, not to grow old and die is just another kind
of death it's the death of humanity and
creativity. And they may appear forever young but
they have lost the essence of their youth, as
everybody must.

It's at the heart of Fire and Hemlock too, that
one way or another youth must be sacrificed.
Medeous and her crew, like the Leroys have chosen
to literally sacrifice a youth, doomed to go on
sacrificing youth. This is at the the heart of
the human story too.  However we spend our time
when we are young the fact is that we do spend
it, one way or another -- nobody gets out of here
alive. Janet rescues her doomed Thomas but she
doesn't get off scot free, she has already
sacrificed a baby, but at least she and Thomas
get to go on.

So, getting back on topic, I think that despite
it's faults as a novel Pamela Dean's Tam Lin uses
the essence of the folk tale as an enormously
successful evocation of the fabulous fragility of
doomed youth. 

Here's a link to the date index for an earlier
Tam Lin discussion on the list. It starts with
Kyra's post, Gratitude (Dean's Tam Lin spoilers)
(NB the spoiler warning in the heading is the
only one you will get) and continues as Tam Lin,
then Elitism was Tam Lin and beyond.



Do you Yahoo!? 
The all-new My Yahoo! - Get yours free! 

To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list