Tam Lin: A History of Courage and Subversion

neidpathcastle1By now you’ve probably heard that we’re working with the story of Tam Lin for our event in Kansas City in a little over a month. (Registration is only open for a few more days, so please register now if you want to join us!)

I got a bit curious about the origin of this story – so I did a little digging to get some background on it.

Tam Lin is a pretty famous ballad that comes from the Scottish Borders, the part of Scotland just to the north of England. As with any good ballad or heroic tale, there are quite a few variants, but most versions tell the story of a young knight who is stolen by the Faery Queen and taken off to Her realm, where She takes him as a lover and makes him a member of Her company. Although the ballad itself is much older, the story first appears in print as early as 1549 from a book called The Complaynt of Scotland, a politically charged text written as a backlash against English dominance and unification. It contains a number of stories that exemplify Scottish virtue and courage, and emphasizes the differences between Scotland and England, arguing against the two countries ever being united.

The “Tale of the Young Tamalene” is certainly one that exemplifies courage – and in a twist on the typical medieval romance, it is the young woman who saves her true love from the grasp of the Faery Queen, not the other way around. Disobedient, pregnant-out-of-wedlock, headstrong Jennet comes to the rescue. This certainly isn’t your typical tale of the weak and helpless maiden. The story of Tam Lin and Jennet was probably a very good choice to add to a political book warning England not to mess with the Scots.

Like all of the best folktales, there are so many different versions of this story throughout history, and it keeps getting retold over and over even today. You can find versions of or references to Tam Lin in at least 30 different novels, several songs, a handful of movies, and even a couple of video games. This story has staying power and resonance with very good reason.

It is a story about the courage and valor it takes to buck convention and bring a dream into reality. It is a story about love and desire beyond mere attraction and fascination. It’s that earthy need that comes from identifying a soul’s calling and manifesting that calling – even if everyone and everything says we shouldn’t. It’s a story about the drive that comes despite the voices that say: It isn’t practical. It isn’t natural. It just isn’t done.

There are many, many layers to this story. This is just one tiny sliver. However, I am looking forward to diving into a tale with a history of political subversion that celebrates unconventional behavior. If that sounds like a good time to you, then grab your green mantle, kilt it up above your knees, and run off to Carter Shay (aka, Kansas City) as fast as you can flee. We’ll be waiting for you there, ready to pull a few impossible dreams into reality.

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