Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, or, when books disappoint…

Y’all, I don’t even. I don’t even know. Where do I BEGIN? Because alas, I, I just-don’t-even.

How about I start where I started? With the book description? Because I think that’s where it all started to go wrong.

In the ancient Scottish ballad “Tam Lin,” headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of “Tam Lin,” masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, “Carterhaugh” is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic, Tam Lin has become a cult classic—and once you begin reading, you’ll know why. This reissue features an updated introduction by the book’s original editor, the acclaimed Terri Windling.

So, yeah. Sounds like fantasy, doesn’t it? And it is. In about the last 50-75 pages or so. And considering this book was 468 pages…. are you getting what I’m saying? Let me break it down.

The first 400 or so pages of this book is absolutely lovely. It’s all about college life and boys and love and sex and studies and literature and boys who quote literature and sex with those boys and friendships and more and more. The writing is just as lovely as you could hope for:

“Look,” said Janet, irritated, “if the thing you liked best to do in the world was read, and somebody offered to pay you room and board and give you a liberal arts degree if you would just read for four years, wouldn’t you do it?”

I just LOVE that.  And Janet is such a great character. I really loved her. I loved all the characters.

“Why do all your friends talk like books?”

I mean, what is there to complain about there? I wish ALL my friends talked like books!

“It did occur to me that the effect of good literature may be as dizzying as that of alcohol.”

Yes, yes it can.

You know that feeling you get when you take a swallow of water, only to find it was actually beer? Or took a bite of steak and got fish? Or drank milk only to find it’s rotten?

That’s how I felt reading this book. For 400+ pages, I’m all, “where is the fantasy?” I almost through the book against the wall, I am not even lying. And, this sounds weird, it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying the book. I just didn’t know what the heck was going on! Because the summary had me expecting on thing and I was getting something else! The stuff in the summary is the stuff in those last 60+ pages! And it was frustrating! Not to mention the fact that this book covers all 4 years of Janet’s high school career, with the first year taking up the first 300 or so pages. It was like Dean said, oh my gosh, 300 pages, I guess I’d better get this bitch moving. So those last three years really fly. And the romance? Or, I think I should say the obligatory romance? The romance that has to be there because there IS a romance in Tam Lin? The basis of this story? It felt so FAKE. I guess because for the first 2 years of Janet’s high school career she was with this OTHER BOY and the last month of her career she was with the “Tam Lin” character guy. It felt so contrived and unbelievable!

Does this even make sense?

I hate this too, because I was all set to have nothing but love for this book. Instead, I got nothing but problematic enjoyment. Because THAT IS THE RUB. I DID enjoy parts of this book. The first part? The COLLEGE part? It was made of awesome. I loved how strong and independent the girls were. How free and smart and intelligent (for the most part) and in control of their lives they were. They do what they want to do! And that fantasy part? The last little bit? It was pretty cool. They-just-didn’t-fit-together for me. AH! Just talking about it brings back all the frustrations.

Just to be more confusing, I actually feel like if I reread this, which I probably won’t, more things would become obvious to me and might even make me rethink some of my many feelings about this book. However, like I said, I doubt I would do that as I have other things to be reading.

Just for arguments sake, here are other (and much better!) arguments.

Nymeth says:  I wanted even more details in a novel that is over 450 pages long goes to show how engaging I found this story. She enjoyed the book more than I did, but had a few of the same problems I did. And she goes more into the literariness of the book, which was pretty great.

Rhinoa says: I mostly enjoyed this novel. I loved it from the first page, lost interest a little in the middle as it all seemed a bit pomous and then enjoyed the latter third again. The thing that most bothered me was the sudden change that seemed to happen in the last 50 or so pages when it suddenly became a reworking of Tam Lin. It changed the tone from a look at college life with a few oddities and a ghost, to suddenly something much more supernatural which seemed a bit abrupt.  YES!

Jenny says: I found this book rather unputdownable the first time I read it, particularly as the end drew near, to the extent that I did something I never, ever, ever do at university, which is I read it during my Christian and Byzantine art class, under my desk, even though I was sitting up in the front row in plain view of my professor.  Great review, this one.

And more!

I read this for the Once Upon a Time challenge and I bought the book for my birthday. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, or, when books disappoint…

    1. I really don't think it is either. lol <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: verdana, helvetica, sans-serif; FONT-SIZE: 10pt”> <DIV style=”FONT-FAMILY: times new roman, new york, times, serif; FONT-SIZE: 12pt”> <DIV dir=ltr> <DIV style=”BORDER-BOTTOM: #ccc 1px solid; BORDER-LEFT: #ccc 1px solid; PADDING-BOTTOM: 0px; LINE-HEIGHT: 0; MARGIN: 5px 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 0px; PADDING-RIGHT: 0px; HEIGHT: 0px; FONT-SIZE: 0px; BORDER-TOP: #ccc 1px solid; BORDER-RIGHT: #ccc 1px solid; PADDING-TOP: 0px”></DIV>

  1. I completely understand the frustration of hoping for one book from the back cover and then getting an entirely different book in actuality. I feel this frustration with book descriptions all the time! I would be swearing and throwing books, too, even with awesomely independent female characters.

  2. Okay, so I didn't read your review until today. I didn't finish reading the book until yesterday and I wanted to write about it first because of your post title and not wanting to inadvertently copy any of your thoughts. Now, I'm through, here is yours and I'm screaming YES THAT! I would just add that I got really sick of Janet's negativity after a while but it also seemed believable for a self-absorbed 20 something. But the way the whole Tam Lin story was tacked on at the end made me feel that Dean had already written this as a college story and then she was like "oh, you need a Tam Lin story? Here, let me just add … this … on … here … okay, done!" Seriously, I wanted to love this book but I ended up thinking it was just okay and being a bit frustrated.

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