it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

  • Mood:
  • Music:

first she let the black pass by and syne she let the brown

The whole world has probably figured out by now that "Tam Lin" and "Thomas the Rhymer" are my favorite ballads, considering that I've now written four full-length novels* centering around those plots and tropes, and have no foolish plans to swear myself finished with them any time soon. And so, in celebration, it's Burd Janet day here in Ebearland. First off, I offer a link to an independent local movie production of  The Ballad of Burd Janet, which is seeking donors. 

From the website:

The Ballad of Burd Janet has begun the third and final leg of production, which should be completed by mid-fall 2006. This film, a jazz-age retelling of the Scottish folktale "Tam Lin", relates the tale of a devout young maid who seeks to save her smitten swain from his aunt, a scheming spirit medium. Filmmaker Chelsea Spear has drawn inspiration from New England folklore and German Expressionist films, as well as the work of modern silent directors such as Lisa Hammer and Guy Maddin, to explore class and spirituality in turn-of-the-century Massachusetts.

Second, I just finished rereading pameladean's Tam Lin for the first time in some fifteen-odd years, and so I have a book report. It's Book Report #60 of the 100 Book Reports commitment, though if I had been thinking, it should have been #39.

This is, for me, an interesting and deeply problematic book, for which I nevertheless hold a vast fondness. Tam Lin suffers from idiosyncratic pacing, and from taking a tremendously long time to set up what it intends to accomplish. Part of that problem is that it has exactly a ballad's worth of plot, and 456 pages in which to fine that out with Shakespeare jokes and loving descriptions of the way we all secretly wish college life had been, though it wasn't. And the book mostly concentrates that plot in the last fifty pages; the previous four hundred are mostly salting in the clues to the book's various reveals in a manner that moves you from the mundane to the numinous almost seamlessly. It's the only book about Faerie I've ever read in which there is no disconnect; the two worlds blend seamlessly. One walks as through a mist from one to the other, and there is never a demarcation.

(I have described this book as Real Genius for literature majors. There were moments of my college experience that were as cool as Tam Lin--the time I left the Daily Campus building at four am after putting the paper to bed, walked around the lake in a strawberry fog made luminescent by the old lamps on their iron posts, and climbed into the giant willow tree to unwind before deciding if I should bother seeking my bed that night, only to find a handsome dark-haired boy already in possession of said tree, scribbling poetry in a spiral notebook, stands out as the sort of thing I never could put into a story because it's way too random. Yes, that is the tree--and the poet, far less significantly--that made it into Blood & Iron. This is him.)

See, the thing is, though, that the book is so damned readable that I almost resent the plot when it finally shows up. It's got something of the Hogwarts quality; Pamela's mythical college is such a fascinating, fantastic place that I'm happy just wandering around with Janet, following her from class to class, learning a little bit about Pope here and a little bit about Lewis there. It's the Good Parts Version of college, complete with the bizarre sensation that there are only about fifty real people on the entire campus, and the rest are set dressing.

Tam Lin reminds me--I should say, given publication dates, "I am reminded of Tam Lin by"--Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which is a mimetic treatment of many of the same tropes. (And a brilliant novel in its own right.) It's a book that can make you homesick for places you've wished you had been, and people you convinced yourself you knew. And if things are sometimes a little convenient, or seem to happen in erratic collapsing tiers of coincidence, well, that's what fairy tales do.

*Blood & Iron, Whiskey & Water, Ink & Steel, and Hell & Earth
Tags: 100 book reports

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded