Snarkling Clean

Snarkling Clean- because you don't have to cuss to make fun of stuff. Two dedicated readers discuss romance novels- from what made us weep with joy to what made us want to poke pencils through our eyeballs.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Darn Those Fairies!

O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

Child ballad #39A from The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child.

Tam Lin, or Tam Lane, has always scared the bejeebers out of me. What a great story. It goes something like this:

The woods of Carterhaugh are guarded by Tam Lin, a man who demands payment of all maidens who pass through, in the form of a belonging or their virginity. A maiden named Janet travels to Carterhaugh and picks a rose, causing Tam Lin to appear. He questions her presence, to which she replies that Carterhaugh is rightfully hers. She then travels to her fathers house where she exhibits the early signs of pregnancy, much to the concern of the household. She states that her lover is elven, and then returns to Carterhaugh, once again encountering Tam Lin. He reveals he is not elven, but a mortal captured by the queen of Faeries, and that he may be sacrificied to hell as part of the faerie tithe. He then details how she can save him to be her mate, if she will undergo a trial on Halloween night. She must pull him from his horse as the faeries ride through the woods, and hold onto him as he is transformed into various beasts, then plunge him into a well when he turns into a brand of fire. When he regains his own naked shape she must cover him with her green mantle and he will be free. She does all of this, much to the anger of the watching Queen of faeries.

Darn fairies. They're always doing stuff like that.

I just read a short story that retold Tam Lin, and why not? It's fabulous fodder for romance. But most fairy tales are repackaged over and over, aren't they? I've seen so many retreads of Beauty and the Beast I've lost count. The Beast can be anything from a literal beast to a man scarred in body to a man scarred in soul; the story's the same. Love conquers all.

But here's the thing. Some of the darkness, the scary, nervy, fright of it all, gets lost in modern translation. Maybe we're too sophisticated to find the fey much of a threat. Hey, even the thought of a seductive elf demanding payment of a girl's virginity is crushed under the weight of millions of "Mary Sue falls down a hole into Middle Earth and shags Legolas" fanfics. I've ranted before about how tv shows like Buffy and Charmed (even though they're entertaining) have removed the all-powerful threat of evil when they could make villains go poof! with a wave of their hands. It's supposed to be a struggle, not an afterthought. An opponent to be battled, not an irritant to be flicked at.

Do you mourn for the days when a fairy tale such as Tam Lin could make you think twice about going through the woods at night?

10 Comments:

Blogger StarvingWriteNow said...

"Mary Sue falls down a hole to Middle Earth and shags Legolas."

sigh... I've often wished I could find that hole to Middle Earth...

But yes, I agree, and it's a rare treat when you find a fairy tale "remake" that stirs up the fears and passions that lie in the deepest, darkest parts of you.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

You're right. So many have had the juice sucked out of them.
I always admired how she managed to hold on to him during the frightening shape-changes.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Carla said...

I wonder what the equivalent would be now? Demanding payment of the girl's iPod or mobile phone or Manolo Blahniks, maybe?

4:39 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Starving, I might be tempted if Aragorn or Boromir were waiting...

Bernita, I'm so with you. Don't know that I could hold on to a poisonous snake!

HA Carla! Virginity's not really a hot commodity now- the only thing I could think of that means that much would be a child, which would turn it into a much different story.

7:38 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

The best class I ever took in college was on fairy tales, particularly the Grimm Fairy Tales in their original form.

Whew, boy! Talk about the grotesque and frightening!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Ooo, yes. NOT for kids, to my mind.

11:24 AM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

Another stolen post! Gaarh!

11:05 PM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

I do indeed mourn those days. I love scary faeries.

I read an updated novelization of Tam Lin about ten years ago, borrowed from a friend. I didn't like it (although it is apparently enormously popular.) It was set in a college--where Janet lived in a dorm called Carter Hall, very clever--but most of the story was made up of Janet and her friends making fun of and being dismissive of any character who wasn't fluent in Shakespeare and spent their nights j**king off to the legends of King Arthur.

Seriously. The actual part about the elf queen came in the last couple of chapters. All I remember well from the whole thing was the irritating snobbery.

I read it again five years or so again and found it much the same, but lately I've been thinking of getting a copy and reading it gain.

I really want to like it, you see...

3:02 PM  
Blogger Jennifer McK said...

I think you're correct. The dark fight is lost somewhere.
I just recently read a fantasy romance from an up and coming author Dayna Hart. She's got a book coming out and I find her contrasts between light and dark absolutely fascinating. Her Valentine's Day offering was "Wings Of Love" which was riddled with conscious and unconscious references to light and dark. There's no "poofing" away the bad guys.
I think that the talent for giving a reader that dark feel without being a "horror" is hard to find.
I wanna find that hole too. Legolas is sooooo awesome. *sigh*.
I think Disney has had a bad influence on fairy tales. The darker elements HAD to come out. What a difference when you read Grimm in it's original form.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Hi Jennifer!

Yes, Disney took the teeth out of all sorts of stories. To this day I want to shoot Cinderella in the head.

8:25 PM  

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