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Tam Lin Paperback – August 3, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 131 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This delightful new entry in the Fairy Tale series, featuring children's classics refashioned for adult audiences, adapts the eponymous Scottish ballad to a Midwestern university setting. In the early '70s, scholarly Janet Carter enters Blackstock College as an English major. She and roommates Christina and Molly fall in with an attractive, often eccentric group of classics students who circle around Professor Medeous, a spectacular, enigmatic redheaded woman. The girls pair off with young male classicists, Janet beginning an affair with Nicholas Tooley, whose vast familiarity with Shakespeare and often distant approach to intimacy disturb her. When the liaison ends, she takes up with the young man formerly attached to Christina. The ghost of a pregnant student who committed suicide, mysterious late-night horseback forays led by Professor Medeous and the appearance in a list of Shakespeare's actors of the names of three of the Classics Department scholars urge Janet on a dangerous quest to save her lover. Dean ( The Whim of the Dragon ) has written a quintessential college novel, anchoring its fantastic elements in a solid, engaging reality.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The medieval Scottish ballad of a young woman who rescues her love from the queen of faerie undergoes a radical but convincing transformation as fantasy author Dean ( The Secret Country ) updates the story to modern times and relocates it to a Minnesota college campus. The fifth volume in the "Fairy Tale Series," which includes Steven Brust's The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars ( LJ 3/15/87) and Patricia Wrede's Snow White and Rose Red (Tor Bks., 1989), vividly portrays a classic tale of love that spans the border between the worlds. Recommended.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Firebird; Reissue edition (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014240652X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142406526
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #558,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Marcy L. Thompson VINE VOICE on August 24, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is full of lovely language, subtle references to the ballad of Tam Lin, unadulterated nostalgia for life at a liberal arts college in the 1970s, and characters who are flawed but endearing. I wore out one copy of this book and had to buy a second, which disappeared into a friend's library, so I had to buy a third. I reread it at least once a year, or whenever I want to read a beautifully written book which will reveal more on each successive reading.
However, lots of people hate this book. Some of the people who hate this book are people whose literary tastes I otherwise trust implicitly. It's hard to know why they hate it. They say they hate the cardboard characters (but the characters seemed to me to be both wonderful evocations of the archtypes they represented and also quite well-drawn as individuals). They say the book is pretentious (but I went to school with a bunch of people who talked like that -- we outgrew it, but the dialogue sang to me). They say the fairy tale is just nailed onto the ending of the book (but if you look, the details of the ballad are present from the first page -- and surely one of the things Dean is trying to say is that the fantastic has as its context the mundane). They say the writing is wooden (I disagree).
If you love lanugage, if you were ever a somewhat pretentious young intellectual, if you want to remember what it felt like to be 18 years old at a liberal arts college (and you didn't have to go to Carleton to feel the tug of nostalgia), you will probably like this book. But if you don't, you will be in good company.
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By E. Smiley on August 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
I rarely give 1-star reviews on this site, because if I've bothered to finish a book it's bound to have some redeeming quality that will at least bring it up to 2. But the best I can say about this one is that it's not offensive--in fact, I share many of the author's opinions--and that the prose was at least competent enough for me to continue reading, but that isn't very redeeming when it so utterly failed to entertain that I threw it against a wall. (I really did!)

The (alleged!) premise of this book is that it's a retelling of the fairy tale/ballad of the same name, set in the early 1970's in a small Minnesota liberal arts college. I say "alleged" because the fantasy element is only occasionally hinted at until the last 50 pages or so out of 456. The rest is "Daily Life of an English Major." In fact, over 300 pages describe the protagonist's freshman year, even though the events of the ballad don't happen until she's a senior. And, seriously, nothing happens.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's a representative sample:

"She put the books she was holding neatly on her lower shelf, shrugged out of her pink nylon jacket and hung it over the back of her desk chair, tucked her gray Blackstock T-shirt into her pink corduroy pants, put the jacket back on, zipped it to just below the Blackstock seal on the T-shirt so that the lion seemed to be peering over the zipper pull, and said, 'Let's go, before the line gets too long.'"

And the whole book is like that! Endless minutiae (and bizarre fashion choices), with every little thing described in detail no matter how irrelevant it is. Now, I have nothing against slow pacing; the right author can write a brilliant book consisting almost entirely of minutiae.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first read Tam Lin, well, I can't remember when. I've read it over and over since then, though, and each time I pick out new clues, new hints, new allusions, new jokes . . . This is a textbook example of a LAYERED novel.
As many other reviewers have pointed out, understanding this book can hinge on a liberal arts education. I had one, I'm happy to say--we even operated on a trimester system, just like Blackstock, the college Janet attends in the novel (which is loosely based on Carleton College in Minnesota--after reading this book, I seriously considering transfering there).
Now. The ending IS a bit rushed. I tallied it up once: Janet's freshman year takes up very nearly one half of the book, while her other three years take up progressively fewer pages. The "fairy tale" ending gets a similarly rushed treatment, but I don't think that necessarily detracts from the story as a whole, especially if you're familiar with the Tam Lin ballad--which I wasn't when I first read it, and I still loved it.
If you can find it, buy it. This isn't a book to be borrowed from the library and read once--you'll never catch everything. Buy it, read it, read it again, and then read it once more. After a year or so, read it again.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was disappointed the first time I read this. While it was a very good novel about college life in the early 70s, I wanted to read a novel based on a fairy tale/folk legend. I enjoyed the literary dialogue bantered back and forth among the characters (believe it or not, my friends and I do speak this way; the curse of the overeducated!)
Curiosity had me turning back to the book a second time, and suddenly the world I blundered into was much richer. Without having the expectations of gnomes and wishes and magical events that I had the first time, the subtler wonders of this book unfolded. Tiny clues lead up to the suddenly otherworldly ending, ones that can't be understood on the first read-through.
Pamela Dean has to be a outstanding wordsmith, to manage to keep me interested through a 10 page decription of a uninspiring 17th century play, among other things. The pace may be slow, but it gives you a chance to watch the lovely scenary go by. For that reason, I love this book more every time I read it.
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