Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

In the ballad of Tam Lin, the daring Janet is warned not to go to Carterhaugh (which she or her father owns) but does anyway. There she meets Tam Lin, who takes the promised pledge and leaves her with child. She learns that he is to be a sacrifice of the Faerie Queen, but she can and does rescue him.

Pamela Dean's retelling of this classic story is set in a small college in the Midwest in the early seventies. The role of the novel's main character is clear: her name, after all, is Janet Carter. The rest of the story, however, unfolds with intriguing slowness. She does meet a boy named Thomas Lane, but they are both dating other people, and her relationship with Nick Tooley seems so perfectly ordinary it's hard to question. Other things aren't so perfectly ordinary, such as the mysterious Fourth Ericson ghost, the strange behavior of many members of the Classics department, and the fact that Janet can't seem to think about them when she's on campus. The plot, moving through the four years of Janet's college attendance, moves so slowly that at times it seems not to be moving at all, but the characters and situations are so wonderful that it doesn't matter.

Finally, in the fall of Janet's senior year, everything falls into pace. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that everything I expected to happen does happen, in a perfectly wonderful and wholly unpredictable way. The verdict? An exquisite book that every lover of fantasy and English major should read ASAP. I'll certainly be rereading it when I get a chance.

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