Project Description

Tam Lin

As the Scottish legend goes, a young man named Tam Lin was out hunting when he fell from his horse and was taken away by the Queen of the Fairies herself. She made him a knight of her elven company and set him the task of guarding the forest of Carterheugh, where according to local townsfolk he would only let those young maidens pass who gave him a token of treasure or else their maidenhood. Despite the warnings, young Janet ventured into the forest. As she was passing a well, she came across a milkwhite steed, and she took rest, picked a wild rose growing near the well, and pulled a branch from the tree. At once, Tam Lin appeared and cried:

“Why pulls thou the rose, Janet,

And why breaks thou the wand?

Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh

Withoutten my command?”

Janet was a stubborn young lady and stood her ground, telling him that Carterhaugh belongs to her, a present from her father, and that she will come and go as she pleases without asking his permission. Little is said of what happens next, and how Tam Lin charmed young Janet into giving up her maidenhood, but Janet returned to Carterhaugh and as the days passed her father discovered that she was with child. She refused to let the blame lie with a knight of her father’s company, and stubborn Janet tells her father:

“If that I gae wi child, father,

Mysel maun bear the blame,

There’s neer a laird about your ha,

Shall get the bairn’s name.

“If my love were an earthly knight,

As he’s an elfin grey,

I wad na gie my ain true-love

for nae lord that ye hae'”

Janet returned to Carterhaugh, some say to collect herbs to cause miscarriage, and once again she found Tam Lin’s milkwhite steed at the well. Once again she pulled a rose, and Tam Lin appeared, enquiring to know:

“Why pu’s thou the rose, Janet,

Amang the groves sae green,

And a’ to kill the bonny babe

That we gats us between?”

She demanded that Tam Lin tell her where he comes from, and he revealed his mortal past to her, telling her that fairyland is a pleasant place but at the end of every seven years the fairy folk must pay a tiend to hell, and he fears that he has been chosen. It is the night of Halloween, when the veils between the faerie lands and mortal realm are lifted, and Tam Lin told Janet that at midnight the fairy folk will ride past Miles Cross and she may rescue her true love and win him back from the Fairy Queen. She must first let pass the black horse, and then the brown, and then quickly run to the milkwhite steed and pull the rider to the ground, as this fairy knight shall be none other than Tam Lin. He warned her that he will be turned into all manner of beast and horror, including a newt, a snake, a bear, a lion, a red hot iron, then a burning coal or gleed when at once she must throw him in to well water, and then finally he shall turn into a naked man. At once she must cover him with her green mantle and hide him out of sight. She did exactly as told, freeing Tam Lin, much to the anger of the Fairy Queen:

“Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,

And an angry woman was she,

“Shame betide her ill-far’d face,

And an ill death may she die,

For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight

In a’ my companie.”

“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” said she,

“What now this night I see,

I wad hae taken out thy twa grey een,

And put in twa een o tree.”

This final verse seems to suggest the Fairy Queen wishes that she had taken out Tam Lin’s grey eyes and replaced them with wood, taking away his sight of the fairies and never allowing him to have fallen in love with Janet.