Tam Lin: Deftly retold for kids

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSusan Cooper Tam Lin children's fantasy picture book reviewTam Lin by Susan Cooper

Anyone who is familiar with the ballad Tam Lin knows it’s a story that is very much for grown-ups, or at least teenagers. Susan Cooper does a very good job here of adapting the old story so that it’s suitable for any age. It requires changing a few plot elements, but the essential spirit of the story remains the same.

Margaret is tired of sewing and acting polite and talking about future husbands with the other girls at her father’s castle, so she runs away to the woods of Carterhays to pick flowers. She has been expressly forbidden to go there, of course. There, she meets the handsome Tam Lin, and after arguing for a minute over who really owns the forest, they spend a pleasant afternoon talking and becoming friends in the woods. When Margaret gets back home, she’s in big trouble — she has actually been gone a week! Her unlikely friendship with Tam Lin leads her to sneak out once again, to rescue him from the faeries during one of their processions. She has to hold on to him as he turns into all sorts of scary animals — and, well, you know the rest. Cooper wonderfully depicts the feisty Margaret, and successfully adapts the story into something perfect for a little girl’s shelf of fairy tale books.

I subtracted a star because I don’t think the art really captures the magic of the story; it’s too “cute” and too simple. But maybe I’m just spoiled by Kinuko Craft’s cover for McKillip’s Winter Rose. It just seems like the land of Faery requires absolutely lush artwork.

Tam Lin — (1991) Ages 4-8. Publisher: Margaret, daughter of the king of Scotland, longs for adventure. Tired of setting a good example for all the other young girls — and of waiting to be married — Margaret flings down her embroidery one day and runs out of the castle, over the fields to Carterhays, a wood that is supposedly haunted by Tam Lin, an Elfin knight. There, indeed, she meets Tam Lin, who is remarkably handsome. When she learns his story — that he is human, not Elfin at all, and was stolen as a baby by the Elfin Queen — she determines to help break the enchantment that holds him. Courageous and steadfast throughout one fearful night, Margaret defeats each dangerous and dramatic attempt by the Elfin Queen to keep Tam Lin. And when the morning sun rises, Margaret and Tam Lin ride together across the green fields of Scotland, back to the castle.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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