Transformative variants

Been reading variations on Tam Lin again, thanks to tamnonlinear‘s most excellent Tam Lin website. Tam Lin was an early influence on my conceptions of Faerie and fey folk, dating back to when my college roommate loaned me a recording from a Renn Faire she’d been to.

“And pleasant is the fairy land
But, an eerie tale to tell”

Child #39A

This time my eye caught on all the various things the queen of Faerie transforms Tam Lin into, when Janet (aka Margaret) attempts to rescue him. If one goes through all the Child Ballad variants, there are more types of transformations here than I’d remembered: bear, lion, adder, snake, greyhound, toad, eel, dove, swan, black dog, eagle, ass, wolf, deer, silken string, and, of course, the almost-obligatory hot iron and naked knight.

I cannot tell whether she claims she could have turned him into a tree as well, or merely that she could have killed him painfully:

“I wad hae taen out his heart o flesh,
Put in a heart o tree

Child #39H (among others)

But then there’s this:

“They turned him into a flash of fire,
And then into a naked man;
But she wrapped her mantle him about,
And then she had him won.

Child #39F

She turned him into a “flash of fire”? How does that work?

One can argue–and some of the variants claim–that the queen of Faerie merely gave Tam Lin the appearance of the things he was transformed into–more believable, perhaps, but I might argue that when you’re turning someone into hot iron and silken thread, you’ve already left most pretense of believability behind. 🙂

One does wonder, regardless, about the exact nature of the queen’s power. One could imagine a story in which poor Tam Lin was subject to so many transformations that afterwards, each storyteller remembered only a (different) small handful of them.

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