I’m currently doing a buddy read with my dear friend Jenny O’, and we are currently reading A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. When we selected this book and started reading it, I had no clue that it was based on the Scottish Tam Lin Ballad. There are several versions of this story, and several retellings. Jenny O’s favorite version is the children’s book of the same name, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.

To briefly summarize, the ballad of Tam Lin is about a young girl named Janet who, along with her family, is kicked out of their ancestral home of Carterhaugh by the fae (fairy mythical creatures). Despite warnings of the danger of the fae, especially one particularly bewitching male fae named Tam Lin, Janet heads to Carterhaugh to reclaim it. Along the way, Janet picks a rose which summons Tam Lin. Upon discussing her reasons for being there, he reveals that, although he has been the favorite of the Queen fae’s for many years, the queen has grown tired of him and is going to sacrifice Tam Lin on All Hallows Eve. Since Tam Lin has no one, Janet vows that she will save him as well as reclaim her Carterhaugh. On All Hallows Eve, when the fae ride across the moors, Janet pulls Tam Lin from his horse. Though the queen of the fae changes his form—even sets him on fire—Janet holds onto Tam Lin. And though the queen offers Janet many riches, including Carterhaugh, Janet is not swayed. By trusting in herself she repels the fae queen’s magic and saves Tam Lin. At daybreak the queen of the fae leaves Janet’s family’s lands. In the end, Janet does what she set out to do—protect Tam Lin and reclaim her Carterhaugh.

Here is a translation of the original ballad:

O I forbid you, maidens all,
That wear gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

There’s none that goes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad,     *token, object of value

Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go.

When she came to Carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she found his steed standing,
But he was away himself.

She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Saying “Lady, pull thou no more.”

“Why pullest thou the rose, Janet,
And why breakest thou the wand?
Or why comest thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?”

“Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I’ll come and go by Carterhaugh,
And ask no leave of thee.”

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she is to her father’s house,
As fast as she can go.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ball,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them all.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as any glass.

Out then spake an old grey knight,
Lay over the castle wall,
And says, “Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
But we’ll be blamed all.”

“Hold your tongue, ye old faced knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my babe on whom I will,
I’ll father none on thee.”

Out then spake her father dear,
And he spake meek and mild,
“And ever alas, sweet Janet,” he says,
“I think thou goest with child.”

“If that I go with child, Father,
Myself must bear the blame,
There’s never a lord about your hall,
Shall give the child a name.”

“If my love were an earthly knight,
Though he’s an elfin grey,
I would not give my own true-love
For any lord that ye have.”

“The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
With silver he is shod before,
With burning gold behind.”

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go.

When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she found his steed standing,
But he was away himself.

She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Saying “Lady, pull thou no more.”

“Why pullest thou the rose, Janet,
Among the groves so green,
And all to kill the bonny babe
That we got us between?”

“O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,” she says,
“For His sake that died on tree,
If ever ye were in holy chapel,
Or Christendom did see?”

“Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to bide
And once it fell upon a day
That woe did me betide.

“And once it fell upon a day
A cold day and a snell, *windy and sharp
When we were from the hunting come,
That from my horse I fell,
The Queen of Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill to dwell.”

“And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
At the end of every seven years,
We pay a tithe to Hell,
I am so fair and firm of flesh,
I’m feared it be myself.”

“But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, if ye will,
For well I think ye may.”

“Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that would their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they must bide.”

“But how shall I thee know, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Among so many uncouth knights,
The like I never saw?”

“O first let pass the black, lady,
And then let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pull ye his rider down.”

“For I’ll ride on the milk-white steed,
And ride nearest the town;
Because I was an earthly knight
They give me that renown.”

“My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Cocked up shall my bonnet be,
And combed down shall be my hair,
And there’s the tokens I give thee;
No doubt I will be there.”

“They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,
A lizard and an adder,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your child’s father.”

“They’ll turn me to a bear so grim,
And then a lion bold,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child.”

“Again they’ll turn me in your arms
To a red hot brand of iron,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I’ll do you no harm.”

“And last they’ll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed,             *torch

Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.”

“And then I’ll be your own true-love,
I’ll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me with your green mantle,
And hide me out o sight.”

Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did go.

At the mirk and midnight hour
She heard the bridles sing,
She was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.

First she let the black pass by,
And then she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pulled the rider down.

So well she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Then covered him with her mantle green,
As happy as a bird in spring.

Out then spake the Queen of Fairies,
Out of a bush of broom,
“She that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom.”

Out then spake the Queen of Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
“Shame betide her ill-fared face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she’s taken away the bonniest knight
In all my company.”

“But had I known, Tam Lin,” she said,
“What now this night I see,
I would have taken out thy two grey eyes,
And put in two of tree.”       *wood, i.e. blinded him.

— Translated from original version (Child 39-A) by Steffen Mallory, who apologizes for mucking up the rhyme scheme in places for the sake of clarity of meaning…

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