Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Fairy Tale Romance Is Not For the Faint Of Heart

The cover for Winter rose by Patricia A. McKillip, painting by Kinuko Y. Craft
I'm not usually one to note days like Valentine's Day but with all the talk of love and fairy tales at the moment in the media I thought I'd take the opportunity to share one of my favorite fairy tales ever since it has a lot to do with love.

It's Tam Lin and I love this fairy tale ballad, but not because of the initial passion and "romance", though clearly the girl who insists on exploring "her" land, (despite that it's forbidden) is not some shy, retiring violet. Depending on how you read it, it can be seen as a lust-at-first-sight situation (and she's actually the one who makes the first move) which leaves the girl pregnant. Even if you allow for some time and it not all happening on a first meeting, it's still happens very quickly. While it's all very sexy (and the metaphors within the ballad can be interpreted quite steamily!), it's not really a good basis for a relationship. But it's what happens afterward that draws me in.

The girl, Janet (or Jennet or sometimes Margaret) stands by her decision to choose this man, against her father's will, against the possibility of losing everything and facing the very real possibility that she will be a disowned single mother with no title, land or resources. Not only that, in order to be with her man at all, she has to go up against the Faerie Queen (think super model with celebrity status, hefty bodyguards and actual magic to boot) to win her man back from the tithe/enchantment he's under - and it's a really tough challenge.

She has to pull him off a horse from the middle of an intimidating (and dangerous) Faerie Retinue that's in the middle of a serious procession,  then has to keep a hold of him as he changes forms, trying to escape her grasp, until he changes back into a man and wraps him in a green cloak. The forms include a bear, a lion, a giant snake and fire (!). Her mantra through all this is to remember he is already committed to her (he reminds her he will be present in the future as the father for their son too) and to "hold tight, don't let go".

It's simple but hefty advice for a couple - to hold tight to your partner, to your relationship and your family, through all the changes and challenges you never see coming.

She wins, of course, and the Faerie Queen is furious but must keep her end of the bargain.

I always imagine the heroine in quite bad shape afterward (not to mention exhausted and worried about her baby that's almost due to be born) while her just-freed man is disoriented, aching and naked under the green cloak she's wrapped him in. It's a tough start for the little family but it's an exhilarating one and it's clear they're not people who give up. He isn't (he's been waiting years for the right girl to bond to and to free him) and she isn't (she's just proven that) and they're about to start a new line of fierce people who love with their all.

Because Tam Lin had kept his human heart - the heart that loved Janet - intact through it all (much to the Faerie Queen's regret), he was able to turn back to his true self and be with the one he truly loved - the one who truly loved him.

I can't think of a better way to show your love for someone than to celebrate them as fully as possible and be proud of that in the good times and to be there with them, side by side, when challenges rise, no matter what happens and how unrecognizable they become in the process.

May we love wisely, well and fiercely!

What is your favorite fairy tale about love, passion and/or romance, and why?

Note:  Apart from the header, images above are by Jill Karla Schwarz from the Time Life Series Enchanted World retelling of Tam Lin. While there are a number of wonderful retellings of the story in novel form, my favorite is still Patricia A. McKillip's Winter Rose, the full spread cover of which is shown at the head of the post. (See? I do have somewhat of a romantic side!)


  1. Wow, gorgeous--the story and the illustrations!

    I wasn't familiar with this ballad before, but the transformation chase as a test of love (whether romantic or familial) is one of my favorite components of European folklore. I just love the imagery of devotion between two people when one or both of them must undergo a series of transformations as they flee from a power that would tear them apart.

    This is definitely not going to be the next Disney movie, huh? ;) But it's beautiful and lends itself to marvelous illustrations.

  2. I quite like the magic mirror story from Phantastes by George Macdonald, because it focuses on the sacrifices required if love is to be about more than self-gratification. At first the protagonist, Cosmo, is all about ensuring he can be with the woman he loves regardless of the cost to her, but at the end he cares more about her wellbeing. At the end of the story Cosmo doesn't say to her "Now are you mine? Do you love me?" but "Are you free?...Do I love you a little - truly?"