Friday, October 12, 2007

Tam Lin: Fairy Tale Set at Carleton

I've just been rereading, for about the fourth time over the past fifteen years or so, Pamela Dean's novel Tam Lin, a modern retelling of an old Scottish ballad, set at a thinly disguised Carleton College of the early 1970s. It's part of Tor Books' Fairy Tale Series and was originally published with the cover at left in 1991.

Janet Carter, daughter of a "Blackstock" English professor, has grown up around campus and is now a student there. She befriends a group of drama-loving Classics majors whose speech patterns, cryptic references to age, and intimate knowledge of Shakespeare hint that they are no ordinary college students.

Anyone who knows the Carleton campus, the Arb or Northfield will enjoy the very recognizable descriptions of place in this novel, which combines a dark magical tale with a college coming-of-age story. College buildings are renamed in decipherable ways: Laird Hall has become Masters; Nourse has become Ericson; Burton has become Taylor; Evans is Eliot (as in George, as in Mary Ann Evans). Janet and her roommates shop at Jacobsen's for fabric to decorate their room. The book was reissued in 2006; the new cover (at right) shows a recognizable bridge over the Lyman Lakes. There is a nice description that will ring true for anyone who has appreciated the view of Carleton from the rise in Highway 3 north of Second Street.

Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennett
attended Carleton from 1971 to 1975. Her author's note states:
Readers acquainted with Carleton College will find much that is familiar to them in the architecture, landscape, classes, terminology, and general atmosphere of Blackstock. They are earnestly advised that it would be unwise to refine too much upon this. Blackstock is not Carleton.
That may be so, but it's nice to imagine that it is. You'll never think about Classics the same way again!


Jennifer said...

I have loved Tam Lin since I read it in high school--long before I knew of Northfield and Carleton. I re-read the tale a few years ago and was thrilled and startled to realize that it was set at in town at Carleton!!
I still love the book and am due to read it again in a few years. :)
And, yes, it does put a new spin on the classics!

Chiya said...

(I found your site by accident when I was looking for pictures from the movie Serenity.)

This seems interesting. By Carleton, do you mean in Ottawa?

Penelope said...

Hi Chiya -- No, this is the other Carleton: Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota, where I live and blog. It's a top U.S. liberal arts college. Carleton University is in Ottawa. Thanks for visiting!