For me, the story of Tam Lin has always held a particular fascination. It’s appealing not only in the strangeness of Faerie law colliding with the mortal world, but in the audacity of pitting a normal girl against a queen who is superior in every way.
Although the story exists in numerous forms, one of the elements that always remains constant is, the Faerie queen is beautiful and powerful, and Janet (Margaret, Meg, Kate) is ordinary. All her strength lies in her craftiness and her determination, which is refreshing when you hold it up against later fairytale tropes of beauty, virtue, sweetness.
Throughout different versions, Tam Lin is subjected to an array of transformations at the hands of the Faeries. The specific forms he takes vary widely, but in every version, he becomes ugly and frightening and eventually scorching hot, and Janet has to keep holding onto him, no matter what happens. A simple proposition, but it takes a person of substance to do it.
The Ballad of Tam Lin has all hallmarks of a great story—it’s filled with danger, romance, and fantastic imagery, but the part that always strikes me is the implicit promise that you don’t have to be extraordinary in order to triumph, except in strength of character. That a girl can walk into the middle of an old and powerful ritual and take someone back from the gates of Hell, simply because she is too proud and too bullheaded to have it any other way.