If someone were to ask me where to start learning about Western faeries, I’d point them directly to the ballad of Tam Lin. It’s got just about everything you could hope for: the faerie Queen, a brave heroine, a changeling, the famous tithe to hell, shape-shifting, faerie-sight, danger, love, unwanted pregnancy, roses, and secret gardens. The colors and imagery are classic fey, from the green mantle to the trooping faeries all dolled up for Halloween.
A good version of the ballad can be found here, published as Child Ballad #39A in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882-1898 by Francis James Child.
There are dozens of versions (Child published several himself), due to it being an old tale from the Scottish border. We don’t know exactly how old, but Tam Lin is connected to the songs of Thomas the Rhymer, which are known to be at least 900 years old.
And the tale is still catching the attention of imaginations and publishing houses. Here are some of the prose versions, published in the last forty years:
Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear
“My Kingdom” by Hannah Wolf Bowen, Abyss & Apex, Winter 2004
Tam Lin by Susan Cooper
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Wild Robin written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers (children’s picture book)
The Nightwood by Robin Muller
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
The Hawthorn Tree by Patrick Little (gender role variation)
An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton
The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
Summer’s Lease by Eluki bes Shahar (Rosemary Edghill)
“Cotillion” by Delia Sherman, in Firebirds, edited by Sharyn November
Tam Lin in the graphic novel series Ballads and Sagas edited by Charles Vess
Tam Lin: An Old Ballad by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak
Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip
There was also a movie, Tam Lin by Roddy McDowall, starring Ava Gardner and Ian McShane.
Plus a handful of plays and scores of songs. Here’s a version of the Irish reel by Celtic Sands.