Friday, August 23, 2013

fairies and folk

Just some rambling thoughts on fairy tales and folk ballads today! I recently found some great fairytale related links- so I thought I would share them with the internet. They are all from D.L. Ashliman at the University of Pittsburgh, and you could get lost for ages wandering through them. Among other things you can find in this linked set of pages are a directory of tale types, comparisons of different editions of Grimm (for selected fairy tales) and links to other folk- and fairy-tale sites. Here are the pages:
Directory of folktales
Links and overview
Brothers Grimm 

Recently though I've been most interested in the story of Tam Lin, which has gotten me interested in other Scottish ballads (or other British ballads generally as well). There's an online version of the Child Ballads which is interesting, since Child collected some variants of common ballads as well, and I've had a look at some of the versions of Tam Lin, which is interesting.

I love Tam Lin, but I don't think I'd ever heard of it before I read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin- set in a college in America, this book is as much about the charms of college life as it is about more magical, elvish charms. But the ballad itself is fantastic, with a headstrong heroine, shape-shifting, seduction and an elvish court. I highly recommend it. Recently I read The Perilous Gard be Elizabeth Marie Pope, which I had found somewhere on the internet but only just found in the flesh. I couldn't remember why I'd put it on the to-read list, so was pleasantly surprised to find it is another retelling of Tam Lin, this one in an historical setting and minimising the supernatural elements. I'm now going on a bit of a Tam Lin jag and reading another adaptation, Thursday by Catherine Storr, from the 1970s.

Reading up on Tam Lin also reminded me of a ballad, which is apparently Child #4 but which I know as 'The Elf Knight' by Steeleye Span. In a sense it's a similar scenario to Tam Lin, there's an elf knight and a lady, but the outcome is quite different. Lady Isabel pines for the elf knight, but when he comes he tries to kill her in almost a Bluebeard-like scenario (he claims to have killed several other women before her), only to be outsmarted and killed himself. I think Steeleye Span does a great adaptation of this, when the elf knight says "if you'll not go, I'll cause you to ride" it's full of enough menace to send shivers up your spine  I couldn't find the album version on YouTube, so I'm hoping that live recording does it justice! The ultimate triumph of Lady Isabel is so satisfying as well. It got me thinking though, that while it seems that traditional ballads are less well known than traditional fairy tales, they have their ways of creeping into popular culture. I'm keen now to read up on my ballads, and see what other adaptations I can find.


  1. Anonymous1/9/13 00:21

    Hmm - I have just found what must be our fourth or fifth version of the elf knight, or the false knight, or similar. The latest I only recognised after I had heard it: "May Colven" sung by Emily Smith in a beautiful Scots accent. "Hind Etin" sung by Jim Moray is another riff on the idea, but even more altered. (Both on iTunes.)

    Evidently the heroines of these stories needed no womens' libbers to look after themselves. (Some common sense might have helped though.)

    What would Freud have made of it all, that's the thing?

    1. It seems to be a very popular story. I would be interested in listening to more versions.

  2. Anonymous6/9/13 21:47

    I like the sound of The Elf Knight, a male femme fatale for a change. I shall look up the songs, thank you!

    Have you read Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones? That's another Tam Lin retelling and it's very good. What is Thursday like?

    1. I have read Fire and Hemlock! I love Diana Wynne Jones. It was a strange adaptation but I enjoyed it. Thursday I thought was a little dated- it's from the 70s- but it's an interesting psychological/mythological take.