Tuesday, November 11, 2014

College, Classics, and Quotes

In my perusing used book stores lately, I have been lucky to come across some older books that are much harder to find in the traditional book store.  One of these books was Tam Lin by Pamela Dean one of the Fairy Tale series edited by Terri Windling (whom I ADORE).  The story is based on the Scottish poem The Ballad of Tam Lin, which being one of my favorites mad this a very intriguing book.  What did I think of this ambitious work?  Well first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
Janet Carter is starting college at Blackstock College, a fictional school in Minnesota.  She has wanted to go there since she was young as her father is a professor there.  She meets her roommates, Molly, a fellow book lover and Biology major, and Tina, a more pedestrian type who is also a Biology major.  Janet herself is an English Major.  The book follows Janet through out all four years of her college career and focuses on her classes and her and her roommates relationship's with a group of beautiful, yet odd students.  The girls all end up in relationships with various members of the group and all endure various problems while in them.  A lot of the book is just about Janet's classes, her love of books, and her various strange interactions with various people on campus.  There is also an allusion to a ghost of a girl who discovered she was pregnant and killed herself, an act which was duplicated years later by a second student upon learning she herself was pregnant. We also see various professor's and advisers who have a weird sort of control over various staff members and students.  Eventually Janet breaks up with her distant, yet smart and funny boyfriend Nick and ends up with his much more human seeming friend Thomas and after a single night with him, despite precautions, ends up pregnant.  After much convelutedness we finally get the story of what is going on with this mysterious group.  The Faerie Queen and her cohorts have gotten bored with living in their realm and have come out, along with some of the humans who live with them, yet never age.  They have decided for some reason that this little Midwestern college is a good place to hang out.  We learn that almost every student the three girls have encountered is one of the ageless humans and that they have been around so long that some of them even knew Shakespeare!  The exception to all of this is Thomas.  Thomas is a normal human, who stole one of the Faerie Queens horses and became her tithe to Hell, something the faeries have to pay every seven years.  According to Thomas this has played out many times over the years, and the only way to be saved is to have a pregnant lover hold on to him as he changes forms.  Janet is at first incredulous, and then accepting as it actually explains several odd occurrences.  She agrees to keep the baby and saves Thomas in the traditional manner.  The story ends with the Faerie Queen stating that since their was no tithe, the next time they will take two.
This is one of those types of books that grows on you the more you think on it...or at least it did for me.  Originally I did not like it very much at all.  It is very convoluted, slow and the author comes across very pretentious with all of her babble about the classic literature.  She has a tendency for her characters to speak whole paragraphs to each other in obscure quotes from books that only a professor of classic literature, or somebody who is obsessed with them would ever be able to recognize.  This makes the story very difficult to follow on occasion.  The author for some reason felt the need to describe every building and layout of the campus multiple times, even ones that had nothing to do with the plot.  A lot of what the characters did and said was vague at best, and confusing at worst.  All of this leads to a long, slow read, that leaves the reader frustrated.  The other problem was I am very familiar with the story of Tam Lin, and I still could not figure out where the story was going, I can't imagine somebody not familiar with the ballad trying to follow the plot.  On the other hand, the story of Janet and her roommates and their college experience was fairly accurate, especially for the era (the early 1970's).  The uncertainty, the finding oneself, the exhausting course load, the trying to get along with all the various personality types, all very familiar to the college crowd.  In that sense it was a very simple, girl goes to college and survives the experience type of story.  When you put the two together, you get a story about a girl and her roommates and mysterious friends, (most of whom speak in forms and ways that would never happen in the real world) trying to survive college, with the occasional fae experience.  The action only really picks up near the end of the book, culminating in essentially the whole ballad being played out literally for us at the very end. I felt like this book would have been much better if it had been shorter and a bit more to the point. After all of that you may ask why I feel the book grows on the reader.  Well now that I have finished the book, and it has been several days, I still feel it is pretentious and slow and a bit confusing...but it also has a way of staying in your brain.  All the mentions of various books and the character obvious passion for them have me ready to quit work and just stay home and read Chaucer, Dante, Austen and of course Shakespeare.  The idea of the fae running around, living everyday life is always and intriguing idea and has me day dreaming about meeting up with my own personal otherworlder in various situations.  I'm not doing a very good job explaining what I mean, but...yeah...so overall this book was frustrating, but I am glad I read it.  I would recommend it to anybody who has a degree in classic literature, has a bit of patience, and understands that a person can like a book much more after they have put it down for a while.  I give it 6 out of 10 thundering steeds.
Have you ever liked a book better a couple days after you have finished it?  Is it possible to not really enjoy the reading of the book, but still enjoy it living in your head?  Is it possible for me to ever really get what I mean from my head to the page?

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