Illustration by John D. Batten. From More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs. New York: G. P Putnam's Sons, 1894.

“Tamlane” is a tale of a young man and the woman who loves him, both children of earls, told by Joseph Jacobs in More English Fairy Tales, 1894. I like this one because it’s the woman who has to come to the man’s rescue.

Tamlane and Burd Janet grew up together and had known since they were young that they would marry, but when the time comes near, Tamlane up and disappears to no one knows where. Many days later, Burd Janet takes a walk in the Carterhaugh Wood and is picking flowers from a bush when who should appear but Tamlane. She asks where he’s been, and he responds that he’s been in Elfland, a knight of the Queen. He says it’s a wonderful place, except he misses her and he’s afraid that he is going to be the tithe the Elves pay to the Nether world every seven years.

Burd Janet asks what she can do to save him. Tamlane tells her that the following night, Halloween, the fairy court will ride through England and Scotland and if she wants to release him from Elfland, she must make a stand at Miles Cross with holy water in her hands. He tells her how she will recognize him and what to do once she sees him.

Burd Janet does take her stand and when Tamlane passes she drags him from his horse and holds on to him while the elves, with all their magic, make him change shapes, from a knight to ice, from a snake to a dove, and finally, as he had warned her, into a red-hot iron which she throws into the pond, per his instructions. He turns back into a man, naked, released from the Elves, “and young Tamlane was Burd Janet’s for ever.”

As the Elf Queen rides away, she sings a song.

‘She that has borrowed young Tamlane
Has gotten a stately groom,
She’s taken away my bonniest knight,
Left nothing in his room.

‘But had I known, Tamlane, Tamlane,
A lady would borrow thee,
I’d hae ta’en out thy two grey eyne,
Put in two eyne of tree.

‘Had I but known, Tamlane, Tamlane,
Before we came from home,
I’d hae ta’en out thy heart o’ flesh,
Put in a heart of stone.

‘Had I but had the wit yestreen
That I have got today,
I’d paid the Fiend seven times his teind
Ere you’d been won away.’

Carterhaugh with the Ettrick Water in the foreground.

Sounds more than a little jealous, doesn’t she? She would have taken out his eyes, replacing them with wood, so he couldn’t have seen the elves or his beloved Burd Janet. She would have given him a heart of stone. If he didn’t love her, he would love no one. Happily, she didn’t have any advance knowledge, and Tamlane and Burd Janet live happily ever after.

I like that the female characters are both strong here, and although the Elf Queen was keeping Tamlane at her court, he was her favorite. She wasn’t cruel or evil to him, if you ignore the worry that he might eventually have been sacrificed to Hell. And Burd Janet does what she needs to, holds on with all her strength even though she had to be afraid.

You can read the story on-line at Project Gutenburg.

“Burd” by the way is a Scottish word meaning lady, usually a young lady, maiden, or sometimes wife. Carterhaugh is an actual place, a wood and farm near Selkirk in southern Scotland.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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