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1001 tamlin georgehiles
Added on 09th September 2020

Oral tradition Scottish Ballad

Tam Lin is the favourite of the Queen of the Fairies. But he's mortal and he wants to come home.


A young woman encounters a mysterious man in the forest who tells her that she is trespassing. Believing the man to be an elf, she meets him a second time and learns that he is in fact a mortal. He is being held captive by the fairies and the young woman must free him…

Why we chose it

Stories about mortals who find their way to fairyland are common in Scotland and in other Celtic countries. Tam Lin is one of the best known and can be widely found as a story and as a song.

Where it came from

Tam Lin is a Scottish ballad. It is set in Carterhaugh, which is a real location on the Scottish border. It was first mentioned in The Complaynt of Scotland in 1549 but no written version exists until much later. Francis James Child records the ballad in his collection The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898).

Where it went next

People all over the world can enjoy the ballad now, as it has been translated into languages including Italian, Polish and Russian. Back in Scotland, there is a reel (a type of dance) called Tam Lin, also known as the Glasgow Reel.

Associated stories

There are lots of ballads involving a run in with the fairy world. In Thomas the Rhymer, a man encounters the Queen of the Fairies and must spend seven years in her world.

In a story with version found in Wales, Ireland and Cornwall, a woman is given a job as a nursemaid by a mysterious stranger. The only thing she must not do is bathe her eyes with the ointment she is given for the child. When she of course does she finds she can see the fairy children the child plays with.

Cold Tom by Sally Prue is a children’s novel based on the story of Tam Lin.

Added on 09th September 2020

Oral tradition Scottish Ballad