When I looked for possible picture books that would show case girl power themes, this was one of the highly recommended reading material:
The narrative versions of Tam Lin are said to be based on an old Scottish ballad. This particular one that I found in our library is retold by award-winning Susan Cooper and illustrated by Warwick Hutton. For a picture book, it is text-heavy and is best read aloud to very young children.
I was drawn to the character of Margaret, a princess, who was unlike all the other ladies in the castle who happen to be content doing ladylike tasks such as sewing, rubbing their skin with cucumber for softness, and waiting for a man to marry them. She loved defying orders and went as far as Carterhays, the forbidden area, where an Elfin knight is said to haunt young ladies:
“If once you saw him it would be the end of you,” the old nurse said sharply. “No man would marry you then.”
Initially, I had trouble figuring out how this particular story shows female empowerment as it seems to have all the ingredients of the traditional fairy tale. As the story progressed, however, the reader gets to see how this impetuous, staunchly-disobedient young girl was able to chart her own path and meticulously follow a set of enchanted rules (which includes putting out her hand to a fire-breathing white horse and recognizing her man no matter how horrible the shapes he would magically assume) – to save the day and be the heroine in the story.
Margaret reached for Tam Lin’s ungloved right hand, and he jumped down from his saddle – and then suddenly she was holding not the hand of a man but a handful of the thick fur of a huge snarling wolf. Its great head lunged at her, snapping sharp yellow teeth, blowing hot foul breath, but Margaret ducked, leaned away, and held fast.
While the tasks have a taste of enchantment and the magical, it could also prove to be a powerful metaphor for young adults or older readers who would be able to sense underlying themes depending on where they are in their lives. And yes, it takes enormous strength of character for a woman to witness the various transformations of her chosen partner and still glean the concealed individual beneath all those snarling, leaping, and howling layers – and save him from the enchantment of the Elfin Queen on the side.
Resources. As I have mentioned, this is only one of the many versions of Tam Lin. This incisive and scholarly post by Ginger Mullen entitled Transformations of “Tam Lin”: An Analysis of Folktale Picture Books talks about illustrative techniques, traditional motifs, and accuracy of cultural images across two versions of Tam Lin: this book written by Susan Cooper and another by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.
This website on the other hand has a great deal of links to anything that is Tam Lin related – including music links (recall that this is originally a Scottish ballad), a link to related tales for closer examination of myths, information about Scotland and so much more.
About the Author/Illustrator (as taken from the jacket flap of the book).
With consummate artistry, Susan Cooper, a Newbery Award winner known internationally for her fantasy sequence The Dark is Rising, has made a lyric prose retelling, based on several versions of an old Scottish ballad, rich in dark mysticism, romance, and terror-filled adventure.
Warwick Hutton, whose outstanding artistry has been widely recognized and confirmed by such awards as that given by the Boston Globe/Horn Book and inclusion three times on the New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Books of the Year list, matches the many moods of Tam Lin with beauty and intensity (Unfortunately I couldn’t find a photo of Hutton from the web).
This is the third of the author’s and artist’s Celtic trilogy, a distinguished companion to their earlier books The Silver Cow (Welsh) and The Selkie Girl (Irish).
Tam Lin as retold by Susan Cooper. Illustrated by Warwick Hutton. Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 1991. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos taken by me.