So let me talk about Tam Lin.
Tam Lin is a ballad from the Scottish Borders, and there are many different variants, but I used Child 39 for Beating the Bounds. Well. With liberties (because if you’re not taking liberties, it’s not really a folktale). As I knew I wanted to write something about Tam Lin, it became a case of picking my favourite bits to corral a narrative that was recognisable as Tam Lin-adjacent, while abandoning bits I didn’t care for.
Among things I hastily abandoned: magical pregnancy, anyone?
Keepers: shapeshifting. The snippet below is a final bit of the ballad where Tam Lin changes shape approx a billion times. It’s a bit arbitrary – one of my editor’s comments was along the lines of ‘I don’t really get all the shapeshifting but’ – and that’s why I like it! Each of the changes below feature in the story (though not necessarily at the same time!).
They’ll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder…
They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold…
Again they’ll turn me in your arms
To a red het gaud of airn…
And last they’ll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed;
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in wi speed.
And then I’ll be your ain true-love
This shapeshifting climax drove me through the story. How might we get the characters to this point, where it (almost) makes sense within the context? How do you keep the non-magical character convincingly present in the scene without her screaming for her life?