rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
[personal profile] rymenhild
In the traditional ballad of Tam Lin, as you know, Janet goes out into the wood of Carterhaugh, the terrain of the fairy knight Tam Lin, and Tam Lin impregnates her. Later, on Hallowe'en, Tam Lin is cursed to be the Fairy Court's tithe to hell, and only Janet can save him because of her power as Tam Lin's lover and as the mother of his unborn child.

I have recently unearthed evidence suggesting that there is a lost text of the Tam Lin tradition, a missing link, if you will, connecting the Tam Lin ballads and a more recent and better-known popular narrative, also associated with the discovery of sexuality, the gates between worlds, and the day of All Hallows’ Eve. Allow me to show you my argument.

Let us first consider Janet as she appears in the ballad versions. Janet, a virgin of good family, enters the woods of Carterhaugh, where she breaks a rose from a rosebush. Now, it is well known that the woods are a zone of danger, often sexualized danger (see, for instance, Sondheim 1987, et al.). Janet encounters a sexual threat in the woods of Carterhaugh. She may actively be looking for sexual danger, as we see when Janet herself breaks the unsubtly hymeneal rose (“pu’d a double rose, / A rose but only twa,” Child Ballad 39a lines 5-6), thus calling Tam Lin to herself. Janet thus keeps agency in her deflowering. She maintains agency later when she personally rescues Tam Lin from the terrifying and beautiful Fairy Queen and the gaping maw of hell.

The name Janet is of course powerful and symbolic. It is this name that brought me to recognize, at last, a late and corrupt text of the Tam Lin tradition. In this late text, the virgin Janet enters the dark wood, here rendered still darker by a raging storm, in (perhaps unwitting) search of sexual enlightenment. She is not, however, alone. Janet is accompanied by a young man, another virgin. They go together into a strange and forbidden castle, an otherworldly place beyond time’s power (where “time meant nothing, never would again.”) This castle, full of strange beings engaged in a mystical dance, is clearly an annex of Faerie; it is well known that fairies love to dance and sing. As we also know from Tam Lin, fairies are beautiful and seductive. Indeed, the master of the castle sexually deflowers both Janet and her companion, Brad. At this point the true dangers of Janet’s position become apparent, and we begin to see how the castle, as Faerie itself, is the place where life and death meet and become rebirth and where the world we know meets the worlds beyond our world.

The master of the castle, of course, is named Frank-N-Furter.

There are some peculiarities about Rocky Horror Picture Show as Tam Lin narrative. Although Brad is Janet’s first beloved, he lacks sexual desirability and experience, and therefore does not fully mirror the Fairy Knight Tam Lin. Brad resembles Tam Lin only insofar as he, like Tam Lin, must be protected, first (by Janet) from the threat of other tempting women, and then from the cannibal barbarity of the Faerie Court, Rocky Horror’s equivalent of the tithe to Hell.

In fact, the role of Tam Lin is doubled here; Frank-N-Furter carries the otherworldly power and sexuality of Tam Lin, while Brad carries his role as the weak lover who must be guarded by his lady. At the same time, Frank-N-Furter, both murderous and sensual, is also the threat that hangs over Brad, and Frank’s actions towards Brad parallel the Queen’s attempt to sell Tam Lin to Hell. Given his transgressively queer gender presentation, Frank is thus both Fairy Knight and Fairy Queen.

But is this Janet, the blushing maiden, truly the powerful and courageous Janet of the Tam Lin ballads? Janet’s color in Rocky Horror Picture Show is a naïve white, while the early Tam Lin Janet wears the green of the growing earth. Clearly Janet’s characterization has been substantially diluted during the transmission of the tradition.

I must therefore posit a lost text, a missing link that connects Child Ballad 39 to Rocky Horror Picture Show. Let us call it R’ (R prime), as the lost ancestor to Rocky Horror, which would obviously be marked with the siglum R. R’ must have divided Tam Lin into the twinned characters, mortal Brad and fairy Frank, and set both parts of the action, involving sex and hell, on a single All Hallows’ Eve night. But in this lost R’, Janet would still have been the brave and bold maiden of Carterhaugh. Janet would have gone openly and proudly to Frank’s bed, and would have guarded Brad with her own hands to keep him from being served at dinner or dragged to Hell. Janet would awake on All Saints’ Morning pregnant and overjoyed, the link between the fairy and the mortal worlds, connecting the world of time with the timeless, doing the Time Warp with her own body.
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rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)

January 2017


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