We’re so excited to host Katherine Harbour, the debut author of THORN JACK, a modern retelling of the ballad Tam Lin. A cross between The Night Circus and The Secret History, THORN JACK is the beginning of a very exciting series about a college freshman who finds out the sleepy university town she has just moved to is anything but sleepy… or human, for that matter. She also meets a very alluring boy named Jack…
Katherine has kindly written a guest blog introducing THORN JACK, which comes out today in hardcover and ebook.
I began writing THORN JACK when I was seventeen—in the ‘80s, books about fairies were popular and I’d read the ballad ‘Tam Lin’ and other books inspired by it: Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard, Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin. I was intrigued by the idea of a girl rescuing her lover from ancient creatures who wanted to sacrifice him for their own benefit. I’d also heard Fairport Convention’s eerie cover of the ballad. What inspired me to retell ‘Tam Lin’ as a modern story wasn’t just the romance between the mortal girl and the mysterious knight, but the idea that the faery queen truly loved Tam Lin—‘Out then spoke the Queen of Fairies, and an angry woman was she; “Shame betide her ill-faired face, and an ill death may she die, for she’s taken away the bonniest knight in all my company.”’ A sacrifice must be something of value for it to be effective. In THORN JACK, Reiko Fata, the faery queen, loves Jack, her knight.
The idea of setting ‘Tam Lin’ in a resort/college town that’s a getaway for theater and film people, the wealthy and the artsy, seemed a perfect way to mask the Fatas’ (faeries) beauty, eccentric style, and lavish parties (faery revels). At the ballad’s beginning, there’s a warning about the ruins of Carter Hall being haunted: ‘“O I forbid you maidens all, that wear gold in your hair, to come or go by Carter Hall, for young Tam Lin is there.”’ It reminded me of those abandoned mansions, like Wyndcliffe, in upstate New York. In Tam Lin, the heroine is compelled to explore Carter Hall. In THORN JACK, Finn Sullivan, the heroine, is drawn to the Fata-haunted mansions of Fair Hollow.
In the ballad, the faeries’ sacrifice is to Hell. I made it a sacrifice to the Lord of the Dead, which better suited the book’s theme of battling death. In ‘Tam Lin’, the girl becomes pregnant. That seemed a desperate and sketchy reason for true love. Finn’s and Jack’s romance begins with a glamor, a spell. As Jack guides Finn through his mysterious world, their relationship evolves into a friendship, then love. In the ballad, and in THORN JACK, the girl rescues the boy.
I’d like readers to become lost in THORN JACK’s autumnal, college atmosphere, in the ghostly border world of the Fatas, and to enjoy spending time with the four main characters as they grow and save each other.
–Katherine Harbour, 2014
More about THORN JACK here
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