“Hold Me Fast” by Alter S. Reiss (7406 words)
You know, as luck would have it this is the second Tam Lin reworking that I’ve read this week, which makes for an interesting synergy. Because, well, I would have probably completely missed the references had it not been for the research I did to try and contextualize the other story. Tam Lin is not a figure that I’m very familiar with, after all, though the idea of transformations and bargains and love are ones that I like and that pervade the myth and this story. Here Jione is a diver working at a site and Tam is a mysterious visitor to her city, a visitor that no one can quite figure out. He’s part childish wonder and part hardened in ways that no one can guess at. He has a vast wealth and yet he doesn’t really know the value of things. He’s a man out of time because of his experiences, though no one knows that until Jione takes a chance and approaches him, and gets drawn into a sort of wager that he has. Practically dripping gold, he seems like an easy paycheck for Jione, but slowly becomes something more than that.
At the heart of the story, like the heart of the myth, is the relationship between Tam and Jione. They are drawn to each other, in part because they see in each other what goes ignored by everyone else. Jione is used to being ignored, to being overlooked, and so to be really seen, as Tam sees her, takes her by surprise. Similarly, Tam is used to being treated as different, as apart from everything. He’s detached from his time and Jione is the first person to treat him like he’s no big deal. Which means, essentially, that she’s the first to try and cheat him. And that’s a lot of what the story is about, bargains and bad faith. The world that Tam and Jione inhabit is one of exploitation and betrayal—it’s almost expected that people will seek to profit as much as they can regardless of how shady the practice. The story explores the cost of that, though, the specter of hell waiting for those who seek to ruin others or can’t see the ruin staring at them in their own actions. While this might seem at first a call to let go of passion, though, the characters find out that it’s passion that will save them. That what cuts the bonds of hell is not cold logic but the flames of something hotter. Hell is depicted as a cold place, which is mirrored nicely in the cold depths that Jione must search in order to find what Tam lost. It is the fire that they share, that they kindle in each other, that must stand against that expanse of cold.
The story has a nice aesthetic throughout, too, part more modern technology but with flashes of magic and blends of all of the above. The quest that Tam is on, that Jione agrees to take on as well, is one that is steeped in dark magic, and leads to that famous scene of transformation and holding on that exists in every iteration of the Tam story. And this piece pulls it off nicely, doing enough to distance the work from the original while still holding true to what makes the myth something to return to. It’s a nicely romantic story and while the love angle isn’t exactly given as much time as it could have to justify the lengths the characters go to in order to protect and save each other, it’s still fun and nice interpretation on an old classic!