From the Archives: A Guide to Blackstock College

Throwback Thursday is a feature of my new blog, Entering the Enchanted Castle, that allows me to take a look back at some of my favorite posts from past years on ECBR. This week I’m linking up one of my most popular posts, which was also one of the most fun to write — for reasons I think will become clear as you read on. This post originally appeared on October 31, 2015, as the kick-off post of Witch Week.

TamLinIn Tam Lin, Pamela Dean takes her college experience and mixes it with elements of the well-known sixteenth-century ballad about a young man entrapped by the Fairy Queen, who is then rescued by his mortal lover from becoming a Halloween sacrifice. It’s a wonderful novel about that time between adolescence and adulthood when the world opens up, revealing both its promise and its dangers. It’s about love and friendship and books and learning and life, and how they all intertwine in the process of growing up.

Because I attended the same school as the author — Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota — every time I reread Tam Lin I find a special pleasure in identifying and imagining the buildings, landscapes, and events that are so lovingly described in its pages. Dean says in a note that “Blackstock is not Carleton,” but really, it’s pretty darn close. For those who don’t have the advantage of having been there in person, here is a guide to help you visualize some of the geography I know and love so well.

As we approached the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication and my own graduation in 1991, it was interesting to note how much the Carleton campus has changed in that time — far more than it had changed since the setting of Tam Lin in the early seventies, which on my first reading seemed like the remote past. The core remains, though, and if you stroll the campus with book in hand you’ll still recognize much of it.

In any case, if you ever do have the chance to go to Carleton, whether for a day, a term, or the whole four years, take it. Even if the fairy queen doesn’t actually ride through the Arb on All Hallows Eve, it truly is a magical place.

Heartfelt thanks are due to Matt Ryan, Carleton’s Associate Director of Web Communications, and to the Carleton Archives for their help with obtaining the images in this post. For requests to use these images elsewhere, please contact the College.

BlackstockCampusMapA map showing the “Blackstock” names for Carleton buildings that existed in the mid 1970s, when Tam Lin is set. Keep in mind that some sizes and distances have been changed in the book, and some buildings eliminated.

Major Locations

In the text the Blackstock name is given first, and then the Carleton name (if different) in italics. Attentive readers will note that the name-pairs often have some obvious relationship — e.g. Watson becomes Holmes. I’d be grateful to anyone who can cast light on the more obscure ones (Dunbar? Murchison?).

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Ericson Hall (Nourse Hall)
Janet, our heroine, lives here with her two roommates during her freshman and senior years, having a distinct prejudice in favor of the old-fashioned style of dormitory. I liked it too, when I lived there as a freshman. There really is a Little Theater in the basement, scene of a highly charged production of The Revengers’ Tragedy in the book and of countless student productions through the years in real life. I never heard of any ghosts, though.

Eliot Hall (Evans Hall)
Janet and her friends live here during her sophomore and junior years, in Column A — the building’s oddity being that it is arranged in vertical columns rather than horizontal floors to reduce noise. In its Carleton incarnation, this unfortunately also did away with much of the floor-based socializing that sustains student life, and so it was remodeled some years ago to a more conventional floor plan. Eliot/Evans also housed Janet’s and my favorite dining hall, where one could enjoy the view across Bell Field without having to trudge all the way to the edge of campus (see Dunbar, below). Alas, that too is gone, replaced by a more central, modern facility. Still remaining is the Cave, the student hangout in the basement where Thomas (the Tam Lin character) drowns his sorrows in weak beer.

Dunbar Hall (Goodhue Hall)
Janet’s second-favorite dining hall is here, with even more spectacular view thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows, but lower popularity due to its distance from the center of campus. That’s gone too, repurposed into an enormous “superlounge.” Proximity to the Arboretum makes it a good choice for outdoorsy types, and Janet spends a lot of time going back and forth over the bridge that links it to the main campus (as do many of the more unsavory characters).

Masters Hall (Laird Hall)
Home of the English department in Janet’s time and mine, this former science building is a proud edifice facing the center of campus, with a lofty, high-ceilinged interior. She happily spends many hours here delving into the treasures of English literature, as did I. The warren of temporary buildings behind Masters/Laird where Janet has to hunt for her advisor either never existed at Carleton or was gone before I got there, though “Laird Annex” was a computer lab where I printed out my papers using the college computers.

Library (Laurence Gould Library)
Also known as the Libe, due to the Carleton/Blackstock penchant for abbreviating everything. Janet first encounters Thomas in the stacks here, seeks clues to the identity of the Ericson ghost in the archives, and finds peace in its “padded rooms” for studying. Because it’s built into a hill, it’s much bigger than it appears from its front elevation.

Chester Hall (Old Music Hall)
In her most obvious deviation from actual Carleton architecture, Dean makes the comely but rather petite old Music building into a looming, menacing supernatural presence of considerable grandeur. I do remember a listening room and music library, but not a marble-floored hall suitable for roller skating. A significant event takes place in one of the practice rooms, but I can’t say whether that is based in reality or not.

To my loss, I never spent much time in this enormous natural preserve during my time at Carleton. Janet is wiser, and as a Blackstock faculty child she has a longstanding knowledge of its byways. Her first romantic encounter takes place here, as well as meetings of the more supernatural variety. It’s a good place to locate your fairy court, if it’s going to be attached to a midwestern college.

Janet made a ceremonial stop in the middle of the bridge. She knew this stream in all its manifestations, from cracked mud set about with slimy green rocks to the foaming mass that covered the knees of the trees and lapped at the concrete wall that separated the parking  area from the woods. Today it was about midway between those two. All the rocks were covered, and the grass that overhung the banks like combed hair drifted sideways in a mild brown current. The air was full of dusty sunlight and a slow fall of yellow elm leaves. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, thought Janet, recalling favorite poems with a pleasurable melancholy. — Tam Lin, pp. 46-47

Minor Locations

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Taylor Hall (Burton Hall) – Janet dislikes the dungeon-like dining hall in the basement of this dormitory on the far west side of campus, which causes a rather sticky situation when she ends up uncharacteristically going there one day.

Womens Center (Cowling Gymnasium) – Site of Janet’s freshman fencing class, this smallish gym is in convenient proximity to the East side dorms where she lives.

Murchison Hall (Musser Hall), Forbes Hall (Myers Hall), and Holmes Hall (Watson Hall) – These modern dormitories get short shrift in Janet’s book, but I lived in two of them and they weren’t so bad. I was definitely glad I never had to live in Musser, though.

Appleton Hall (Boliou Hall) – The building where Janet has her first Greek class is a pleasant place to study art and art history. The fountain in front tempts Carleton students to splash in it on hot summer days.

Olin Hall – The science building that looks like a radiator doesn’t even get its own Blackstock name. It does have an open-air auditorium nearby, though, suitable for impromptu performances by Music and Drama majors.

Observatory (Goodsell Observatory) – This historic building is one of the gems of the Blackstock/Carleton campus. Janet takes astronomy just so she can learn to use the telescope, an aim with which I sympathize.

Student Union (Willis Hall) – In Janet’s time, the student union is crammed into this tiny old building with an iconic clock tower. At Carleton this function was eventually to be taken on by the repurposed Sayles-Hill Gymnasium (see Room Draw, below).

Sterne Hall (Severance Hall) – This attractive dormitory also boasts a “Tea Room” in the basement where Janet and Thomas buy greasy french fries. In my time this was just another dining hall, but we still called it the Tea Room.

Music and Drama Center – Janet frequently walks past this much-maligned modern construction but oddly never sets foot inside it, in spite of her love of music and drama.

Chapel – Janet also admires this lovely building from a distance but never goes inside, even though she must have done so at some point. At Carleton, weekly convocation gatherings in the chapel are a longstanding tradition; once they had a religious element but this has been replaced by secular lectures and presentations. Janet mentions Convocation exactly once.

She looked out the window in time to catch the best view of Blackstock, as the bus climbed the hill that led them out of the river valley the town was built in. The buildings between which she ran and bicycled and trudged laden down with books made one tight cluster, the chapel tower, the brick battlements of Taylor, the black glittering clock tower of the Student Union, the brick stack of the heating plant and the mellow sandstone of the Anthro building crammed in the center of a circle of trees, green and red and yellow. You could have put the whole thing in your pocket. — Tam Lin, pp. 138-139


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The Tunnels – The steam tunnels that so conveniently linked many buildings on the East side of campus were closed due to safety concerns after my freshman year. I don’t remember seeing Homer in Greek on the wall, but there’s a lot of other amazing graffiti down there, including a reproduction of Tenniel’s Jabberwocky, a Twister board, and the yellow brick road.

The Town (Northfield) – Janet and her friends go downtown to buy bedspreads, eat sandwiches at a diner, and pick each other up from the bus — all typical activities for students needing to get off campus for a while.

The Old Theater (Old Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis) – The theater where Janet and Thomas go to attend highly meaningful performances of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Lady’s Not For Burning was demolished in 2006, replaced by a new waterfront complex. (I’m not sure why Dean already called it the Old Theater in 1991 though. Did she have some inside information?) This article from NPR gives some historical background, along with interior and exterior photos of the theater. It also includes shots from the first and last plays to be performed on its stage: both productions of Hamlet, appropriately enough.

Schiller – In a significant early scene, Janet gets involved in a pitched battle over the bust of the German poet, which is jealously guarded by groups of students who try to steal it from one another while also making dramatic appearances at public events. Yes, this really does happen at Carleton, and there are more wacky stories about it than you can shake a stick at. The idea is to keep things fun, clever, and nonviolent, which is Carleton in a nutshell.

Room Draw – The dormitories at Carleton (and presumably Blackstock as well) are mixed, without designated dorms for upperclassmen. Rooms are assigned via a quota system, whereby in the spring each student draws a random number that allows him or her a place in line to choose from remaining rooms. Janet and her friend Molly both draw extremely low numbers for their sophomore room, which is why they are so glad that their third roommate Tina is still willing to stick with them even with a high number that might have given her a chance at a single. At Blackstock room draw and registration take place in the old gymnasium, which by my time at Carleton had been made into the new campus center.

Traying – The temptation to take trays from the dining halls and use them to sled down Bell Hill is something few Blackstock/Carleton students can resist, and Janet and Thomas are no exception.

They had made the bottom of the slide properly: instead of stopping abruptly in the hollow made by everybody’s stamping feet, the tray skimmed halfway across the huge expanse of Bell Field, slowed, and slowed, and stopped somewhere in the middle. The setting sun lined the bare branches of the trees across the stream with gold, but down here there was a blue and gray twilight. — Tam Lin, p. 285

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Blackstock/Carleton campus, and that if you don’t know it through either its fictional or real-life incarnations, it’s intrigued you enough to take a look!

Nonfiction November: New to my TBR

Nonfiction November comes to a close with the topic New to My TBR (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey): It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book.

Here are some of the titles I’ve added to my “want to read” list. What’s on yours?

  • Difficult Women – Adventures in Reading, Writing, and Working from Home – “took a series of big fights and showed the women who were involved in them, featuring some huge characters”
  • Apollo’s Arrow mentioned at What’s Nonfiction – “an up-to-the-minute analysis of what’s happened this year, how it compares to past pandemics and plagues, where we’re headed, and what’s important to know about epidemiology as we try to get there.”
  • They Called Us Enemy mentioned at The Book Stop – “Takei’s work is brilliant – it’s moving and yet provided a lot of historical detail I wasn’t aware of, all in the form of a graphic novel.”
  • Know My Name mentioned at Adventures of a Bibliophile – “It’s just another important read to better understand the experiences of women in America, and why society and the government largely fails to protect us. “
  • Dear Life mentioned at BookerTalk – ” In her book she argues that even in the final months, weeks and days of life, there can be moments of joy.”

Nonfiction November: Be the Expert

Hosted by Rennie of What’s Nonfiction), there are three ways to join in Nonfiction November this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

This year I read several books by blind people or about the topic of blindness. My interest was first sparked by reading Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life for the Classics Club last year.

I then wanted to read another collection of her essays, The World I Live In, which came highly recommended by Oliver Sacks, among others. As I said in my review, “it is the description of her other senses, of the world of touch, smell, and taste that she lives in, that is most fascinating and mind-expanding. Her finely differentiated, sensitive observations made me feel how blunt and unrefined my own sensory experience normally is, how I go through my colorful, sounding world without truly seeing and hearing it. Perhaps it is I who am handicapped, rather than Helen Keller, who perceives so much through the faintest vibration in her environment.”

Oliver Sacks’s own An Anthropologist on Mars contains several fascinating case studies of blind or vision-impaired individuals, including a painter who becomes color-blind with disturbing results; a man whose brain is damaged by a tumor that is later removed, leaving him blind but convinced he can still see; and another man who is able to have an operation that partly restores his sight but ends up unable to negotiate this new world. It is revealed that sight is not only about functioning eyes, but something we must learn to do — with very great difficulty after we lose the malleability of our brains in early childhood. There is so much to think about here, that I can only recommend that everyone read this illuminating book.

This was all so interesting that I wanted to learn more. Library browsing brought up Haben, an autobiography by a deaf-blind woman who graduated from Harvard Law School and now works as a lawyer for disability rights. Her courage and persistence were impressive, and it was good to read from an inside perspective about her experience of prejudice, misunderstanding, and the struggle to make herself seen and heard.

I also stumbled upon For the Benefit of Those Who See by Rosemary Mahoney, a journalist who has been terrified of becoming blind from a young age. When she wrote an article about Braille without Borders, a school for blind children in Tibet, she was moved to investigate further and spend time teaching English at another school in India. Mahoney seemed quite oblivious about how unreasonable her own fears and prejudices were, which was a little off-putting, but she does uncover some important information and experiences that added to my understanding of the topic. I would rather have read a book by a student of Braille without Borders, though.

Have you read any other books by or about blind people? What can you recommend?

Nonfiction November: Book Pairing

This week’s Nonfiction November topic is Book Pairing (hosted by Julz of Julz Reads): This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.


The obvious combo that springs to mind from this year’s reading is one I’ve mentioned elsewhere: The House of the Spirits and My Invented Country by Isabel Allende. Allende’s debut novel was a magical and sometimes brutal evocation of Chilean history through a family saga that was based on her own. After reading it I was curious to know more about the real story, and so I read one of the author’s several memoirs, a book in which she particularly considers what it means to her to be a writer in exile from her homeland. I enjoyed it even more than the novel; Allende’s sense of humor particularly comes to the fore as she writes about her own thoughts and experiences.


In another pairing, as I was reading Home by Julie Andrews, I thought, “This is like a real-life Noel Streatfeild novel” — for example, Dancing Shoes, which I reread this year. Young Julie’s talent brought her to the stage at an early age, just like Streatfeild’s performing children; and like them, she struggled with poverty and family problems. Her story has a bit more grit and realism but also a hopeful trajectory as she becomes a rising star.


Another reread was Chime by Franny Billingsley, a dark but beautifully written and moving fantasy that circles around themes of abuse and how it alters our perception of reality. I’d pair this with the new release Inferno by Catherine Cho, which comes out of the author’s experience of postpartum depression and psychosis. It’s also emotionally devastating and beautifully written.

Have you read any other novels that you would pair with a memoir or biography that gets into the reality behind the fiction? Or what other combinations have you discovered?

Nonfiction November: My Year in Nonfiction

Hooray, it’s Nonfiction November! This is a yearly event that a lot of us look forward to.

The topic this week is Your Year in Nonfiction, hosted by Leann of Shelf Aware: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I made it a goal this year to read more nonfiction, and I did. I discovered many amazing books and learned so much.

Aside from memoirs, which are always a pull because I love to read people’s stories, I’ve been attracted to medical topics, books about trauma and recovery, and books about people with neurological or sensory differences. The standout was probably An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of his books.

I have recommended The Body Keeps the Score to many people, and I will continue to do so because I think it is such an important book. We need to change our thinking about lots of things, and trauma is one thing that severely clouds our thinking. This book shows it is possible to find a way through, using the wisdom of the body to help.

Here is a list of the nonfiction books I’ve read since last November:

  • Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif – Memoir, activism
  • Ce n’est pas toi que j’attendais by Fabien Toulmé – Graphic memoir
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (plus her other memoirs)
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – Memoir
  • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk – Science (trauma and recovery)
  • The World I Live In by Helen Keller – Essays
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong – Science (microbiology)
  • Good Morning Monster by Catherine Gildiner – Psychology (patient stories)
  • Inferno by Catherine Cho – Memoir of a psychosis
  • Home and Home Work by Julie Andrews – Memoir
  • My Invented Country by Isabel Allende – Memoir
  • The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu – Spirituality
  • In Pursuit of Disobedient Women by Dionne Searcey – Memoir, reporting
  • Rudolf Steiner and Swedenborg by Gary Lachman – Biography
  • An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks – Science (neurological case studies)
  • Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic by Michael McCreary – Memoir
  • Haben by Haben Grima – Memoir
  • Lingo by Gaston Dorren – Language
  • For the Benefit of Those Who See by Rosemary Mahoney – Memoir, experiences with the blind
  • Toucher la vie by Thich Nhat Hanh – Spirituality
  • Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L.Trump – family biography, psychology

What do I hope to get out of Nonfiction November? It’s always so interesting to see what others have been reading and to get ideas for my own nonfiction reading for next year. And I hope that others might be inspired by some of what I have to share too.

There is so much to learn and to discover in our world, and this event helps to keep me grounded in that activity when so much is flying out of control. We can always strive to keep our perspective, to see clearly, understand, and put together the disparate pieces of our experience. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway.

What does Nonfiction November hold for you?

Witch Week: The Graveyard Book

As October turns to November, I hope you’re enjoying Witch Week as hosted by Lizzie Ross – she’s put together a wonderful array of posts on the theme of “Gothick.”

Today’s treat is a discussion of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. I was so happy to get to participate, along with Lizzie and two of my other favorite blogging friends, Chris of Calmgrove and Jean of Howling Frog Books. We had a long and fascinating discussion over Google Docs, which Lizzie has edited down for your reading pleasure.

In this dark time, Gaiman’s tales of life in the graveyard held a curious kind of reassurance for us. I hope you’ll read more about what we found there.


Robertson Davies Reading Weekend Wrap-Up

It’s been a wonderful long weekend of reading Robertson Davies! Thanks to all who joined in this event; here are the posts I gathered:

  • Calmgrove on Tempest-Tost: “This then could be how the novel works: a light entertainment, yes; perhaps a work to share with bookish friends, certainly; but also possibly a work laden with significances, above and beyond its seeming nature.”
  • Bookish Beck on The Rebel Angels: “If I can generalize about Davies from having read just two of his books, I would say that his novels engage with philosophy and the Christian tradition, and though he dives into the dark things of life his is an essentially comic vision, giving his work an attractively puckish air.”
  • Cath Humphris on Why Robertson Davies?: “Reading it was an audacious adventure, something that was different to anything I’d read before, and yet I knew that it was what I’d been working my way towards all of my literate life.”
  • Trevor Murphy on The Manticore: “an engaging narrative and delivers the richness of detail and alternate perspectives within the world of his creation that make Davies a unique artist.”
  • And my own post on The Cunning Man: “What is the necessity we are covering up, and how shall wholeness be restored when we don’t want to look at our full, uncensored selves?”

This takes us from Davies’s first novel to his last, with stops at his other major trilogies and a glance at the essays as well. I couldn’t have organized it better if I’d tried.

I will leave you with the final words from that final novel, a curious and quirky envoi that is delivered in response to a phone call that turns out to be a wrong number — if there can be said to be any such thing, in the fate-conscious, magic-infused imagination of Robertson Davies.

“Eh? Isn’t that the Odeon?”
I decide to give a Burtonian answer.
“No, this is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.”

Robertson Davies Reading Weekend

“One of the things that puzzles me is that so few people want to look at life as a totality and to recognize that death is no more extraordinary than birth. When they say it’s the end of everything they don’t seem to recognize that we came from somewhere and it would be very, very strange indeed to suppose that we’re not going somewhere.” — from Conversations with Robertson Davies

It’s here! August 28, 1913 was the birth date of Canadian author Robertson Davies, so I’ve designated this weekend to celebrate his many wonderful works.

If you’ve read and posted about any of them, please leave a comment here, or otherwise notify me, and I’ll do a wrap-up on Tuesday. My own post about The Cunning Man will be published on Sunday.

See you in the reading nook!

Get ready for Robertson Davies Reading Weekend

It’s August, the month of Canadian author Robertson Davies’s birth, which means that Robertson Davies Reading Weekend is coming! From Friday to Sunday, August 28 to 30, post about any book or books you read by this magical author, and come back here to let me know about it. You can also use the hashtag #ReadingRobertsonDavies to help us find you.

I’m planning to re-read and post about The Cunning Man, Davies’s last novel, which explores the life of an unconventional Toronto doctor. I recall it as having some very interesting things to say about the art of healing, and since I read the essay “Can a Doctor Be a Humanist?” in The Merry Heart last year, I look forward to revisiting this fictional perspective on the same theme.

Will you be joining us? And what would you like to read?

Robertson Davies Reading Weekend

As summer begins, here is just a heads up that after last year’s Robertson Davies Reading Week event, there was enough interest in doing it again that I’ve decided to host a three-day “birthday weekend” for the Canadian author, August 28 to 30.

This will be a very free-form event; simply read whatever you like by or about Robertson Davies — fiction, nonfiction, plays, criticism, biography, or what have you — and if you are so moved, post about it during the weekend. You are encouraged to visit and comment on others’ posts as well. Be sure to link to the event here on ECBR so we can find you.

There will be further reminders as the weekend approaches, but mark your calendars and visit your libraries now!