STARDUST by Neil Gaiman
Harpercollins, 1999, 288 pages, 9780061689246, Paperback, $9.99
Stardust has been sitting on my shelf since I saw the movie several years ago. Though I had never been much of a Neil Gaiman fan, I was a huge fan of the movie, which is still one of my favorites to date.
Stardust is a return to the classic fairytale world of witches, kings, and magic, but it’s set somewhere in the mid-1800s. It tells the story of Tristran Thorn. Tristran is an unpopular boy in his town, which is called Wall because it, literally, sits behind a wall that nobody can cross. Tristran believes that he has fallen in love with the most beautiful woman in town, Victoria Forester. However, he is not the only one vying for her affections. She promises him that if he is able to cross the wall and retrieve a falling star for her, she will marry him. So Tristran begins this great adventure in search of a star to bring to his beloved Victoria.
“Few of us now have seen the stars as folk saw them then—our cities and towns cast too much light into the night—but, from the village of Wall, the stars were laid out like worlds or like ideas, uncountable as the trees in a forest or the leaves on a tree.” (Page 51)
Tristran, however, is not the only one in search of the star. There is also a trio of witch sisters—who seek the star’s immortality—and a trio of rivaling brothers (or rather, princes)—who are looking for the stone that knocked the star out of the sky. Whoever finds the stone becomes the new king.
The most interesting character in this novel, in more ways than one, is Yvaine, the fallen star. She is one of the most complex and evolved characters in the novel, which should, perhaps, be expected considering that she had been sitting up in the sky for hundreds of years watching people.
“He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does.” (Page 84)
The novel is surprisingly charming, and the two main characters are dynamic and fascinating. The secondary characters are somewhat flat, but that’s to be expected considering their purpose in the story. It’s also a little light on fantasy elements, as there’s a minimal amount of magic used in the novel, and since, at times, it’s easy to forget that Yvaine is a magical being.
While the book is somewhat short—only nine chapters, including the epilogue—it feels overcrowded with characters. At least nine are actively involved in the story, and several others are littered throughout the book or turned into donkeys. Also, there are a few unnecessary details, such as a grocery list that’s completely irrelevant to the story and takes up half a page.
The writing is a break from Neil Gaiman’s normal writing style, resulting in a typical English fantasy style. It was dry at times, but that was usually easy to ignore when the plot picked up. But, if you’re like me and don’t normally like Neil Gaiman’s writing, this would probably be a good place to start.
The film they made of this novel is practically identical to the book. I believe the only differences were Robert DeNiro’s character, Captain Shakespeare, his ship, and a slightly less lighthearted ending. That, though, is one of the reasons why I personally preferred the film to the book. Also, compared to the novel, the characters in the film have more developed personalities. The novel versions tend to fall a little flat.
I would still recommend reading the novel, though, as it’s an interesting adult fairytale, which readers don’t get offered nearly enough.
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