Once Upon A Time Challenge 2007
Stardust: Being A Romance Within the Realms of Faerie
Words by Neil Gaiman & Pictures by Charles Vess
[Fantasy; Illustrated Novel]
Stardust is a book of delight. It has all the elements of the faerie story, the hero, the maiden, the quest, the little helpers and the romance. The story starts, not with Tristan Thorne, but rather with Dunstan Thorne, the father. It tells of a broken wall that separates the faerie land from the world as we know it. The hole in the wall is guarded, but every seven years there is a faerie market where faerie merchants come to ply their wares. It is during one of these market fair that Tristan Thorne came to be, a faerie-human child, though he knew it not at first.
When he grew up, he fell for the beauty of spoiled Victoria, and in a moment of youthful rashness, agreed to bring back a fallen star. In return, Victoria promises what he desires. It is the typical fairy tale, a hero's quest for love, where he will be tested but find helpers along the way.
Turns out the fallen star becomes a young woman, Yvaine ― one with a quick temper. Add a witch-queen who seeks the heart of a star to regain her youth, and three scions of Stormhold, contesting to be the first to find the fallen star to claim lordship of Stormhold. The different threads come together gradually in a bloody confrontation in an inn. In between there were some violence, murder by poison, cutting of throat, a lion and unicorn battles for a crown ― fairy tales are not for the faint-hearted when it is Neil Gaiman.
What gives this archetypal plot a life of its own is the details that Gaiman provided ― from the goat chariot of the witch-queen, to the tricking of the witch-queen by Dishwater Sal to utter the prophecy, and the hint of future events unfolding in a mundane thing as a squirrel hiding an acorn. All of it come together to make it an exceptional tale.
At the end, Tristan Thorne finds love not with Victoria, but with a fallen star. They have no children, because she is not human. He becomes lord of Stormhold, but before that he wandered the world with his true love. But what remains with me at the end is the fate of Yvaine:
They say that each night, when the duties of state permit, she climbs, on foot, and limps, alone, to the highest peak of the palace, where she stands or hour after hour, seeming not to notice the cold peak winds. She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.
It is not a happy ending. But so much more beautiful because of it.