Saturday, May 05, 2007


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.


Anonymous said...

I thought the ending was sort of sad, too. I suppose I shouldn't give any spoilers away here in the comments. It was not necessarily a fairy tale ending (of sorts it was I suppose), but the book was still a very satisfying read.

darkorpheus said...

I never know how to write about a book I've read without spoilers. So, just in case - ****SPOILERS ALERT***

I suppose another way of seeing it is how we are so used to the "happy endings" - but if I remember correctly, a lot of the original fairy tales had different - and darker endings. They undergone some rewriting during the Victorian days, when they had illusion of "Childhood" and whitewashed the fairy tales to educate.

In one original version, Little Red Riding Hood had to take off her clothes piece by piece before she got into bed with her "Grandmother." And there was no wood-cutter saviour.

chrisa511 said...

It wasn't a happy ending, but it was a very appropriate ending. I loved this book. I love Gaiman's details like the line with the squirrel burying the acorn. He's such an amazing writer. I just finished this book about a month ago and I'm wanting to re-read it again already!

darkorpheus said...

Yes, i loved the squirrel with the acorn too. It just *hints* at greater things to come, leave it to your imagination.

Actually Sandman works a little like that too - throughout the books you get hints of other plotlines, which are explored later.

Ana S. said...

It's such a moving ending.

Oh, how I love this book.

Carl V. Anderson said...

It is a beautiful story...and I consider the ending happy, in a melancholy sort of way. Reminds me of the fate of Aragorn and Arwyn...a life of love together that will eventually leave one alone for an eternity, or a long time as it were, without the other.

Good stuff, glad you enjoyed this one.

darkorpheus said...

Yes, it's the poignancy of the ending that makes it *sweet*?

And it's the message: that those who dare to love will risk losing.

But each time she looks up at the night sky, she's looking at the home she's lost. And she can never go back.

Anonymous said...

One of my absolute favourites. Have just posted some thoughts on it after a re-read for the Once Upon a Time challenge. Utterly beautiful, and Charles Vess' illustration of Yvaine is quite moving.

Framed said...

I'm glad I saved your review until I finished the book. It was a fantastic tale, wasn't it? There were some really characters and beautiful prose. Great review.