Stardust by Neil Gaiman is a short novel that contains much that makes for compelling and entertaining reading – an absorbing quest, characters searching for fulfillment; within a world fill with magic, adventure and danger; and an imaginative story with plenty of humour and surprises.
In the magical realm of Faerie, in a castle high in the mountains, the Lord of Stormhold lies on his deathbed. The Lord is deeply disappointed, though not at his imminent death, but rather at the lack of a competent heir. The Lord was one of twelve brothers and managed to either kill or avoid being killed by the other eleven in order to secure his throne. His own sons have not proved themselves as ruthless. Three of them are still alive – Primus, Tertius and Septimus – and the Lord of Stormhold is not convinced any of them deserve the throne.
The Lord removes the Power of Stormhold, a topaz he wears in a necklace, without which no one may rule Stormhold, and casts it out, his last act before death takes him. The brothers watch as the jewel defies gravity and drifts upward into the sky until it appears to collide with a star which falls to the earth. The brothers know what they must do; each is now in a race to find the fallen star and with it the jewel, for their right to rule Stormhold, to do so without being killed by their other brothers, or better yet, to kill them in the process.
Elsewhere in Faerie, the Lilum – a coven of three Witch Queens – are alerted to the fall of the star. Horribly aged, they are a shadow of their former selves. But the star brings with it the promise of a return to power. The eldest is to go and find it. Before she leaves she consumes the last piece of the heart of a star that they possess. It instantly erases the centuries and transforms her into her powerful youthful self. She departs immediately, to seek out the star and cut out its heart and to bring it back to restore youth and strength to them all.
Meanwhile, in the human realm, in the northern English village of Wall, so named for its extensive barrier separating the magical world from the human world, young Tristran Thorn is taking a late-night stroll with his dream girl, Victoria. Tristran, blinded by her beauty, cannot see the vain and arrogant young woman she is. When they witness a falling star, Tristran offers to bring it to her in exchange for a kiss. Thinking him a silly romantic, Victoria agrees, never believing he would actually do it.
The first difficulty for Tristran is to bypass the guards stationed at the wall who prevent anyone crossing realms. For this, Tristran gets unexpected help from his father. Dunstan Thorn reminds the guards that Tristran was in fact born in the realm of Faerie and should be allowed to pass back into it if he so wishes.
And, too ignorant to be scared, too young to be awed, Tristran Thorn passed beyond the fields we know… and into Faerie.
So begins a magical quest, as three heirs of Stormhold, a Witch Queen and a young English man search for a fallen star.
Stardust was my first taste of Neil Gaiman’s writing. Reading it, I felt like I was reading something Gaiman worked on in his spare time. I mean that to be complimentary; the book has an ease about it that makes it a real effortless pleasure to read. And its ease and brevity is no indication of a lack of creativity and imagination which it has in abundance. Stardust is clever throughout, often humorous and frequently surprising.
Though I only recently read this novel, I did see the film adaptation when it was first released back in 2007 and I recall enjoying it well enough. After reading the novel, I rewatched the film and, for the most part, enjoyed it as much as I did the first time. The film includes Robert De Niro in one of his silliest roles and, though many years have passed since the film’s release, and, even then, many years had passed between Meet the Parents (2000) and Stardust, it’s still funny seeing Robert De Niro in this role!
It feels cliché to say that the book is better than the film. In Stardust’s case, while there we several aspects of the book the film omits, and some that have been added, it is mostly a fair representation containing the charm of the original form. One thing that might be easily overlooked without a comparison to the film is how endearing the ending of the book is. As a result of his adventures, Tristran towards the end is no longer the boy he was when he left wall. Likewise, his dream girl, Victoria, waiting in fear and guilt, has much time to reflect and mature. The film, however, neglects the opportunity to make this optimistic touch.
Stardust certainly won’t be the last Neil Gaiman novel I will read. I already have American Gods, now adapted into a TV series, and Good Omens, co-authored with Terry Pratchett and also being adapted, on my shelves to read. I am hoping Stardust will prove to be a suitable introduction to his writing. With it have come high expectations of his other work, which I hope will prove to be perhaps more complex, maybe darker, but with no less imagination.