“There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.”
“Stardust” by Neil Gaiman
Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining..
My first read off my 2k18 reading list was Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This also happens to be my very first Neil Gaiman book and oh my dear stars, I loved it. Granted, I know I’m the exact opposite of a harsh critic given my history of dashing out high ratings but believe me when I say, you’re in for a truly magical time with this book in your hands.
Stardust is undeniably a fairytale, yet goes beyond a conventional telling of magic and adventure. The tale follows half human, half faerie but every bit a boy in the prime of his youth as he makes a blind promise that sets him off on a journey that inevitably changes his life forever. Hailing from Wall, a village situated near the boundary between the world of mortals and Faerie, Tristran embarks upon an adventure into the world of magic and miracles, vowing to locate and safely return with the fallen star he spotted descend from the sky. Little does he know that he is not the only one in pursuit of the star.
Gaiman’s writing transcends the book from what it could have been – just another fairytale with witches, faerie-folk and whimsical characters – to an enchanting quest layered with multiple themes and allegories that resonate with the reader long after the end of the story.
No doubt that Stardust is a romance (a slightly surprising discovery that tickled my fancies) but the love story interweaved into this book is just one element of the beauty it has to offer.
But through Stardust, we see the transformation and self-discovery of a naive boy, viewing the world as a quest ready to complete, into a man that acknowledges and accepts the challenges and twists that come along his path of fulfilling his Heart’s Desire.
In our world, the word ‘promise’ does not carry as much a weight as it should. But in the world of Stardust, the breaking of a vow is considered sacrilege. Whether it be between a young boy and a star, a family of brothers trying to (actually) kill each other two wily witches – one’s word means something. And sometimes with it comes the sacrifice of one’s freedom.
“The terms of my servitude are fulfilled, and now you and I are done with each other.”
Brave or stupid? That’s a question I found myself asking about our protagonist, Tristran a number of times throughout his journey. Either way, Tristran possessed courage, a trait of his that is emphasized throughout the book, as he’s made up his mind to see his pursuit through to the end, even if the results may not be what he expected. ‘Courage’ as a theme is often presented in fairytales, sometimes in utterly outlandish manners, but in Stardust, it’s well-written and relatable. Because courage isn’t always about running headfirst into the fire. It’s also about knowing when to step back and let things go.
Stardust is like that old friend you meet up with on rare occasions and yet things are comfortable and familiar. Gaiman’s writing prompts a feeling of easiness and despite its magical, out-of-the-world elements is relatable with parts of our life that we may have not seen coming.
The characters are lovely and it is a joy to witness Tristran’s growth from a love-sick boy to a man of good values. I am not a big fan of the whole ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope and so I count my stars (see what I did there?) that there was none of that nonsense here. In place of sappy dialogues, Gaiman uses witty banter and good humor. The only slight problem I had with the book was the pacing – I found it a bit slow and laggy at parts, but it didn’t detract so much from the reading.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Stardust. Like an ancient fable passed down from generation to generation, the book is a collection of the best elements of a fairytale one could ask for – a beautiful love story and epic adventure with dashes of darkness and truth. While we may not be able to visit the world of Faerie, Neil Gaiman does a fantastic job of showing us that magic does exist in every nook and cranny of our world and all we have to do to see it is simply believe.
(Now, excuse me while I step away to make this a double-feature of fictional enjoyment and Netflix the movie!)