After my last read, The Unbroken by C L Clark, I wanted to read something warm, to restore my faith in humanity a little bit. And so we go from the latest releases to a novel which, by the author’s account, is ever so slightly older than me. Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is a fantasy adventure story which I’ve been meaning to read for many years, after adoring the film adaptation, but never quite got around to until now. At 237 pages on my Kindle edition, it is a slim novel of entirely divine proportions.
Stardust, as some of you will know from the much-loved box-office flop film adaptation, is about a young man who goes on an adventure, running off past the Wall, the boundary which separates his village from the realm of Faerie, in search of a fallen star to bring back to his beloved. So far, so standard. Gaiman’s love of myth and fairytale can be seen throughout his career: do I even need to mention American Gods (which considers the stories immigrants bring with them) or Good Omens, his collaboration with Sir Terry Pratchett, which covers angels, demons, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse in one fell swoop? Here, his love of fairytales comes to life.
In the forward, Gaiman mentions he wanted to write a story which everyone would find familiar. Having seen the film, I did cheat a bit, but I nonetheless think he achieved this with assured effectiveness. Perhaps due to being written before the age of reboots and wokeness, Stardust takes the standard pre-Tolkien fantasy formula and follows it through with the accuracy perhaps only an obsidian blade could manage.
In the case of Primus, this took the shape of a long, black, monkish robe; Tertius was dressed in the sober costume of a merchant in mourning; while Septimus wore a black doublet and hose, a black hat with a black feather in it, and looked for all the world like a foppish assassin from a minor Elizabethan historical play.
Tristran, our hero, goes on a journey through Faerie to find and retrieve the fallen star, and is only mildly put out when she inconveniently turns out to be a woman. They are aided and thwarted by, in no particular order, witches, princes, a unicorn, a princess, a talking tree, and one small, hairy man of unknown origin. Each of these characters is developed with a shrewd accuracy which gives just enough detail to assure you they are real people without labouring the text with back story.
Tristran is somewhere between Samwise Gamgee and Discworld’s Mort, in that he is a naïve kind-hearted boy. Yvaine, the star, is both ethereal and indignant, and rather far from the idealised woman, despite occasionally sparkling. Gaiman writes women very well, although he does have an unfortunate tendency to announce their age by the height of their breasts.
Gaiman’s writing is deliberate, and you get the idea that every word has been chosen with a lot of care and he didn’t sit down one morning and write an entire scene, although he may well have done. We never run into two-page descriptions of trees, even when they begin talking, but the vivid, classical imagery pervades.
‘I do not think that I believe you, or trust you,’ said the star. A night bird cried in a tree above them. It sounded very lonely in the darkness.
This is perhaps not a very helpful review, but I don’t need to go into detail with this one. Why describe this story to you when you have heard each bit of it before? Rarely, though, I suspect, will you have read it in such a delightful, comfortable, and rather nostalgic manner as this one.
A classic fairy tale for grownups who still believe in a little magic.
But is it gay?
No, sadly. Really, really not. Read it anyway.