by Charlotte Force
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Charles Vess
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
“A philosopher once asked, ‘Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?’ Pointless, really... ‘Do the stars gaze back?’ Now, that's a question.”
Written in the pre-Tolkien, prosaic style of English fairytales, Stardust by Neil Gaiman fulfills all expectations of the fictional universe, and exceeds expectations in execution. If you want stars, he’ll give you sparkling maidens fallen from the sky. If you want mountains, he’ll give you a giant who fell asleep one day, who then became Mount Head, Mount Belly, and whose foothills are called the Feet. If you want magic, he’ll give you crystal flowers with properties beyond reckoning. If you want love stories, he’ll give you a man in a top-hat that always fulfills his debts. If you want imagination by the bushel and a wink on the side, read a book by Neil Gaiman.
Stardust is the story of Dunstan Thorn’s Heart’s Desire, which produces a series of events that unroll through the unlikely and destined journey of his son, Tristran Thorn. As the narrative unfolds, you learn never to trust a label – a shop-boy may very well turn out to have a swash-buckling, star-seducing heart.
Tristran Thorn grew up in the predictable, grey village of Wall, which every nine years is painted with a rainbow of fairy magic as the Market comes to town, and people from around the Worlds come to trade in goods, stories, and enchantments. You see, the seemingly-average village of Wall is actually the border between our world and the realm of Faerie.
Tristran is launched into the world-across-the-Wall on a quest to win the favour of his lady-love, Victoria Forester: “the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around”. He ventures into a seemingly strange world because, as he puts it, “every lover is, in his heart, a madman, and, in his head, a minstrel.” Our hero searches for a star, fallen deep within the borders of Faerie. It is a borderless realm, comprised of every creature and land whose existence has been ‘disproved’ by the scientific ‘authorities’ of our world. There’s an element of Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland to the characters of the land of Faerie, who hide meanings in their turn-of-phrases and embrace the weird and wonderful. Along the way, Tristran discovers that he feels much more at home with the people of Faerie than back in Wall, where his sister Louisa would make fun of him for entertaining the notion that clouds in the distance could in fact be a heard of celestial sheep. In Faerie, however, a ship is a flying vessel, and lightning may be harvested, and a tree can be a port-city. In Faerie, the only precaution you must take when travelling is to look out for witches and not give away your destination.
I’m determined to make my way to England and look long and hard for the village of Wall, and Faerie beyond it. If you’re interested in visiting the kingdom of Stormhold, walking in the clouds, and travelling leagues by candlelight, I suggest that you pick up Stardust, and start the search for Faerie with me. If anyone asks where you’re going on your quest, answer “In front of me”. If anyone asks from whence you’ve come, answer “From behind me”. If anyone asks why you’ve gone and when you’ll be back, answer “Have been unavoidably detained by the world. Expect me when you see me.”