Sunday, January 18, 2009
Tristran Thorn, at the age of seventeen, and only six months older than Victoria, was half the way between a boy and a man, and was equally uncomfortable in either role; he seemed to be composed chiefly of elbows and Adam's apples with a constellation of acne-spots across his right cheek. His hair was the brown of sodden straw, and it stuck out at awkward, seventeen-year-old angles, wet and comb it howsoever much he tried. He was painfully shy, which, as is often the manner of the painfully shy, he overcompensated for by being too loud at the wrong times. Most days Tristran was content--or as content as a seventeen-year-old youth with his world ahead of him can ever be--and when he daydreamed in the fields or at the tall desk at the back of Monday and Brown's, the village shop, he fancied himself riding the train all the way to London or to Liverpool, or taking a steamship across the grey Atlantic to America, and making his fortune there among the savages in the new lands. But there were times when the wind blew from beyond the wall, bringing with it the smell of mint and thyme and redcurrants, and at those times there were strange colours seen in the flames in the fireplaces of the village. When that wind blew, the simplest of devices--from lucifer matches to lanter-slides--would no longer function. --Excerpt from Stardust by Neil Gaiman Most of you probably know about Stardust by now. You have either read the book or seen the movie (while different, both mediums portray the same basic points, with some minor deviations). Stardust is the story of Tristran Thorn, an inhabitant from the town of Wall whose mysterious birth is only the beginning of an exciting, cross-generational adventure. You see, Tristran's mother isn't from the town of Wall, or from anywhere you and I have ever been. She's from beyond the wall that lies on the edge of Wall, from a world of magic and fantasy. Tristran, however, is very much from our world, in love with one Victoria Forrester (who is far less of a stuck up wench as she is in the movie), and generally not at all hero material. But, as young love usually goes, Tristran makes an outlandish promise to Victoria after a shooting star lands beyond the wall: in exchange for his Heart's Desire he will bring back that fallen star and present it to her. And thus begins the adventure. Something tells me I should have read this book a long time ago--my fiance will claim credit, because she rightly deserves credit for getting me to read this book. Stardust is a modern fairytale that merges the dark reality of the Grimm Brothers with the charming feel that comes with the territory. Another way to describe it is to say that it's a novel that tries to bring the frivolity of fairytales into the modern world by making it much more than just a story. Tristran's journey is one into manhood as he goes from being a pimply, shy youth to a full-grown, well-into-his-own young man. But I don't think Tristran is all that makes this novel so charming. True, his journey is wonderful--meeting Yvaine, falling in love, growing up to become a better person, etc.--but coupled with Tristran and Yvaine is the fantastic world that Gaiman has created. This is a world of unicorns, witches, evil kings and princes, and flying ships. The depth provided in such a small book (194 pages) is really quite astonishing. Gaiman has pulled together a fantasy world that feels real despite its leanings towards the fairytale feel. I think this is particularly admirable considering what Gaiman's novel is trying to do: bring the fairytale into the modern. To some extent you can say that Gaiman's novel isn't even a single tale, but a connection of multiple tales. After all, there are multiple stories going on behind the scenes: the witch story, the Stronghold story, and the story of Tristran's mother. These stories have their own conclusions, some of them directly related to Tristran, and some not, but all interconnected with Tristran either through his mother or through Yvaine (the star). Of course, the conclusions to these alternate stories are left out of the movie, or altered to be more interesting to a visual audience, but in the novel they add different elements to an already fascinating story--some of alterations make sense and others make you realize that the book really is quite better (but the movie was still darn good for what it was, which is more than I can say for other movies based on books, *cough* Eragon *cough*). With all that said, all the dark, somewhat macabre imagery, the fairytale feel, the characters, and even the love story (especially the love story, for personal reasons) drove this one home for me (home being that place where books I will always remember go). It's a beautiful story and for someone who hasn't read Gaiman I think it is a great introductory novel. I see now why Gaiman is such a fantasy visionary. Stardust is simply a fantastic novel, no pun intended, and if you haven't read it, I recommend you do. There's not much else I can say to praise this one enough. I can't even say I see anything necessarily wrong with the novel, because once you get into it, everything else seems to fall away and it feels almost as if you're actually there, watching from above as everything goes on below you. Too bad Gaiman's world isn't real, because I would love to ride on a unicorn myself.