“What do stars do? They shine.”
Stardust: A novel written by the infamous Neil Gaiman, and a popular feature film.
I will start off by saying that I fell in love with this book very early on. To be honest, I think that I fell in love with it from Page One, in an utterly cliché way. When I say that I fell in love with the novel, I mean just that. It was not a simple case of really enjoying the tale, but I fell in love with it in the same way that you fall in love with a fellow person. I wanted to tell everyone that I knew about the book, I wanted so desperately to tell the author how much I was enjoying it and, above all else, I never wanted it to end.
Consciously stopping myself from reading onwards in fear of finishing the book too soon, I would force myself to not read even when circumstances called for it. A long train journey for work- I would read for a short time and then end abruptly, frightened that I was hurrying through it all too quickly, in the same way in which you might be frightened of seeming needy towards a loved one.
I had adored the film Stardust, and on realising that it was based on a novel I knew that I had to read it. As is so often the case, the book and film versions differ in a variety of ways, but I found that in this case the majority of the book was represented well in the film. The beauty of Gaiman’s writing style is that it is often short and to the point, which makes for fast-paced plots and extremely quick reading. It also means that, while the tale is so complex that it could easily span a novel of epic proportions, major events are often portrayed in a few pages, sometimes even a single paragraph. This makes it very easy for it to be translated onto film- The main complaint surrounding movie adaptations of novels is that they often miss out the finer details of the story, but in Gaiman’s case that simply can’t happen- his story is already simple, charmingly so.
There was, however, one major point which the film failed to do justice to. From your very first introduction to Yvaine, the Fallen Star, you see that she is actually a very funny character. The film gave the impression that she was gentle, scared and above all, ladylike. Not so.
“Fuck” is the first word that she utters in the novel, with perfect comic timing. Yvaine continues throughout the book to be surprisingly witty, sarcastic, intelligent and, in a sense, independent. Gaiman has somehow managed to write an extremely relatable and down-to-earth character in his Fallen Star, which is no mean feat.
Not only is Yvaine a good source of humour, but the book itself is filled with wit that made me smile and chuckle throughout. On a number of occasions there are coincidences that occur in brilliant comic timing, making the book a fabulously daft read. Tristran himself is a lovable fool. Slightly dim-witted but filled with vim and vigour, you can’t help but cringe as he tends to get the Oh so wrong end of the stick. He tries throughout, he really does, and you certainly get drawn into hoping things work out perfectly for him.
Tristran is almost always missing the point, and any courageous deed he manages to stumble into really are the results of sheer luck and brilliantly suave writing on Gaiman’s part. Does this make Tristran a bad protagonist? No. It makes him totally and utterly relatable. He is just another normal teenager, hopelessly in love and made all the dimmer for it, constantly only hearing parts of the conversation which match what he wanted to hear.
This novel is a whirlwind of events. It jumps from scenes with the brothers of the Kingdom of Stormhold, which are filled with morbid dark humour, to images of the Witch Queen that are genuinely often quite tense. In between is follows Tristran and Yvaine’s progress, which tunes into the hopeless romantics inside us all (I admit I may be more susceptible to cheesy romantic storylines than most).
My main disappointment came when the book seemed to arrive at a very abrupt ending. The tale itself incorporated so many characters, so many secondary storylines and so much drama that it could have been drawn out into a truly vast novel, but I felt as if Gaiman had suddenly decided that he had said all that he wished to say on the matter. The ties at the end of the story were tied up too neatly, and it all happened so quickly that his punchy, coincidental writing style no longer seemed endearing, but frustrating.
Stardust shows that Gaiman has a truly active imagination and the creative flair to put his thoughts into writing, but I feel a little cheated. This marvellous, wondrous story that so completely captivated me from the beginning was a short one, where it could have been something utterly grand.
That said, even though it finished far too quickly for my liking, it now has a very special place in my heart. Not only was it a story that seemed as if it was written for me personally, as the writing style was so perfect to me, but it was also filled with pearls of wisdom that gave the impression of something rather important. I got the feeling while reading this, as I often have with Gaiman’s novels, that he is in on some secret that most of us are aware of but haven’t quite grasped. His stories scream “This is what life is all about!”. We are often told that life is about love, about human bonds, about kindness and about adventure. But Gaiman puts this point across in a way which is playfully subtle and yet staggeringly obvious at the same time.
One of the lines I adore is when Tristran sends a note to his mother saying:
“Have been unavoidably detained by the world. Expect us when you see us.”
There is it. That brazen joie de vivre that is so common in Gaiman’s writing. It seems to say “You, reader, should be out there also getting detained by the world”, or at least that is how it appears to me. It could be my own wanderlust, it could be Gaiman seeking to inspire, or it could just be unwittingly strong writing. Either way it sums up quite perfectly a certain outlook on life, one which I would very much like to be a part of.