by Neil Gaiman
‘She was one of the folk from Beyond the Wall, he could tell at once from her eyes, and her ears which were visible beneath her curly black hair. Her eyes were a deep violet, while her ears were the ears of a cat, perhaps gently curved, and dusted with a fine, dark fur.’
I’ve been meaning to read something by Neil Gaiman for a while – so many people recommend him – and I thought Stardust was a good place to start. It’s short – readable in one or two sittings. Having been hooked on the blurb at the back, I then discovered it was a book full of surprises.
‘Fairy tales became for children,’ as Gaiman points out in his ‘interview’ at the back, ‘they didn’t start out like that.’ Of course, he’s absolutely right. However, in Stardust, he has taken the idea of adult fairy tales to a whole new level.
The novel’s hero is Tristran Thorn who, at the beginning, lives in the village of Wall. The villagers are in the main a surly lot but Tristran is different. Conceived in a one-night stand under the Faerie stars, he is pushed (in a basket) through a gap in the wall in a basket about nine months after the last Faerie market. Yes, there is a wall in Wall, and it does have a hole in it – if you get my drift.
‘He thought of Victoria’s lips, and her grey eyes, and the sound of her laughter. He straightened his shoulders, placed the crystal snowdrop in the top buttonhole of his coat … and passed beyond the fields we know … and into Faerie.’
Seventeen years later, Tristran, who has no idea of his origins, falls in love with beautiful Victoria Forester. He is willing to do anything for a kiss (and more besides, I imagine), and a promise of marriage. So when, one night, they see a falling star, he promises to fetch it for her. To do so, he must go through the wall again and into the magical world of witches, unicorns and talking animals.
The fallen star turns out to be a crotchety young woman with a broken leg and a topaz stone on a silver chain. She has broken her leg in the fall from the sky, after being hit by the stone. (Don’t forget the topaz stone; it’s important!) Tristran captures her with a silver chain, puts a splint on her leg and obliges her to follow him. (Don’t forget the silver chains either; more will be said about those later, and about a third one, which I haven’t mentioned , but which is equally important in the story.)
‘The witch-queen, oldest of the Lilim …..walked round the coach, and opened the door. The head of the dead unicorn, her dagger still in its cold eye-socket, flopped down as she did so. The witch clambered up into the coach, and pulled open the unicorn’s mouth.’
Meantime, all sorts of other things are going on in this world of Faerie. The Lords of Stormhold are killing one another off in their desire to inherit the kingdom. The three ancient crones (whose younger, beautiful selves live in the black mirror) need the heart of the star to add to their magic, in order that they may recapture eternal youth. Then there is Madame Semele, who drives a painted caravan and keeps a colourful bird tethered by a silver chain – a very long silver chain. (There, I said there would be another one!) She is a witch too, and a rather nasty one at that.
‘ “I was bound to you to be your slave until the day that the moon lost her daughter, if it occupied week when two Mondays came together. And my time with you is almost done.” ‘
How these characters and their objectives intertwine, or how the story resolves, I don’t plan to reveal here. Being a fairy tale, you might guess that there will be some transformations – you know, the frog might be a prince or princess – and maybe a happy ending. Perhaps you might not expect sex, or so much bloody violence. But whatever your expectations, if you want to know the ending you’ll have to read Stardust for yourself.
Round the adventures of Tristran and the star, Neil Gaiman has created a tale of love and magic, of good deeds and villainy which, if unable to recapture the innocence of childhood, does at least recall the trials and longings of first youth. His imagination is awesome, his prose delightful. I loved Stardust and am only sorry I didn’t read it sooner – before I wrote my book It’s a Fantasy World. It would have made a fitting addition to Chapter 2.