I am becoming something of a Neil Gaiman fan. It started, as much has these days, with my Kindle. I was browsing for some inexpensive books that I could read and stumbled upon Stardust. And just to prove how clueless I can be, I didn’t realize this had been made into a movie until after I had finished reading it. I was vaguely aware that the movie had come out but I just never made the connection between the book and movie in my mind (more about my reaction to the movie later.)
I enjoyed American Gods but wasn’t blown away by it, by I really loved Stardust. While American Gods was long and messy and complex, etc. Stardust was charming, and simple, and nearly perfect. It made me realize why I read stories like this.
For those of you unaware of the book or the movie here is the basic plot for the PW review:
Tristran Thorn falls in love with the prettiest girl in town and makes her a foolish promise: he says that he’ll go find the falling star they both watched streak across the night sky. She says she’ll marry him if he finds it, so he sets off, leaving his home of Wall, and heads out into the perilous land of faerie, where not everything is what it appears.
What is impressive about Stardust is the skill with which Gaiman introduces the characters and settings in order to set up this fairy tale. He has a very light touch that allows him to set up the back story and introduce the reader to this alternate world in a way that piques their curiosity and pulls them in.
There are a number of story threads but he weaves them in skillfully so that there is both an action adventure side to it as well as a fairy tale/myth side. That these different dimensions work together and compliment each other says a lot about Gaiman’s skills as a writer.
And it is also worth noting that he uses an admirable economy of words. The book packs an amazing amount of character development and adventure into less than 300 pages. He has a way of capturing a character’s personality with just a short anecdote or description.
I really enjoyed the book’s tone/voice. It has a sense of humor and is quirky without being campy or slapstick. It is in many ways a beautiful love story, and a deeply romantic one, but there is an ever present sense of tragedy as well. It has a sense of innocence and humility and yet also a sense of deeper knowledge. It captures the excitement and mystery of myths and magical stories and makes you wish you could connect to such a world.
Some may think this is just another fairy tale story, but that is easier said than done. It isn’t easy to take a well known style, or to use a fancy word: trope, and make it your own; do something both familiar and yet different. Gaiman has pulled this off with style.
Stardust was one of those instant favorites. I highly recommend it no matter what your normal reading style or taste.
And whether you have seen the movie or not, read the book. It’s better. More on that later . . .