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Neil Gaiman Week: Stardust (The Book)

Stardust – Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie

by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

I remember when I first got this book – I was exchanging some comic books for new material, including Stardust. I hadn’t read it before, but I knew that Gaiman had written it and Vess had illustrated it – what else did I need to know? However, I was surprised to find out that it was an illustrated novel – I thought it was a comic book. D’oh!

The novel is as described exactly in the subtitle – a love story in Faerie. In the village of Wall, some time in the past, Dunstan Thorn crosses the gap in the wall that leads to Faerie, where he meets a woman entrapped by a witch, and they make love. Nine months later, a baby boy called Tristran is left at Dunstan’s doorstep. Eighteen years later, he foolishly promises to retrieve the fallen star that fell to Earth on the other side of the wall for the young lady he loves. Meanwhile, the king of Stormhold is dying and throws his silver chained-pendant with topaz out of the castle and tells his remaining sons whoever finds it will be the next king. Tristran finds the fallen star – a beautiful woman called Yvainne – and begins the journey of taking her back as a gift for his love. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan …

Gaiman writes the story in a slightly old-fashioned style, but maintaining his distinctive voice, with its lightness of touch, clarity of storytelling, elegant choice of phrase, clean dialogue and impish sense of humour. The story starts slowly, as he sets the scene of the normality of village life in Wall – this is necessary to highlight the world of Faerie in which the bulk of the story takes place – but it makes you wish that he would get on with it. When he does write about the magical world, the story just floats on air, alive and organic, as if it is an old story told many times before.

Of course, if you are going to have a story set in Faerie, the only choice of artist is Charles Vess. Whenever I read stories set in magical realms, it is Vess’ art that I see in my mind’s eye. The ethereal, otherworldiness he brings to his depictions of witches and stars and magic are just so perfect, with the elongated human shapes and the exquisite detail. The combination of words and art is quite charming, and I don’t mind the fact that I originally thought this was a comic book. Stardust is quite the most charming fairy tale, with a poetically appropriate ending and a thoroughly believable romance. Thoroughly deserving of turning into a film …

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