“If you bring me that star, the one that just fell, not another star, then I’ll kiss you.”
A few weeks ago when I was talking with my mother, she told me that she thought I would really enjoy the movie Stardust, saying that I would enjoy the film’s jokes and premise. Due to papers, finals and general paranoia about online movie watching, I couldn’t find a way to watch the movie. So I read the book instead.
And I was very pleasantly surprised by it.
The concept of fairy tales and fairy stories is one that’s hard to get right in the form of a novel. Fairy stories had their roots in oral stories passed through generations in various cultures, each influenced by the various cultures in which they were told, and while they’ve been compiled since into many different written forms, I feel like fairy stories were always mean to be told. The language in which most fairy stories are told is designed to be as simple as possible while invoking as much imagination as possible. In written form, the various tales can be rather inconsistent in terms of words, as a quick skimming of a few fairytale anthologies will show. But there’s more difficulty to telling fairy tales in a written form than just the difference in the exact words. Fairy tales are, simply put, hard to put into written form. The characters are rarely explored in depth and the narrative voice is almost always odd. The setting is always varied, and there’s always some kind of fantastical element.
However all those stories always begin with something mundane. A piece of ordinary life. Something with which the ordinary reader can relate. Once they believe the setting- then the magic begins.
I personally loved how Neil Gaiman did this in his opening. The opening sounds romantic and dashing- a young man who wished to gain his heart’s desire- but then the narrator is quick to tell us that that’s nothing new. Yet in the next sentences he goes on to say that there was much that was unusual about this (as yet) unnamed young man, which piqued my interest- and then we were pulled back to the mundane, to the town of Wall. Yet the further you read, the more you realize that there’s quite a lot that’s unusual about Wall- and the oddness only grows from there.
The tale itself is fairly simple. A young man of somewhat unusual origins crosses into a mysterious and magical land to catch a fallen star so he might win the heart of the girl he loves.
As said, a simple enough story. What makes it so much fun is the imagery and the richness of the world in which Tristran Thorn abides. There’s the mysterious fair held once every nine years, in which things such as coats of night, twilight, and dusk; living crystal animals; and glass flowers can be bought. There’s the magic itself, in which a chain made of cat’s breath and fish scales and moonlight mixed with silver is unbreakable- until the terms of the spell that keeps the captive are broken. And there are the people who live in the land beyond the town of Wall- the seven brothers who seem to suffer from a chronic fratricidal disorder and who apparently have nothing better to do after death than offer commentary on how their surviving siblings are handling their quest for power (they were my favorite part of the story), the witches who squabble, enchant, and kill in very nasty ways, and the lightning whalers who cruise the sky. The sheer imagery and interest of this world was more than enough to keep me interested, even if the tale itself was simple and the characters unconventional.
It’s never explicitly said that Stardust is a fairy-tale, but I think that that’s the only way I can describe it. A fairy-tale for adults that is- there’s a bit of sex, a lot of violence, and a few situations that could be awkward to explain to young children- but it still has magic. It may not be the most in-depth book I’ve ever read. And it’s not a classic or a must-read tale. It’s a just a fairy tale. A fairy story for adults who don’t mind reveling in the images that once charmed them when they were children. It’s for people who still enjoy magic and witches and enchanted quests- even while knowing that those things have been relegated to the substances of dreams.