Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Read Along Part 1

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For many years, I have been a lurker, reading lots of blogs, but never entering into conversation with anyone. I have recently decided to crawl out of my internet cave and interact with people a bit more.

To kick that off here at my blog, I’m participating in a read-along of Stardust by Neil Gaiman hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings as part of his Once Upon a Time Challenge. I only very recently discovered Neil Gaiman. I haven’t loved everything I’ve read by him so far, but I’ve liked it enough to keep plugging away at his back catalogue. So when I saw this read-along was happening, I knew it would be a good opportunity to get on board.

Stardust is basically a fairytale for grown ups, as are most fairytales really. The dust jacket synopsis is as follows:

At the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall – named after the imposing stone barrier which separates it from a grassy meadow. Here in Wall, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester. But she is cold and distant, as distant as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky one crisp October evening. For the coveted prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristran vows to retrieve the fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that propels him into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

This discussion is meant to cover the first half of the book with the second half being discussed next week. I, being the impatient book reader that I am, did not have the self-control to stop half-way through. So I have read the whole book. I will try valiantly to forget the second half for the purposes of this discussion, though!

If you’re interested in reading Stardust and haven’t yet, you probably want to stop reading now. Spoilers ahead.                I’m going to stick with using the discussion questions that were set for us. So here we go:

1.  We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star.  What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?

Tristran seems very earnest and likeable, albeit young and naïve. The one thing that really bothers me regarding Tristran is that his father allows him to go off on a seemingly vain quest into Faerie without telling him who he really is. I really don’t understand this. Surely the knowledge of his true parenthood, or at least the very little information that his father has about his mother, could only have been helpful to him. I would be interested to see what would have remained the same and what would have changed during his journey if he had known that his mother was part of that world.

I was actually really surprised to discover that the star was a person. I was totally not expecting that. My first impressions of the her were that she is stubborn and strong-minded, but not necessarily in a bad way.

2.  There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book.  Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?

The main thing that stood out to me regarding the potential villains was that there were so many of them, and they are mostly quite ambiguous. We know that the Witch-queen has evil intentions towards the star, but we don’t know how the quest of the brothers from Stormhold (living and dead) will impact upon our protagonists. There is also Mistress Semele, who certainly seems to fall in the baddie category without her role in coming events being very obvious.

Also, despite the ambiguity of the villainous characters, they are very dark and quite scary!

3.  In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes “each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there…”.  What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?

I’m sure there is a great deal more to Faerie than we will get see in this story. For me, Neil Gaiman’s description in that passage summons up thoughts of Atlantis, Camelot, Eldorado, enchanted forests and the edge of the world.

4.  We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold.  Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.

The stand selling “Eyes! Eyes! New eyes for old” utterly creeps me out. I think I’d quite like to have a tiny crystal cat, though! And I would be sorely tempted by the prize of a “wind flower”, which sounds amazing, although I’m rubbish at riddles so I’d probably have to pass it by.

5.  If you have read much of Gaiman’s work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex.  Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust.  What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?

This scene took me by surprise. I think I began this book thinking it was probably YA or a universally suitable sort of book (like many fairytales). Then I got to this scene and though, “OK… definitely a book for grown ups then.” I didn’t find it to be offensive, but it was definitely a more graphic scene than I was anticipating.

6.  I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust.  Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?

Although it certainly has a wide variety of fairytale influences, it was the nursery rhyme influences that stood out to me most in this story. I guess I find fewer references to nursery rhymes in adult literature than more general fairytale themes. Since having children and accumulating numerous editions of nursery rhyme collections, I have realised that I really love nursery rhymes and it’s lovely to see them alluded to and even used for key plot points.

7.  And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?

I find both the tall man, who is seemingly somewhat responsible for all the events that befall Dunstan and Tristran, and the small, hairy man (creature?) very intriguing. I hope they both enter the story again down the road. I also feel very sorry for Brevis who gets turned into a goat, and wonder if he has any further role to play in events.

Overall, I really love this story. I love the numerous allusions to mythical/fairytale themes and creatures, the tiny details that are included just for the sake of it and to enhance the atmosphere of the world being created, and the naivety and innocence of Tristran which lends the whole story an air of lightness and innocence even though it is terribly dark in many places.

11 thoughts on “Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Read Along Part 1

  1. I like the idea of El Dorado, Camelot, and Atlantis being all in one place. Definitely could spend a lifetime adventuring through fairy land.

    Yes, where do they get that many eyes to sell – and keeping them happy and healthy until they get to a new user. Hmmm…. Or, you could just have a jar full of eyes to keep an eye on things at home while you are away.

  2. Now that you mention it, Dunstan has been remarking withholding re: key information…but on the other hand, I think it plays into the theme of journey-as-self-discovery. If Tristran went into Faerie already knowing a lot about himself, the journey would mean less. But on the OTHER hand, Dunstan doesn’t really know a LOT about Tristran and his mother, so there certainly could have been information shared with more still to be learned…

    I was also surprised by the sex scene in what generally feels like (and referred to as) a young adult novel. With due affection for Gaiman, the man seems to have no concept of what’s appropriate for younger-targeted writing. Don’t even start me on his M Is For Magic.

    Also loving the nursery rhymes–agreed, they don’t come up in literature as much, so it’s fun to see how Gaiman uses them here!

    • I think I bring too many real life sensibilities when it comes to people being open and honest and communicating the truth to others, especially when it involves parents and children. I know that for many stories if the characters did that there wouldn’t be much of a story, but it certainly would make for better lives generally!

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the sex scene a bit surprising. I didn’t know how the book was usually classified when I started reading it – Neil Gaiman writes for so many different age brackets – but it’s not completely appropriate if it is meant to be YA!

  3. You’re totally right. I remember wanting Dunstan to tell him, but hadn’t thought much of how unfair it was to see Tristran off without a little useful information until you mentioned it. Still his whole life until that moment had been founded on information withheld. Why stop then, right?

  4. 1. I agree with you about not understanding why they didn’t tell Tristran about his birth. You would have thought that he would wonder how he can have a sister only 6 months younger than him, but he isn’t necessarily the sharpest knife in the box.

    2. I like the fact that we have a selection of potential villains without any of them being wildly obvious: I like a book that keeps me guessing.

    5. I agree: the sex scene was a bit of a jolt for me as well. Not offensive, just unexpected.

  5. Congratulations on venturing out! So great to have you as part of this discussion and group read.

    It is unfortunate that Dunstan didn’t share more with Tristran, though this feels like a very natural thing because we don’t see fathers and sons have the kinds of conversations when the kids are older teens that fathers should have. There is that gap that opens up between them as the son starts to “become a man”. I also suspect that Dunstan really has no true knowledge of Faerie that would help his son given his limited involvement with the other side of the wall. I also wonder if he is afraid to say anything for fear that Tristran may not return.

    I like that there are so many villains rather than the standard one evil overlord bad guy that we see in so many stories. Not that I don’t enjoy those stories too, but this is a nice touch as it keeps you as an observer of the story looking this way and that.

    I see Atlantis references in the story as well.

    I hadn’t thought about the nursery rhymes, but you are correct. That is a great part of the book. I partook of more of these as an adult and so don’t always make that childhood connection to them but I do appreciate how mysterious they are when you read them as an adult and how much deeper meaning many of them hold. It is nice to see that referenced/examined in Stardust.

  6. Although I agree that it’s unfortunate that Dunstan wasn’t more forthright with Tristran (I do not understand the ways in which parents insist on honesty from their children and do not reciprocate, especially with matters of such importance), I can see where the story works better with the information concealed. And, I suppose, often times parents keep secrets because they themselves cannot cope with the reality of a situation…perhaps Dunstan really never made sense of that night so-long-ago, perhaps he passed his state-of-incomprehension honestly to Tristran after all.

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