Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1999)

Stardust is one of those books I remember reading, remember being delighted by, and then... I've re-read it at least ten years later, and it was like reading brand new book.  Nothing stuck with me from that first time, except the bare skeleton of the story.  Not even the names of the characters.  I'm not sure that's a good thing.  But that said, I was thoroughly delighted by the story again. I thought the ending was pure romance, if a bit pat, but certainly within the Victorian fairy story tone.  It's most definitely "early Gaiman" and hints of wonderment to come.  He is an excellent writer; having just put down a fantasy novel for its blah-vity, it was nice to fall head over heels into some terrific writing.  Dog eared page (and what a sentence), about sailors and their wives back in port, the polygamous wives having more than one husband, each on a different boat, and each in port at a different time:  "The mathematics of the thing have always kept most folks satisfied; and if ever it disappoints and a man returns to his wife while one of her husbands is still in occupancy, why, then there is a fight - and the grog shops to comfort the loser.  The sailors do not mind the arrangement, for they know that this way there will, at the least, be one person who, at the last, will notice when they do not come back from the sea, and will mourn their loss; and their wives content themselves with the certain knowledge that their husbands are also unfaithful, for there is no competing with the sea in a man's affections, since she is both mother and mistress, and she will wash his corpse also, in time to come, wash it coral and ivory and pearls."

Much of the time, in fantasy, it all seems to come back to Narnia, and Stardust, whether purposely or not, is definitely one country over (a most adult county though) from C.S. Lewis.  Here is a line, straight out of Lewis (or E. Nesbit, Lewis's fairy godmother):  "There is something about riding a unicorn, for those people who still can, which is unlike any other experience: exhilarating and intoxicating and fine."  (the italics are mine).  That's the ghost of Narnia speaking.

A bit of another Lewis as well, albeit Lewis Carroll this time, a very small (but important bit).  Tristran could have been turned into anything, but Gaiman has him turned into a dormouse.

(the word "clodpoll" is used several times by the star, and that was a word used frequently by "good old" Doli in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain.

StardustStardust by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this novel.  In fact, this is certainly the most charming and sweet Neil Gaiman book I've ever read, and that's said with some pretty bloody scenes still fresh in my memory. The plot is pure Victorian fairy story (think Oscar Wilde or George MacDonald or The Little Lame Prince), but Stardust also exists one country over from Narnia as well (a very adult country), certainly in narrator (E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis's fairy godmother, is also hiding in here too).  The kind of fantasy reader who like long, drawn out, sexually charged bloody political thrillers disguised as fantasy, should probably stay away. But if your reading history is broad and you like fairy and folk tales, you are going to enjoy this romantic ride.  There are several occasions, too, where the writing absolutely soars into beautiful territory.  

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