In the interest of complete fairness, I should probably tell you that I’ve already read this book. Also, I should probably tell you that even before I read the book the first time, I was (and am) a huge, unabashed, slavering Neil Gaiman fan due to his award-winning Sandman series of comic books and graphic novels. And I should also tell you that the movie version of Stardust is coming out soon and you’ll no doubt be hearing much more about it.
I picked it off the shelf the other day. I hadn’t read it in years, and plus I had trouble remembering exactly why I liked the book. With some books it’s good to reacquaint yourself with every so often, like that friend in your life who you feel close to but only see once or twice a year.
Anyway: the book. It’s my favorite of Gaiman’s novels. All of his books have the dead-on feel of the modern fairy tale, but he’s sometimes prone to being a little too flippant with his characters, just a tad bit shallow, and with too much of a wink to the audience, if you catch my meaning. With Stardust, he gets that balance of fantasy and seriousness just right.
Back in the early Victorian era there exists a town called Wall in the British countryside. It’s named that because of the thick stone wall that separates the sleepy farming town from the world of Fairie – every nine years, the veil lifts and a fair brings the two communities together for one night. One of the town’s youth, Trystan, is a dreamer who falls for the town beauty and promises to do anything she asks. To put him off, she suggests he go retrieve a star that they watch fall from the night sky. So, being the romantic sort, Trystan sets out to go get it. What follows involves an adventure that includes talking trees, witch-queens, pirates who fly airships, shape-changing animals, and True Love. It’s a Brit version of The Princess Bride without the postmodern wisecracks, a modern-day Midsummer Night’s Dream written after a few glasses of wine and a night on the town. This being a fairy tale, Gaiman insures that every plot point is wrapped up and every character, even the minor ones, have their important roles to play in the story. The book is written in a light, dreamlike tone that lulls you in like a mother humming a half-remembered lullaby to her child.
Of course, there’s a better-than-excellent chance that Hollywood will completely screw it all up, but I have faith. There’s a beautiful story here and Gaiman’s has yet to sell out. But: everyone knows the book is always better than the film.