Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

First published in 1999.

Young Tristan Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria--even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. But beyond that old stone barrier, Tristan learns, lies Faerie--where strange things can happen to a determined lad chasing his heart's desire . . . and where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined. (book back blurb)

This book was my first foray into fantasy outside of my slight Harry Potter obsession and it was pretty awkward. Like dancing with a guy with broccoli in your teeth awkward. At that point I'd heard of Neil Gaiman but along with this book popping my fantasy cherry, it also popped my Gaiman cherry (sorry, sir). At that moment, I wasn't all that impressed, at least not to the extent with which everyone who likes fantasy held him to. I just didn't see it. It was interesting, sure, but it read as if it were trying too hard to be something other than what it was. I took issue with that, especially since it was pretty different in tone from the movie. Now before you grab the pitchforks, I saw the movie before I even knew it was based on a book. Like I said, I was new to the genre. And I love the movie. Only natural to read the book to compare. Eh.

Overall, it was an interesting read. I don’t know if it’s something I could read over and over and over again but it was good nonetheless although I felt the book was a bit rushed in too many pivotal places and some greater depth was rendered.

The relationship between Yvaine and Tristian, for example, I would have liked to see something a bit more gradual blossom between them because it read like turning on a light switch. Throughout nearly the entire thing Tristian talked only of Victoria but, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, he says no, I love Yvaine and she him. It just seems that it wasn’t there and then, miraculously, it was. At least with the movie we’re able to see the animosity between the two slowly drift away and their like for each other grow. In the book, Tristian was enthralled with Victoria for 95% of the time and we see a gradual decline from Yvaine’s bitterness to something more closely resembling begrudging submission with the jump to love something akin to jumping over the Grand Canyon. There seemed to be no segue.

Another major point that very much irked me were the voices in the story. They all seemed to blend except for Yvaine when she was cranky. I felt the language, the tone of voice, was shared by all characters most of the time. I found it difficult to differentiate between any of them and even discern emotions. They just read very flat to me, as if Gaiman were trying to portray a particular attitude of the time but instead of inflection we’re given a British Ben Stein wearing the clothes of the pauper, the witch, the Wall-folk and the noblemen simultaneously. Initially I thought it was some kind of British wit that I just wasn't getting.

Outside of those, I would have liked to see a bit more worldbuilding. At times it felt like I was traveling by candlelight through the book itself and that I wasn’t privy to such wonders that the world had to offer. Too much time was spent leading up to, and getting Tristan over, the wall and not enough within Stormhold itself. He spent months over there and yet, for most of it, we’re just given glimpses of what he’s done, what he’s seen, what Stormhold could possibly offer. I didn’t care so much about what was going on in Wall as I did with what was going on in Faerie.

If elements from the movie could be combined with elements from the book, I think the book itself would be more well-rounded, I would have a better grasp on the world itself and a greater element of magic and fantasy would emerge. If given the choice, I would rather watch the movie than read the book again simply because I felt the movie offered more. I’m probably stomping on something that’s the epitome of fantasy in many people’s eyes but its just how I feel. It didn’t leave me wanting more story to carry on from the end; it left me wanting to know more about what I was teased with in between the covers.

Lucky for me, my internet friends love me and are thoroughly forgiving of my indiscretions. It was the lovely Stormy that enlightened me to the fact that Stardust isn't written in Gaimen's usual style and was something more of an experiment in the old timey ways of story telling. Well that certainly explains it! It doesn't explain away what I found lacking in the book but it explains the voice and tone, without a doubt.

Actually, I'm happy I started my Gaimen adventure with this book. I think I would have been more disappointed had I read his other work (which I've started doing, yeah, now I can understand the canonization) first because I don't think this one holds muster to the rest. I got this one out of the way and now I can peaceably move on to the better works.


Stormy said...

To my shame, I also like the movie more than book. >_< The book is beautiful, but it never manages to transport me - there are two moments that I dearly wish that had been in the movie - the fight between the lion and the unicorn; and the Tori-Amos-talking-tree.

It's something that I'm sure I'm going to enjoy reading to my (future) children - but I'll always prefer to curl up with Neverwhere.

Plus, seriously, Captain Shakespeare, how can you not love him?

Donna said...

That was a good fight but I think it would have dropped the tone of the movie a little bit. I'm a sucker for Dexter Fletcher and Captain Shakespeare is the shit. I just think the movie had more spunk.

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