Stardust (Gaiman novel)
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (July 2021)
Stardust is a 1999 fantasy novel by British writer Neil Gaiman, usually published with illustrations by Charles Vess. Stardust has a different tone and style from most of Gaiman's prose fiction, being consciously written in the tradition of pre-Tolkien English fantasy, following in the footsteps of authors such as Lord Dunsany and Hope Mirrlees. It is concerned with the adventures of a young man from the village of Wall, which borders the magical land of Faerie.
|Media type||Hardback, Paperback, Audiobook (Read by the author)|
In 2007, a film based on the novel was released to generally positive reviews. Gaiman has also occasionally made references to writing a sequel, or at least another book concerning the village of Wall.
The story begins in late April 1839, as John William Draper had just photographed the Moon and Charles Dickens was serialising Oliver Twist. The majority of the book takes place seventeen years later, starting around October 1856.
Main characters Edit
- Tristran Thorn: The book's main character (renamed "Tristan" in the movie adaptation), a half-Faerie, half-human boy raised by his father Dunstan Thorn and stepmother Daisy, whom he believes to be his mother. Tristran foolishly promises to retrieve a fallen star for the girl he wants to be his sweetheart, Victoria (see below), and so unexpectedly finds the beautiful Yvaine.
- Yvaine: A fallen star, which Tristran vows to find and bring to Victoria Forester. In Faerie, stars are living creatures. Yvaine appears to be immortal, but not invulnerable. She is pursued by the Lilim and the surviving sons of the Lord of Stormhold, who want her for their own reasons. When Tristran realises his love for her, he abandons his courtship of Victoria Forester, and Yvaine marries him despite their inability to have children.
- Dunstan Thorn: Tristran's father. Main character in the beginning of the book. He visited the Wall Market to find a gift for his sweetheart Daisy Hempstock, and ended up fathering Tristran by Madame Semele's abused slave Faerie girl, Lady Una. Prior to this, he had bought a crystal snowdrop from this girl, and later gives the flower to Tristran. He is married to Daisy, who is the mother of Tristran's half-sister Louisa.
- Victoria Forester: A resident of Wall described as "the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around". She is the daughter of Bridget Comfrey and Tommy Forester. Although Tristran is infatuated with her, she does not return his feelings and does not take his promise to bring her the fallen star seriously at first. She ultimately marries a man called Monday and thereby unwittingly frees Tristran's mother, Lady Una, from slavery.
- The Lord of Stormhold: The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold is an old man who rules Stormhold until his death. At the beginning of Stardust, he has four dead sons (Secundus, Quartus, Quintus, and Sextus) and three living ones (Primus, Tertius, and Septimus), in addition to his long-lost daughter Una. The dead sons appear as ghostly observers, while the living sons constantly plot to kill each other to succeed their father as Lord of Stormhold.
- Lord Septimus: The youngest and most ruthless of the Lords of Stormhold. He is, by nature, a skilled assassin and has succeeded in murdering the majority of his family.
- Lord Primus: The oldest of the Lords of Stormhold. In comparison with his brothers, he is benevolent, compassionate and reasonable.
- Una: A cat-eared faerie girl of great beauty who works as a slave for Madame Semele until released by an improbable occurrence that fulfills the conditions of her debt. Una suffers constant abuse at the hands of Madame Semele, being beaten and called a "slattern". When not toiling for the witch-woman, she is kept in the form of a multicoloured bird chained by a silver thread to a Gypsy wagon. She is later revealed to be the Lady Una, only daughter of the Lord of Stormhold, and Tristran's birth mother.
- Madame Semele/Ditchwater Sal: A witch, and a member of the Sisterhood to which the Lilim belong. The witch-queen knew Semele as Ditchwater Sal when she was "a young chit of a thing". On their first encounter, Semele drugs the witch-queen's food with a magical substance that causes her to speak only the truth, thus forcing her to blurt out the truth of the fallen star. Semele plots to find the star first and restore her own youth, but the witch-queen curses her so that she will never perceive the star in any way.
- The Lilim: Three old women of great power. The eldest of the three is called "The Witch-Queen", though they are also called by this title collectively. They are never named, as they lost their names long ago, but the eldest adopts the alias "Morwanneg" at one point. The Lilim were once the beautiful queens of a magical kingdom of witches; when it was lost beneath the sea, centuries of age caught up with them. They seek the fallen star because, by consuming her heart, they will be granted centuries of youth and beauty. Using magic counteracts the effect; therefore with each spell cast by the witch-queen, she grows older and uglier. In the movie adaptation, they are named Lamia, Mormo, and Empusa, but none of their backstory is included.
On the outskirts of Wall, a small town in rural England, the Faerie Market is held every nine years on the other side of the wall dividing Faerie — a mystical realm of magic — from our world and for which the town of Wall is named. As the book begins, the market has just begun and the town is filled with visitors and vendors. A young man named Dunstan Thorn rents out his cottage to a stranger in exchange for his "Heart's Desire", in addition to a monetary payment. The next day in the market, he meets Una, a beautiful woman imprisoned by a witch named Semele. He purchases a glass snowdrop from Una with a kiss, and gives the flower to his fiancée Daisy. Enthralled by her beauty during the encounter, Dunstan later meets Una in the woods that night and makes love to her. A month later, Dunstan marries Daisy as planned. In February (a little over nine months later), he receives a baby in a basket — his and Una's son, Tristran.
Eighteen years after these events, Tristran — now a young man with a half-sister named Louisa — seeks the love of Victoria Forester, the town beauty. One night, while Tristran is walking her home from the shop where he works, he sees a shooting star land in Faerie, and he vows to bring it to her in exchange for a kiss, and perhaps her hand in marriage. Thinking that he will never actually do it, Victoria promises to do whatever he asks if he brings her the star. Tristran tells his father of the bargain, and Dunstan gives Tristran the snowdrop, as well as helping him pass the guards at the wall by alluding to his faerie heritage. Tristran enters Faerie and begins his search for the star.
At Stormhold, in Faerie, the King of Stormhold gathers his sons to determine who will be his heir; he hurls the Power of Stormhold, a topaz that marks its bearer as the ruler of the land, into the sky, knocking that selfsame star from the sky. He then dies, and his sons leave together. Septimus departs on his own after poisoning Tertius at a nearby inn. Neither of the remaining brothers is aware that their other slain brothers, each one killed for the crown, are with them in ghost form.
In a small, grey house in the woods, three ancient and mighty witches known as the Lillim learn of the fallen star by reading the entrails of a dead goat, and the eldest of the Lilim consumes their last reserves of "years", later revealed to be the heart of another fallen star, to become young again. She meets a farm boy, Brevis, at a crossroads, takes his goat, and transforms him into a second goat, using the two animals to pull her small chariot.
Tristran meets a small hairy man who helps him through the woods. After Tristran helps them escape deadly trees called serewood, he learns he has the ability to find any location in Faerie. Tristran is taunted by tiny faeries, who say that he is "soon to face his true love's scorn". The hairy man gives Tristran a new outfit, a silver chain like the one used to imprison Una, and a candle-stub which allows one to travel great distances quickly while it burns, which he explains by referencing the nursery rhyme "How Many Miles to Babylon?".
Tristran uses the candle to quickly reach the fallen star, but is surprised to find that the star is actually a young woman named Yvaine, whose leg was broken in the fall. Yvaine hurls mud at him and continuously insults him. He resolves to take her to Victoria anyway, tying her to him with the chain. However, the candle goes out before he can return, so the two sleep for the night.
The next morning, Tristran tells Yvaine about his promise to Victoria and his intention to bring Yvaine to her. Tristran makes Yvaine a simple crutch to help her walk as her broken leg hinders her movement. They arrive at a clearing where they witness a fight between a lion and a unicorn over a golden crown. Yvaine asks Tristran to help the Unicorn when the Lion was about to kill it. Tristran, remembering the old nursery rhyme, The Lion and the Unicorn, picks up the crown and gives it to the Lion. With the crown upon its head, the Lion slips away into the forest. Tristran and Yvaine spend the night at the clearing beside the wounded Unicorn. Yvaine escapes on the Unicorn when Tristran leaves in search of food.
The witch-queen, on her search for the Star, encounters Madam Semele. They share a meal and Madam Semele gives the witch-queen meat cooked with Limbus grass, which causes anyone who tastes it to speak nothing but the truth, forcing her to reveal the purpose of her journey. The enraged witch-queen puts a curse on her, which prevents her from seeing, touching or perceiving the star in any way and causing Semele to forget their meeting the moment the witch-queen leaves.
On discovering that Yvaine is gone, a despondent and regretful Tristran spends the night under a tree. Tristran talks to a tree who says that Pan, the spirit of the forest, told her to help him. The tree tells Tristran that there are people looking for Yvaine and that there is a path in the forest with a carriage coming down it that Tristran can't miss. Then it gives Tristran a leaf and says to listen to it when he needs help the most. Tristran runs to catch the carriage and nearly misses it but for a tree that has fallen in the carriage's path. Tristran meets Primus, the driver of the carriage, and persuades him to allow Tristran to ride in the carriage.
In the mountains the witch-queen transforms her chariot into an inn to catch Yvaine, who is coming her way. She turns the goat into a man, and the goat who used to be Brevis into a girl. Yvaine falls for the trap, and the witch-queen is preparing to carve out her heart when Tristran and Primus, who have also been attracted by the inn, arrive. The witch-queen decides to delay killing Yvaine until she has dealt with the two unwanted guests. She attempts to poison Tristran while he is tending to the horses, but the unicorn, which is also lodged in the stable, warns him just in time. He rushes back to the inn, but is too late to warn Primus. However he is able to rescue Yvaine by forming a makeshift candle from the remnants of the magical candle he had obtained earlier, burning his left hand in the process. Shortly afterwards, Septimus arrives and finds Primus' body. He sets off in search of the witch-queen, to fulfill an obligation to avenge his slain brother, and the topaz, to claim his birthright as the last surviving son of Stormhold.
Tristran and Yvaine escape the witch-queen, but find themselves in an almost equally perilous situation. They walk past many scenes in the light of the candle, but eventually end up stranded on a cloud, miles above Faerie. They are rescued by the crew of a passing airborne ship. The captain of the ship agrees to help them on their way back to Wall, hinting that he is part of a mysterious 'fellowship' that wants to help Tristran for some unspecified reason. Tristran expresses regret for chaining Yvaine up. The star reveals that while Tristran no longer intends to force her to accompany him to Wall, the custom of her people dictates that, because he has saved her life, she is nonetheless obliged to follow him.
Upon parting company with the ship and its crew, Tristran and Yvaine set off for Wall, and, after several adventures, encounter Madam Semele. Because of the witch-queen's curse, Madam Semele is unable to see Yvaine, but she agrees to transport Tristran the rest of the way to Wall, as she is on her way to the market herself. Tristran obtains a promise from Madam Semele that he will not be harmed, will receive board and lodging, and will arrive at Wall in the same manner and condition in which he departed. This promise, however, does not prevent her from transforming him into a dormouse for the duration of the journey. The star also rides on Madam Semele's wagon, unbeknownst to the old woman.
Septimus seeks revenge on the witch-queen for killing Primus, but is himself killed by his intended victim, without ever reclaiming the topaz. Tristran (now returned to his human form), Yvaine, Madam Semele and the witch-queen all arrive at the Wall market.
Tristran leaves Yvaine and crosses back into Wall, to tell Victoria that he has returned with the star. Meanwhile, Yvaine realises she has fallen in love with Tristran and, if he fulfills his promise to bring her to Victoria, she will not only lose him to another woman, but upon leaving Faerie, will be transformed into a piece of rock.
Upon meeting Tristran, a dismayed Victoria (who is a month or two pregnant but does not yet know it) reveals she is already engaged to Monday, Tristran's old employer, and that she never believed that Tristran would fulfill his promise. She regretfully tells Tristran that she will keep her promise and marry him. Tristran, not wishing to force Victoria to marry him against her will, reminds her the promise wasn't to marry him, it was to give him anything he desired, and that he desires that she marry her own love, Monday.
Tristran returns to Yvaine at the fair. She is delighted to learn that Victoria is to be married to someone else, and Tristran reveals that he returns her love for him.
Una informs Madam Semele that she will soon be free, as her enslavement ends when the moon loses her child (Yvaine), if it happens in a week when two Mondays come together (the marriage of Victoria and Monday). The silver chain that binds Una finally fades away, and she demands payment for her services, which Madam Semele must give on pain of losing her powers.
Una seeks out Tristran and Yvaine and reveals her true identity as Lady Una, only daughter of the Eighty-First Lord of Stormhold, and Tristran's mother, and thus Tristran is rightfully the last male heir of Stormhold. She instructs Tristran to ask Yvaine for the topaz she carries, and through its magic the power of Stormhold passes to Tristran. He declines to immediately return to Stormhold, leaving Lady Una to reign in his stead while he and Yvaine travel around Faerie. But before Yvaine and Tristran can set off on their journey, an impossibly aged hag turns up wishing to speak to Yvaine. She reveals herself as the witch-queen, but Yvaine, no longer fearful, tells her the good news that she has given her heart to Tristran. The witch-queen claims she'd have done better to give it to the Lillim, since Tristran is sure to break it as all men do. The witch-queen then leaves them forever, fearful of the cruelty her sisters will inflict upon her for failing.
Many years later, Tristran and Yvaine finally return to Stormhold, and Tristran assumes his duties as the Lord of Stormhold. When he eventually grows old and dies, Yvaine continues to reign as the immortal ruler of Stormhold.
Stardust was originally conceived by Gaiman and Vess as a "story book with pictures", created by both, to be published by American company DC Comics. During an interview to be included in the audio book, Neil Gaiman explained how one day while driving he had seen a wall on the side of the road and had conceived the idea of Faerie being behind the wall. This sparked an idea in Gaiman's head about an American novelist who moved to England where he would find out about this wall; at this time, the book was to be called Wall. Soon afterwards, Gaiman was nominated for a literary award, which he won, and at a celebratory party for the award he saw a shooting star and immediately came up with the idea of Stardust. Gaiman dragged Vess out of a party that he was at and outlined the plot to him and Vess agreed to do the illustrations. Initially, Stardust was released in 1997 as a prestige format four-issue comic mini-series. Stardust came out once a month in a square-bound, high-gloss booklet with high grade paper, high quality color and no advertisements.
Gaiman and Vess originally intended the story to be released complete, as a single book, which would better reproduce the painted illustrations of Vess and be a "story book" for all ages, and a release in this format was made in 1998. There was both a hardback (ISBN 1-56389-431-9) and a trade paperback edition (ISBN 1-56389-470-X). It is more accurately titled Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust (Being A Romance Within The Realms of Faerie). The hardback edition is quarter-bound in faux leather with the author's names, title and several stars inlaid in foil. It also has reproductions of the serialized version's covers and many sketches by Vess. The trade paperback has a very different cover design and illustrations by Vess, and has subsequently been reprinted with another different cover design.
Gaiman retains the copyright to the text and in 1999 decided, encouraged by publisher Avon, to publish Stardust as a conventional novel in hardback without illustrations. There was also a subsequent UK hardcover edition, from Hodder Headline. The book also proved popular with readers of the "romance" genre, although it is generally considered part of the fantasy genre. Thus the paperback publication was originally given three different covers which when placed side by side had one background image and a different primary image including a handsome man holding a woman in a passionate embrace, although this cover concept was never used.
In 1999, Charles Vess' Green Man Press produced a portfolio as a benefit for Charles Vess' wife Karen, injured in a car accident, titled A Fall of Stardust, which contained two chapbooks and a series of art plates. The first chapbook, written by Gaiman, comprised "Wall: A Prologue" short story, "Septimus' Triolet" poem, "Song Of The Little Hairy Man", and "The Old Warlock's Reverie: A Pantoum" poem. The second chapbook was a short story entitled The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse by Susanna Clarke. Art plates were illustrated by William Stout, Mike Mignola, Terri Windling, Bryan Talbot, Jill Thompson, Paul Chadwick, P. Craig Russell, Mark Crilley, Elizabeth Johns, Michael Zulli, Robin Mullins, Lisa Snellings, Terry Moore, Tony DiTerlizzi, Linda Medley, Lorenzo Mattotti, Zander Cannon, Dave McKean, Jeff Smith, Trina Robbins & Steve Leialoha, Gary Gianni, Janine Johnston, Stan Sakai, Michael Kaluta, Moebius, Rebecca Guay, Geof Darrow, Brian Froud and Charles Vess. Several plates were coloured by Eric Olive. Todd Klein worked with Charles Vess to create the unique logo. Those who order this collection directly from Green Man Press received an additional art plate by Sergio Aragonés.
In July 2007, a new hardcover edition was published by DC's Vertigo imprint, containing approximately fifty pages of new material, including new artwork and information on the production of the book.
Musical comedian Tim Minchin expressed interest in the idea of adapting the story into a stage musical during a Facebook Live Q&A for The Guardian in October 2017 while discussing Matilda The Musical.
Towards the end of the novel, it is mentioned that Tristran was rumoured to have been instrumental in breaking the power of the Unseelie Court. In Scottish folklore, faeries are often divided into the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, the Seelie being the faeries benevolently inclined towards humans and the Unseelie being the malevolent or mischievous faeries.
The original DC Comics series was nominated for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards for Favorite Limited Series for 1998 and 1999. The collected edition of the series was also nominated for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album for 1999.
In 1999, the Mythopoeic Society awarded it the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. The novel was nominated for the Locus Award that same year. In 2000, it received an Alex Award from the American Library Association.
- "Stardust (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes.
- 5 January 2007, chat with Barnes and Noble, http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ean=9780060934712&displayonly=ITV&z=y
- "Neil Gaiman Bibliography: A Fall Of Stardust". Retrieved 22 April 2007.
- MatildaTheMusical (11 October 2017), Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly Q&A with the Guardian's Hannah Ellis-Petersen, retrieved 17 April 2018
- Gaiman, Neil (1999) Stardust. London, Headline/Review. p.194 ISBN 978-0-7553-3755-2
- Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York, Pantheon Books. "Seelie Court", p.353. ISBN 0-394-73467-X
- "17th Annual Comics Buyers Guide Fan Awards (1999)", Hahn Library. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
- 16th Annual Comic Buyers Guide Fan Awards (1998)", Hahn Library. Accessed Jan. 22, 2020.
- "Acceptance Remarks – 1999". Retrieved 29 October 2012.
- "1999 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 5 August 2009.
- "Alex Awards, 2000 Selection(s)". Retrieved 29 October 2012.
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