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Neil Gaiman, Stardust (1998)

I have, by the way, quite reconsidered my attitude towards Gaiman. I didn't like Neverwhere (though I do like the general idea of urban fantasy) a long while back, but I quite liked Stardust that I read a month ago, and Stardust is, after all, Gaiman's first solo novel. As I was thinking about Neverwhere and comparing it to Stardust, I figured that what I didn't like about the former was the general... showiness, shall we say, the many forms without substance, characters playing on visual effect - albeit in text form - as opposed to displaying internal logic. And then I noticed something that made it all make sense. Neverwhere the novel is, you see, a novelization of a television series. Quoting Wikipedia:

Neverwhere is the companion novelization by Neil Gaiman of the television serial Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The plot and characters are exactly the same as in the series, with the exception that the novel form allowed Gaiman to expand and elaborate on certain elements of the story and restore changes made in the televised version from his original plans”.

No wonder then.

Now back to Stardust, which I listened to in audiobook read by Gaiman himself (he does a very good job).

Beware of spoilers.

In point form:

- Gaiman wins my heart by appropriating nursery rhymes for his own darker purposes (I mean, that’s what I would have done, so it's natural that I like it). I like his language, his rich and detailed prose. The characters are still more cinematic than textual, but that is much less noticeable and much less irritating here than in Neverwhere. Stardust is fantasy, but it is non-Tolkien fantasy, which I really appreciate. I never even liked The Lord of the Rings all that much, though I did like it well enough, and the same goes for The Silmarillion. My favorite story by Tolkien was always The Hobbit and also Smith of Wootton Major (back when I was a child and cared for golden stars). Oh, and Farmer Giles of Ham, and, in general, all the stories of roads and travel and distant lands and long lonely journeys - of which Stardust is one.

- From Wikipedia again:

“Faerie, a world also featured in many of Gaiman's other works, such as The Sandman and The Books of Magic, is composed of "each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there", and thus features many mythic creatures and objects. Most of Stardust takes place in Stormhold, a kingdom within Faerie named for the Stormhold, a fortress carved from Mount Huon.
The story begins in late April 1839, as Henry Draper had just photographed the Moon and Charles Dickens was serializing Oliver Twist. The majority of the book takes place seventeen years later, starting around October 1856.“
The opening and the setup of the book are quite lovely, as is the idea of Faerie itself. Also, I think Gaiman likes Charles Dickens? This, for example, this just has to be an allusion: “Her sky-blue eyes stared back into his, and in her eyes he could see no parting from her.”

- Conventions (and legs) get broken; the eldest of the Lilim - despite being a witch-queen of a standard issue, dramatic and red-lipsticked and all - grows old and becomes a hag, and receives a kiss from the fallen star; there is never a big confrontation between the witches and the protagonists, which is refreshing. The mystery of the little hairy man is never quite explained, which is refreshing also: it’s not much fun when all the loose ends are brought together by the last few chapters and finally tied into a bow at the end of it all.

- Interesting parallels with Howl’s Moving Castle (the film, not the novel). There's the falling star being transformed, there's a girl with silverwhite hair, there's a dangerous witch losing her temporary youth and power and turning into a harmless and pitiable hag...

- Aaaand Stardust the movie. I do love it, though it is quite different from the book. Captain Shakespeare!

- Aaaand I'm now eying other works by Gaiman with much more interest :).



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 18th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
i do think that Gaiman also tends to fall back on his comic-book roots with characters, particularly with Neverwhere. i liked the book when i initially read it way back when, but recently i went back to it and realized that I just can't empathize with characters who are so cartoonish - not even flat-funny-cartoonish, but in some undefinable way cartoonish.
televisation might explain some of it, but i think it's also Gaiman's fond love for comic books and their conventions of grandeur, showiness and clear-cut colors )

and I still love Coraline and Mirror Mask most of all...
Dec. 18th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
Coraline is wonderful. :)
MirrorMask I also rather liked.
Cartoonish... yes, that's a proper term I think :)
Dec. 18th, 2010 10:02 pm (UTC)
It was exactly the genre of urban fiction that pulled off "Neverwhere" for me. I cannot find the source of the quote now, but once I read something along the lines of "In so many fantasy novels, the storyline goes like this: the boy is a misfit in a real world, then suddenly discovers another world, conquers, or - better yet - saves it, _and_ gets the girl". "Neverwhere" was so true to that it was not even funny.

But "Neverwhere" is set on the streets of London and London Below and somehow these ties to the real world were what made it interesting to me. And I've never even been to London (although I am going to fix that this coming Christmas). One of my favourite fantasy series is "Тайный Город" by Vadim Panov. To be honest, these books are of dubious literary value, but somehow happen to be great page turners. And I attribute a lot of that to the fact that they are set in Moscow, the city I spent 11 years in.
Dec. 18th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)

I remember reading, and seriously enjoying, an online horror-fantasy story taking place in the Toronto subway. Granted, I was mislead at first to suppose it was a report of urban exploration - until weird stuff started happening - but ye-es, the lure of the unfamiliar in the familiar... :)
Dec. 19th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
I like his comic books, for no reason. I also prefer "Farmer Giles" to other Tolkien's books, for the same reason. "Все, я сказал"
Dec. 22nd, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
прелесть какая.
Dec. 19th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
I didn't like Neverwhere in any of its forms ... I found it rather weak as a story. The questionable budget decisions of the film didn't help (much of it being spent on a fancy HD camera.)

For me, Stardust is second only to Sandman. It may have to do with Charles Vess' illustrations being the main driver, Gaiman's words needing to effectively describe without spilling into overlength.

Also, there's an amazing _erotic_ undertone to Stardust, IMO, that adds to its mystique.

Edited at 2010-12-19 05:49 pm (UTC)
Dec. 22nd, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I didn't think of the erotic undertone much, but now that you mention it... it's definitely there! :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )