Posted by : atcampbell | On : October 19, 1999

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

The discussion of Stardust drew seven participants. Stardust is a fairy tale about a young man who sets on a quest in an attempt to impress a beautiful young woman and win her affections. Along the way he has adventures involving tricky witches, evil noblemen, gypsies, and fallen stars. Unusually, the book is available in two forms: a heavily illustrated version with paintings by Charles Vess, and a plain text version. All of us at the meeting had read the illustrated version, which offered all the words plus some gorgeous art for less cost than the plain text hardback.

We started off with a brief discussion of a comics convention in Austin the prior weekend. Several of us had met Charles Vess at the convention. He had brought many of the original paintings from Stardust with him to the convention, and we had ooh’ed and aah’ed over them. Vess had signed our copies of Stardust and drawn lovely sketches in our books.

Our group found Stardust to be a surprisingly well done fairy tale. It interweaves plot threads in the manner of the Brothers Grimm. The story is surprisingly sweet for Gaiman compared to his more hard-edged work in Sandman. Several of us could imagine Gaiman reading this story to his children. As in most good fantasy, actions have consequences in this story. The characters are more fleshed-out than is typical in a fairy tale.

Some people were vaguely dissatisfied. A few thought the ending was a letdown. One person felt that Gaiman’s approach to updating fairy tales tended to “flatten them out.” A couple of people felt that the plot was too much of a travelogue.

We found that Vess’s paintings were an essential part of Stardust. The prose in this book is not terribly visual, so the paintings were a huge help at setting the atmosphere of the book and letting us know how the characters looked. We were reminded of John Barnes’s One for the Morning Glory, another excellent fairy tale with a Vess cover that our group discussed a couple of years ago.

All of our group enjoyed Stardust, and we recommend it to young and old lovers of fairy tales.

— A. T. Campbell, III