“The town of Wall stands today as it has stood for six hundred years, on a high jut of granite amidst a small forest woodland. The houses of Wall are square and old, built of grey stone, with dark slate roofs and high chimneys; taking advantage of every inch of space on the rock, the houses lean into each other, are built one upon the next, with here and there a bush or tree growing out of the side of a building.
…Immediately to the eat of Wall is a high grey rock wall, from which the town takes its name. This wall is old, built of rough, square lumps of hewn granite, and it comes from the woods and goes back to the woods once more.
There is only one break in the wall; an opening about six feet in width, a little to the north of the village.
Through the gap in the wall can be seen a large green meadow; beyond the meadow, a stream; and beyond the stream there are trees. From time to time shapes and figures can be seen, amongst the trees, in the distance. Huge shapes and odd shapes and small, glimmering things which flash and glitter and are gone. Although it is perfectly good meadowland, none of the villagers has ever grazed animals on the meadow on the other side of the wall. Nor have they used it for growing crops.
Instead, for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years, they have posted guards on each side of the opening on the wall, and done their best to put it out of their minds.”
The town of Wall forms a barrier between our world and the fairy world, and once every nine years, a fair is held outside the wall and people (and not-people) are allowed to pass back and forth between the two worlds. There’s no other reason for a person to cross the wall, except in very special circumstances. One of these special circumstances is seventeen-year-old Tristran Thorne, who promises the girl he loves that he’ll journey past the wall and collect a falling star for her. Because this is Neil Gaiman, the star is a living girl, and Tristran’s mother is a fairy princess. Also there are witches and sky pirates, and our hero spends a portion of the story as a dormouse.
This is a cool story because, although it’s a fairy tale, it’s not aimed at kids. It’s written for adults, with an adult mindset, and no pandering or talking-down to. As Gaiman says in the introduction to Stardust: “In my head, I was writing in about 1922. There was no fantasy genre. I was writing a book for adults, a fairy tale for those who liked and appreciated that kind of thing. I would write it with a self-conscious narrative voice, and tell it as a tale.”
And he does, and it works. I was admittedly hesitant to start this, because I remember seeing the movie version and being told that the original story was drastically different – I liked the movie, so I was unsure if I would also like the book. But I shouldn’t have worried. First, the differences between the book and the movie are not as numerous as I was led to believe – really, the biggest difference is the ending, and frankly the movie ending is better. The movie ends with an exciting good-vs-evil magic-and-swords fight, but the book’s ending is considerably less thrilling. Also the movie script made the wise decision to change Tristran’s name to Tristan (so no, that wasn’t a type up there), which sounds much better. Seriously, try saying “Tristran” out loud. It’s nearly impossible. In fact, the only huge misstep the movie made was the casting of Claire Danes as Yvaine – Book Yvaine is stubborn, funny, and fierce, and the development of her relationship with Tristran is very sweet and well done. Movie Yvaine is lackluster and dull, and I think she could have been a lot better with a different actress in the role. In the end, it was Yvaine who made the book for me: she’s a wonderful character, and she makes the book ultimately superior to the movie.
Verdict: three out of five stars