Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stardust by Neil Gaiman Read Along: Week 1

If you haven't read the book, why not join in and read along with the rest of us? You can find links to everyone else’s thoughts at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This week we read through to the end of Chapter 5.

1.  We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star.  What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?

So far Tristan has not been very ‘heroic’, poor lad. His ‘fair maiden’ is completely uninterested in him, he has no special talents apart from the ability to ‘know’ where things are and his ears are not even a matched pair. Now he has been dumped by a grumpy star and has a six-month trek ahead of him to get home, assuming that he can ever catch the star and drag her along. I do wonder how long it will be before he decides that this whole adventure was a really bad idea.

The nameless star is angry at being knocked out of the sky, which seems perfectly reasonable to me: I would be angry if it happened to me. I can also understand why she is less than happy about being tethered to some random bloke and dragged off to impress some snotty girl that he wants to impress. Adding a broken leg into this mix would give any of us a good reason to be in a bad mood.

I actually find the protagonists very entertaining and delightfully atypical. Although we are talking about a half-faery and a star, they seem so wonderfully normal that they are so much more endearing than the cookie-cutter characters that we often see in traditional fairy tales.

2.  There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book.  Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?

I have to assume that the main villains are the Stormhold brothers and the revitalized witch. However, the brothers seem more interested in killing each other than in retrieving the topaz that carries their father’s power so it looks like the witch will be the real villain of the piece. This ambiguity helps to keep us guessing about where the story is going and adds to the feeling that this is not your typical fairy tale.

I find the idea of breeding children just so that they can kill each other off over the years a little wasteful, but it is certainly entertaining to see their paranoia in action. Was I the only one who expected the brothers to push each other out of the window in their father’s bedroom?

3.  In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes "each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there...".  What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?

I would love to visit Conan Doyle’s Lost World, but any other place with living dinosaurs would keep me entertained for a very long time. I quite like the idea of seeing dragons as well, though the fire-breathing type might be difficult to observe safely.

4.  We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold.  Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.

I am intrigued by the crystal flowers that Ditchwater Sal sells. They sound very beautiful, but I have to assume that they have some magical purpose as well because Tristan’s snowdrop has been highlighted in the story so far.

Snowdrops are one of the flowers that I miss most now that I live in the US: Maine is not a good place to grow them, unfortunately.

5.  If you have read much of Gaiman's work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex.  Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust.  What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?

I have not read any of Mr Gaiman’s other sex scenes, so I cannot comment on how this one compares to them. However, I was rather surprised to find the scene described quite so graphically, considering that the copy that I am reading is published by Harper Teen. I found that it took me out of the story a little as it seemed a little at odds with the fairy tale tone of the writing.

6.  I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust.  Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?

I will be very interested to see what everyone else thinks about this question, as I am really struggling to think of any particular stories that he has referenced directly. However, it does feel as if he has captured the feel of those traditional tales without actually using any of them, which is impressive in itself.

7.  And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?

I really liked the little hairy man: he was an interesting character and I would have liked to have travelled with him a little further. However, I suspect that his role in the story is complete and we will not see him again.

I am intrigued by Tristan’s mother and would like to know more about her heritage and abilities. I hope that she manages to escape from her captivity eventually because I would like to know why she chose Dunstan and why she risked Sal’s wrath to have one brief night with him.


  1. It would have been fantastic if the brothers started pushing each other out the window--albeit, a much shorter book!

    I agree the sex scene felt out of place in a book marketed as young adult or teen. And a strange choice with the style of the rest of the book as well! Have to wonder about that authorial decision...

    I'm looking forward to more on Tristan's mother too! I've read this before, but I've forgotten the details on how her story turns out...

  2. I think that the sex scene was also jarring because the narrative tone so far has been rather distanced from the characters and omniscient, so the very personal details of their physical contact was a bit strange.

  3. Oooo! I want to see dinosaurs too in fairy land. That would add a mix of interesting times and adrenaline rushes due to near-death experiences.

    Yes, our main protagonists are not the typical fairy tale lot. So far, Tristran isn't being particularly a gentleman to the star, and the star is grumpy (all understandable).

    1. I was hoping that the dinosaurs came with safe viewing platforms or something: I'm not a fan of running, screaming and dying! :D

  4. I was confused/didn't like the villains much at first, but really quickly decided it was so strange that I actually loved them. It's funny, there is this abundance of baddies all working against each other before they even have a chance to interrupt the protagonists. I'm not sure if this is just keeping us guessing until later or if it will all be a terrible, horrible mess for Tristan having to deal with all of them.

    1. I do like the way that Mr Gaiman takes fairy tales and twists them into something we don't quite expect: it makes everything so much more interesting. I love the fact that we have two or three possible villains, but we don't even know if they will ever cross Tristan's path.

  5. I am enjoying the fact that Tristran and the Star are not perfect characters. It makes them more interesting that's for sure. and I love the creepy brothers since I have no idea what they will do next.

    1. It is so nice to read non-standard characters, isn't it? So much more interesting! :)

  6. You weren't alone in the expectation of the brothers pushing one another out the window, I think that is going to happen every time I read the book.

    Oooo...Conan Doyle's Lost World. Nice! I like it!!!

    I had to look up snowdrops because I could not picture what the flowers looked like. Wow, they are beautiful.

    I mentioned on another site that this book was not initially produced as a teen book but an adult one. It was only after stories like Coraline got published that Harper began repackaging some of Neil's stuff for teens. It is funny because you use the word "graphic" in describing this sex scene and thus I think you'll be really surprised if you ever read some of his more truly graphic (by that I mean disturbing) sex scenes. As much as I LOVE Gaiman's work, there are some of his short stories that reading only once was more than enough.

    I hadn't ever thought about the why's when it came to the bird lady choosing Dunstan but you ask an interesting question, truly. Its making me think more about those early parts of the story.

  7. That is interesting that it was originally an adult title: I must admit that I was surprised to see the Harper Teen logo on the back. I really wish that publishers would not try to stuff authors into one single category or another: it's not as if Mr Gaiman isn't prolific enough to keep the money rolling in!

    I guess that 'graphic' might not have been the correct term, perhaps 'intimate' might be better. I am very conflicted about that sex scene, and it is difficult to articulate what precisely is 'wrong' with it without me sounding like a prude, which I don't think I am. There was just something about the tone of it that didn't really fit in with how the story was being told. You are quite right that I have read, and not been shocked by, stuff that was much more graphic than this, although I'm not sure I want to read some of Mr Gaiman's titles that have disturbed you and the other commentators.

  8. I had the same feeling...that he was alluding to every single fairy tale I'd ever read and, yet, that I couldn't pick out a single one either. Nice touch!

    Somehow, I think I had the idea that the protagonists would be more immediately recognizable...if not likeable, familiar somehow. And neither Tristran nor the star felt that way to me. But, now that I think about it, the protagonists of fairy stories are usually struggling to right some wrong as well, quite often a 'wrong' that they themselves have engineered or, at least, stumbled upon, so I guess it makes hindsight!


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