Over the past year, I’ve participated in several of the (non)challenges hosted by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings. In that time, I’ve had to pass on quite a few read-alongs that he has also hosted and which have always looked amazingly fun. When I saw that he had one planned for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which is short and sounded fun, I thought it was not only a good chance to hopefully redeem my opinion of Gaiman after a not so enthusiastic reading of The Graveyard Book, and also the opportunity to participate in one of Carl’s read-alongs as I’ve been waiting for so long to do.
So here is the first installment. As Carl suggested, I’ve been listening to Gaiman himself read this one and like I said in the case of The Graveyard Book, Gaiman does a fantastic job reading his own work. Carl has also suggested we take these questions as we please and I’m doing just that. I’m getting to this late after-all.
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?
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?
At first I didn’t care much for any of the villains, but I became very interested in the Witch Queen toward the end of Chapter 5. Her goats were interesting and her chariot even more so, but what I really appreciated was that we see her fooled so early in the story. She is still clearly a force to be reckoned with and will no doubt cause some serious trouble for Tristan but she’s also liable to be tricked when her guard is down too. It didn’t so much endear me to her as it did to the storytelling itself. I like that Gaiman’s villains can be pretty terrifying even when we see that they can be tricked into paying too much for the milk (that is totally not a saying but I’m going with it).
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?
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.
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 didn’t so much enjoy the sex scene per-se, but I did enjoy how emotionally charged it was, without being graphic or disturbing as Gaiman’s other portrayals have been. Instead, I came away feeling very much a part of the fleeting yet strong and unspoken connection between two people. It seemed like something that shouldn’t be overlooked and felt real and important. In a world that was so quickly established as something different than our own, their meeting seemed so real. Of course, anything Gaiman writes has an essentially other-worldly quality but, and especially in contrast to the market scene, this scene imparted a sense of grace and beauty that was shockingly endearing.
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?
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?
The dynamic between Tristan and his father, Tristan and his mother, and between the father and mother themselves was just great. Gaiman really just hints at a quiet anxiety but even the nub he shows us hints at a pretty complicated family dynamic that I really wish we could have heard more about. The truth just seemed to hang about the air and though the family put on pretty taciturn airs, all the little things apparently made a huge impact on Tristan’s upbringing. Meanwhile, his father’s acceptance and special attention only highlights what they were all trying so desperately not to point out. We didn’t get much of a look at the family, but what we did see was fraught…in the most intriguing way.
Similarly, I was, at least initially, very interested in what could have made Tristan’s mother leave him at the Gates of Wall. I think we’ll probably get a better flavor for the pressures and fears that lead her to make such a difficult choice as we get further into the book, but maybe not. In any case, it only contributed to a very much understated sense of mystery surrounding Tristan that I was quite thrilled with. Compared to Gaiman’s other books I’ve read (just a few of them), this has been the most absorbing beginning for me.
Of course this is also where my only complaint comes in so far. I couldn’t help feeling there was something missing in Tristan’s character. I didn’t get the sense that his family life, excessive teasing, and his deep love for Victoria didn’t make for the strong connection with Tristan that you might expect. He seemed oddly impervious to the weirdness and meanness, and the outright rebuffs Victoria deals him. You’d expect his reactions, or lack thereof, to somehow manifest themselves as an extraordinary sense of determinedness or other such capability. Instead he came off rather uncaring and emotionally inept at times.