Reread Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Stardust
Format/Source: Paperback/my copy
Published: 1999
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 248 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Why I Read: Part of the Reread Challenge
Read If You’re: Enjoy a poetic fantasy in the fairy tale vein
Quote: “The guard is relaxed once every nine years, on May Day, when a fair comes to the meadow.” (5)
Rating:  ★★★★★ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

WHEN I First Read – December 2008, over a year after the movie got me interested in the book. I had gone through a short phase of watching a Much Music talk show. One day I caught Claire Danes promoting Stardust. I thought the movie was sweet, and I wanted to read the book.

WHAT I Remember – I remember being absolutely delighted to finally find the kind of fantasy story I always wanted to read. I even wrote an assignment for my grade 10 English class a few months later about how perfect I thought the book was. (I was also compared a passage from the book with a passage from The Lord of the Rings for a syntax course in university.) I still agree with all the sentiments I expressed five years ago! Here’s the essay (you can tell from the introduction that I was fed up with traditional fantasy, especially after giving Games of Thrones a go :P):

I always held a vision of the perfect fantasy in my mind, determined to find the story that would meet my standards of a good book. It would be set in a time vaguely reminiscent of the Middle Ages. It wouldn’t have pages full of dry descriptions. It wouldn’t have a plot supported entirely by boring politics. It wouldn’t sprawl 2 000 pages across three volumes. Perhaps most importantly, at least one likeable character would be found within the novel’s pages. Hopefully, this ideal book would be an example of the direction I wanted my writing to go in, something I could read and say to myself after ‘I want to be able to write like that!’. I had never before found a novel that made me want to say that. After five years of reading the fantasy genre, however, I finally discovered the book that met all of my standards and fulfilled my hope of finding something to guide my own writing.

I stumbled upon the novel by accident, as I have with all my most treasured books. This particular story was one I decided to read after seeing the movie version. The film was released the summer of 2007 and I rented it as soon as it was available on DVD. I thought it was a sweet movie; it had all the elements of a satisfying story. I promised myself to (at some point) read the book upon which the movie was based. For Christmas 2008 (over a year after I had first seen the film) I received Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. 

Stardust is the novel I wish I could write. Every aspect of the book fits the story perfectly, from the characters to the length to the prose. The novel is not geared toward juveniles, despite being just 248 pages long. Although the target audience is older, Stardust is not full of repetitive unimaginative adult themes. The plot is free from unreasonable twists and expected turns. The tale is simple (boy likes girl, boy promises girl whatever she desires, boy falls in love with different girl), but full of unique elements and ideas only Gaiman could think of, such as fallen stars being human-like or sky pirates who catch and sell lightning. The author knows his craft well and this shows in prose that never drags. Every word has been placed with care and enhances the story in some way. For example, one of the Lillim is described: ‘the youngest one, who had been old when the wood they lived in was still beneath the sea.’ This sentence fragment says much about the woman without dragging on too long or using words unheard of in everyday language. Stardust is written without extravagant language, yet it comes off elegantly. Gaiman never uses excess words while delivering his tale to the reader.  He also knows how to utilize every character to their potential. Even the minor characters who only hold the reader’s attention for a page or two have something memorable about them, enough to make them a contender for ‘favourite character’.  Mr. Brown is one such character. He guards the gap in the wall between our world and Faerie. His determination to perform his job properly adds both humour and tension to the novel, even though his role only lasts a few pages. In Stardust, nothing is wasted. Every piece of the novel is used to its full potential. This book will live on my shelf among The Complete Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales and The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, a staple I will enjoy for many years to come.

I have not come across any other books similar to Stardust. Nothing is written in quite the same, careful style. My favourite genre, to read and to write, is medieval fantasy but Stardust is the only novel I actually enjoy in that category. It is the one guideline I have for my own writing, my single source of inspiration. It’s the standard of writing I can dream to achieve one day. Before Stardust, I struggled with writing my own stories, not knowing what I was striving for, what I wanted them to be like. Stardust proved that what I love to read can exist. It proved that maybe, someday, I will also be able to write a novel like that; a simple tale beautifully written, a story that people will fall in love with over and over again.

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read I wanted to read a familiar and elegant story. More generally I wanted some pretty fiction because I wasn’t sure what to read next.

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading Very pleased to find I still enjoy the story, and a bit surprised I don’t read it more often! It’s a great book to cozy up with for an afternoon, as did during this re-read.

WOULD I Re-Read Again Yes, of course. To this day I have still not found another story like it, so reread it I will continue to do.

A year after I first read Stardust, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Neil at a local bookstore signing. I thanked him for Stardust, for giving me something to keep writing towards, and he signed my book with a shooting star in ldusty rose ink. Now that book is my most prized possession! (Yes, that’s my real name, shhh, don’ tell anyone!)

  • Now you really make me want to reread it! And I wonder if you have read Lud-in-the-Mist (a book loved by Gaiman), another beautifully crafted fantasy. If not, you might want to check it out!

  • Awesome that you met Neil Gaiman and that your copy of Stardust is signed by him! Stardust I believe was my first Gaiman novel and is still up there as one of my favourites; definitely a book to revisit time and again 🙂 Great write-up; your review also reminds me that I still have yet to watch the movie adaptation, lol :3

  • Ooh, I have not! I will definitely look into it. That's a fun way to discover new books; reading the favourites of your favourites 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Thank-you!! The film is actually very different from the book but I like both of them almost equally (of course I like the book more ;)). I think they capture similar moods.