Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman


Stardust
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK AND FILM VERSIONS

When Tristran Thorne, a callow youth from the village of Wall, recklessly promises to retrieve a fallen star for his would-be lover, he sets off to the Faery Kingdom of Stormhold on a quest which will change him forever. He runs into battling lions and unicorns, fearsome pirates, a lethal woodland and a very grumpy star. He’s also aided by some rather unusual people, including an enchanted talking tree. While at first he’s a bit of an idiot, he’s essentially a kind-hearted hero, and he very slowly realises where his heart belongs. Getting turned into a dormouse may or may not have helped him reach this conclusion. Of course there is, ultimately, quite a happy ending, but Stardust contains one or two rather more adult elements which remind us that this isn’t your typical, DIsneyfied, singing crockery sort of yarn. A lot of things in Faery are enchanted, nonetheless. It really doesn’t surprise me that the film version was made by Kick Ass and Layer Cake director, Matthew Vaughan. Stardust is a thoroughly grownup fairytale and it’s winking at us the whole way.

It seems pretty unfair to compare the book and the film. However, it’s very hard not to when you’ve seen both. Both incarnations are quite different beasts, and whether one truly outmatches the other seems rather moot. The film has a much stronger story, at least objectively, in the sense that the film ‘fills in the gaps’ and extends some plotlines, beefing up the characters and providing a punchier, more outright and complete ending. Stardust the book, on the other hand, is a very dreamlike adventure, containing more whimsical aspects of the faery world such as little hairy men of surprising helpfulness. It also has edgier moments, such as the living star saying ‘fuck’ once she hits the Earth (played well there for laughs). In particular, the terrible slaughter of a beautiful unicorn is described very gruesomely in the text when compared to the beast’s more ambiguous disappearance behind a wall of green flame in the film adaptation. I actually prefer the film version in this case, but that’s because gutting unicorns to show how evil the baddies are pops up at bit too frequently in fantasy books for my liking (now sending a Paddington Bear stare towards J K Rowling). That’s a personal preference, mind you, and I hate it when dragons are killed, too!

Stardust Yvaine Unicorn riding Claire Danes Neil Gaiman

Yvaine (Clarie Danes) gets a lift from the badass unicorn - so far, so unslaughtered - in the movie.

Unicorn murder and unexpected sex aside, in the book there also wasn’t much of a showdown when it came to the finalé, which was a pity after the way the film handled it. One part of the ending I really liked in the book version, though, was how Tristran and Yvaine didn’t take up their crowns at Stormhold until they’d both gone off adventuring together for several more years. Then when they were ready, they came back to rule. This felt right and even beats the Ian Mckellan ‘everything was great’ narration, where the couple went straight into a big royal coronation, with all their friends and rivals watching the ceremony. This worked perfectly for a neat movie ending, but I preferred Tristran and Yvaine taking their time in the book. This also gives Tristran’s long-lost mother a chance to reign for a while in their stead, and I wished there were more chronicles of what the couple got up to before returning to rule the kingdom.

Stardust is still a fantastic journey in either format. In the book, the beauty lies in the details of the truly faery world, populated with enchanted beasts, Lions and Unicorns fighting over the crown, little hairy men in big hats (which smacked of a Pratchett influence) and frankly theglimpses of magical wonders beyond Tristan’s village were all-too brief.

Also, I miss the swearing in the book, but the film version has a flamboyantly gay pirate played by Robert DeNiro, so it all balances out in the end. I think it very likely I’ll be enjoying the film again, at Christmas, and getting my own copy of the book to treasure in the meantime.

Charlie Cox Tristan Tristran Thorne Stardust Neil Gaiman Movie Mathew Vaughan

In the film, Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) looks like this. Which is no bad thing. Now imagining him in Boardwalk Empire, that just makes it weird...

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