Howdy! Yes, I am a little too chipper this morning. And it is because we are talking about Stardust. Hooray! Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting this read along, along with the reading event of the season – Once Upon A Time VII. So make sure you stop by his place to see what he and others think of Stardust and the fantasy genre.
This week, we cover the first half of the book, Chapters 1-5. The questions do contain spoilers, so if you have not read Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust, I suggest you avert your eyes…..now.
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?
Tristran is a little odd, and really only his father and foster mother have an inkling why. He grows up not really knowing about his past, so he probably doesn’t understand why home might not always feel like home. Poor dude. Then he goes and pins all his hopes and desires on one young lady, one who hardly pauses to give him the time of day. Tristran is polite, but single minded in his pursuits. I think him leashing the star shows this well.
The star is a very real character for me, primarily because she cusses when initially trying to use her bad leg. Indeed she has been watching human behavior, and not just the proper and polite kind (AKA Boring Human Behavior). No, she has it down by instinct when it’s appropriate to let a good cuss out – such as when you are alone, lost in the woods, with a severely injured limb. And perhaps you have to pee too. Though, I don’t know if the star in human form does need to pee. Perhaps we’ll find out, because Gaiman is that kind of writer.
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 the Stormhold Gang – dying father and living sons – struck me as having a very cutthroat take on life and a bit villainy. But then we meet the Lillim – the three witches. I live on a small farm and we occasionally butcher an animal for our own consumption. But these ladies, they keep wild animals for augury – pulling out their entrails in a form of drawing straws. Yes, these ladies will be formidable. they want a heart to keep them young for centuries more to come.
Perhaps I would feel differently if they then consumed their augury beasts….hmmm….and hunted them in the wild instead keeping them in cages for weeks on end. Maybe.
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?
The lands of the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching’s Chalk, including the Feegles. Peter Dickinson’s Flight of Dragons. Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering.
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.
Coats of Dusk and Bottles of Dreams caught my eye. Of course, the coat would have to wrap me in dusk anytime I wanted and not just at dusk and the bottled dream had better be a good one, full of high adventure, fantastical creatures, and just a smidgeon of danger. Dunstan mentions storm-filled eggshells which I would do my utmost to avoid knocking over their display.
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?
In general, sex in literature does not bother me. I don’t mind it being detailed as I find that how folks treat each other in bed really reflects on how they treat each other the rest of the time. The sex scene in this book was mild compared to some of Gaiman’s other work. I have read most of his books and two collections of his short stories. Really, there is only 1 short story that stands out as disturbing in regards to sex. I forget the title, but I think it was in his collection Fragile Things. Gaiman let’s us get to know and even connect with the main protagonist before he drops the bomb – the guy likes young girls in the bedroom. Most folks are disturbed by scenes and references to pedophilia, and I really hope that Gaiman was trying to teach some lesson about human behavior – perhaps along the lines of you really don’t know someone until you know their sexual inclinations. Anyway, that short story has been a bit of a puzzle to me since I read it – few authors would risk having their readers get attached to a character that turns out to be a pedophile.
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?
Of course the classic trope of Tristran going off to fetch some valuable item for his beautiful lady, hoping against hope for her favor – very chivalrous knightly of him. Then the fallen star treated as a highly valued object and not as a person makes me thing of other stories where we have the misunderstood figurehead of state/kingdom/church who has no say in their immediate future. Then back to Tristran and his mysterious parentage – how many stories out there are about some young man or woman who is secretly the long lost heir to a wealthy merchanting business, a witch’s secret lair, some lordship, etc. So, yeah, Gaiman has pulled in furniture from all sorts of fairy tales and then used that furniture for unexpected and sometimes unintended uses, giving us a fresh take on the fairy tale genre.
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?
Quite frankly, I have always wondered about the unicorn. I have read this book more than once, and seen the movie several times, and it is always the unicorn who I wonder about. In the movie, I believe it is a gelding. So, what does he think about all this nonsense? Does he mind being put into service – carrying a fallen star around? Does he want the star for himself, or perhaps was just seeking high adventure himself and what better way to do that than to attach yourself to some heavenly creature. The unicorn obviously does some thinking on his own, so I simply always wondered what his motivations were.