Stardust Read Along Part I

GaimanStardustHowdy! 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…
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.

22 thoughts on “Stardust Read Along Part I”

  1. I totally agree with you about the Lillim keeping animals for augury. I didn’t think about it much whilst reading, but it does definitely feel very different from people raising animals for food

    I would steer clear of the bottled dreams unless they claim with a firm guarantee to be nice ones. And even then, I’m not sure I’d trust it!

    Interesting thoughts about the unicorn too. I often wonder what characters are thinking when never get to see things from their perspective.

    1. Good point about the bottled dreams. Perhaps they would make a nice home warming gift for someone. I’ll probably just set them aside on the Emergency Present shelf in the hall closet.

    1. No, I haven’t read her short story. I have been meaning to read her Howl’s Moving castle series. I saw the anime based on the first book and it was pretty entertaining.

        1. (And thinking on there is a bit of a Stardust and HMC connection. The poem Song by John Donne, which Mr. Gaiman puts at the beginning of Stardust plays an important role in the book version of HMC.)

  2. Re #6: I agree. I think Gaiman excels at drawing us in with the recognizable and turning it on it’s head somehow. I guess I feel like after having seen this quite a few times from Gaiman already, it becomes a little predictable fails to capitalize on the effect. Still I think Stardust has been my favorite use of common tropes of any of his other novels.

    1. Very true. After reading many of his works, I tend to go into a new Gaiman novel expecting him to jump out of the bushes and startle me with the way he turns a common trope on it’s head.

      1. I’m just surprised how familiar he can make a world feel without actually using any established myths that I can identify.

  3. Ha! You answer to question 3 added 3 authors to my TBR. I’ve only read Sanderson. I didn’t respond to the sex question since I hadn’t read his short stories. I’m curious about the one you discussed. That does seem a tad bit risky, but I have to admire an author who is willing to take chances with his/her writing. And now that you mention it, why is the unicorn so willing to help?

    1. I can’t recommend Jacqueline Carey enough. All her works are full of beauty, depth, and insight into the human nature.

      Many of his sex scenes are not missionary position, which is fine. But the short story I described has stuck with me for a few years now.

  4. I confess I never gave much thought to the unicorn’s motives and to be honest I can’t remember if all becomes clear of not!
    The Lillim are great – I mean, they’re horrible – but they’re just such good baddies.
    Lynn 😀

  5. Thanks for commenting on my post! I like your thoughts about the unicorn. I wonder too why he/she was so compliant. I have to think it has something to do with Star being a Star. I’m not sure the unicorn would have helped just anyone. Also, in taking off with Star while Tristran was gone, you know who the unicorn is really loyal to.

    1. Yeah, I like that the star has a loyal companion. If I had been knocked out of my home, ended up with a broken leg, and was lost with no immediate way to get home, I would not appreciate being chained by the first ‘intelligent’ being I came across.

  6. 1. Tristran is a good example of a fine old Scottish term: a numpty. He is a bit dumb, but I do admire his determination in the face of almost certain failure.

    3. Oh, now you’re cheating! I would love to hang over the edge of Discworld and have a good look at Great A’Tuin though (and perhaps identify it’s sex while I’m down there)! 😀

    5. Wow: that does seem surprising. I have read only one book where you could be vaguely sympathetic to a paedophile: Let The Right One In by John Lindqvist. There a couple of film adaptations and the Swedish language one is excellent. It is about an ancient ‘child’ vampire that controls a paedophile, who collects blood for it. Disturbing but a good read.

    7. You make me feel bad because I hadn’t really considered the unicorn as a character, but you are right: it does make choices and shows intelligence.

    1. Numpty. I want to use that word more.
      Have you seen how young birds and reptiles are sexed? Ummm….. well, you have to….hmm…well, you have to put your littlest finger up their cloaca and feel for a tiny penis. So, good luck with sexing the great turtle of Discworld.
      I have heard how Let The Right One In is a good book – intense. Part of the American film based on the novel was filmed near where I work.

  7. Okay, so first off the comment about peeing cracked me up. Which then reminds me that I was impressed that Gaiman actually wrote a bathroom scene into this book because you almost never get references to characters needing to relieve themselves in stories of any kind.

    The Lilim are very wicked if you really can imagine the things they are doing. Had the film makers portrayed this as graphically as my imagination paints it then the film would have had to be R rated. I like how some authors can just write a word here or two and if you think about it your mind can take you to much deeper places..

    Kudos on the Stormlight Archives suggestion! Yes, I would like that very much.

    That is definitely one of Gaiman’s more disturbing sex-in-a-story moments that you mention, but isn’t the only one in his short stories and in American Gods. It was so nice to see a more lovely, if still somewhat sad, sex scene written by him.

    I agree with you about Gaiman’s ability to put a fresh coat of paint on old tropes. I enjoy it when authors do this as I think there is so much value in those tropes. They continue to speak to us because of their foundational truths and I prefer stories that don’t try to reject them entirely just for the sake of trying to be ‘unique’ but instead use them effectively to tell a new story.

    I wonder about unicorns in general and couldn’t help but think more about this one after the short story discussion I had a couple of Sunday’s back with the story “Purity Test” as that story features a unicorn in an even more prominent role.

    1. Yep, I appreciate it when authors keep some of the nit and grit of real life in their writings – such as the occasional reference to bodily functions.

      My man and I were discussing Gaiman, sex scenes, and American Gods the other day. I am thinking of the sex goddess turned prostitute and her way of devouring a man whole. Yep, disturbing, but she’s a goddess, and deities have disturbing ways.

      Definitely agree with you on the Gaiman-trope-reuse thing. He doesn’t ignore the foundations of the fantasy/fairy tale genre. No, he uses it to quite a great affect, in many ways taking us right back to what a fairy tales were meant to be – warnings and lessons about life and the unknown.

  8. I haven’t read any of Peter DIckinson’s books, but I keep meaning to, and the title of this one sounds intriguing for sure.

    And, oh, the UNICORN. Great answer. Who wouldn’t want to know more about that?!

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