Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stardust Read-Along: First Half

As part of the Once Upon a Time VII Challenge, Carl is hosting a Stardust Read-Along. It's a fairly short book so we're writing about the first half today and the second half next week. If you're not familiar with this book, it's about a boy, Tristran Thorn, from a town called Wall, located on the border of Faerie. To please a girl (who perhaps doesn't deserve his attentions), he sets off into Faerie one day to search for a fallen star. The story is full of colorful characters--both good and evil--and strange lands.

Now, since this is a read-along discussion, there be spoilers ahead. So, if you haven't read the book yet, leave now and take this time to add Stardust to your TBR or place a library hold.

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?

I feel like Tristran had a lot to learn about the human world so it was strange that he went to a place that he knew even less about. So far, he's very trusting and that will likely get him into trouble -- even more than he's already experienced. But, he also seems to have a gift that will hopefully help him and balance it out. The star, on the other hand, seems very worldly and wily for someone who has just arrived hours before.

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?

The villains in this book are chilling and creepy. I think they all stand out, maybe more than the protagonists at this point. The brothers Septimus and Primus have said little but their singlemindedness is obvious. The sisters Lilim are much more chatty and catty and are disturbing, verging on terrifying. Together they are very strong and I have vague memories of what is to come in the second half and I'm not particularly looking forward to reading some of 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?

This line stood out to me too. It's beautiful and I didn't think of it so much as related to imaginary lands but more of "lost lands" like the American prairies full of buffalo and wolves and wild horses or the oceans full of gentle whales and non-bleached coral, and even pollution and dam-free rivers throughout. There are, of course, unicorns and, hopefully, dodos and tasmanian tigers and all of the other species that have been "forced off the map".

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.

Everlasting lavender sounds wonderful. The line about coats ("Coats of night! Coats of twilight! Coats of dusk!") sounded like a description of the contents of Neil Gaiman's hall closet. ;) And, after vacuuming gobs of cat hair today, the crystal cat sounds nice right about now.

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?

gratuitous Ben Barnes picture
It was strange because I've read this book before but I remembered it as much more tame than it really is. I had completely forgotten this sex scene -- which is probably a good thing because the ones that tend to stick with me are Gaiman's more horrific or graphic ones (like the beginning of American Gods). I still get really uncomfortable every time I read one of his sex scenes. His mild-mannered exterior hides a very graphic imagination, doesn't it?

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?

I am terrible with specific fairy tales but so many of the general ideas are there -- maidens and unicorns, long-distance travel by candle (similar to seven-league boots), witches, forests with evil intent. It's all somewhat familiar but also presented in a way that feels fresh and different.

7. And finally, which of the many side characters introduced have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?

I really like the "little hairy man", Tristran's first companion in Faerie. He seems honest and kind and a bit lonely. He repays a decades old debt in an uneven manner -- meaning the things he does for Tristran seem to be of much more value and breadth than just a place to sleep, which is what he was given by Tristran's father. I hope to see him again in the second half though I don't know how Tristran will get back to him.

I'm really excited to read the second half of this book. It's a much different experience than I remember from the first time, possibly because I've read even more Gaiman now and I just feel like this strange land is still somehow familiar.

Prepping for more adventure,


  1. Thanks for letting us know about this read along. It bumped Stardust to the top of my reading pile, and I'm ever so glad. I loved it. I haven't loved everything I've read by Neil Gaiman (although I have really liked some of it), so I was pleasantly surprised.

    I tackled the discussion questions over at my blog:

    1. I haven't loved everything either but I've usually at least appreciated most of it (there were a couple of short stories that I hated). I'll head over (a bit late!) to see your thoughts. :)

  2. I really like your idea of extinct and endangered animals get to end up in fairy land along with the mythical beasts - like the unicorn.

    The Lilim are definitely the most chilling antagonists in the this story for me. They are ancient and I have to wonder which star's heart did they have in that box for who knows how long. And how many stars came before that one?

    1. I'm sure those women are ancient, taking so many lives along the way -- not only of the stars who came before but also just anyone who happened to get in their way. So evil!

  3. Great observation about the relative experience and inexperience of Tristran and the star...makes you wonder what she's been seeing from up there in the sky!

    Loved your thoughts on "lost lands" in Faerie, and that bit about Gaiman's closet made me laugh out loud!

  4. 1. I guess that the star has been watching the world for a very long time, so perhaps she has seen a lot of how it works. Tristram, on the other hand, is very, very naive.

    3. I am with you there: I would love to see extinct species. Imagine seeing the West with a proper herd of buffalo, or a family of mammoth parading past . . . though I really want to see dinosaurs, just so I can see what a T rex really did with it's pathetic front limbs! :D

    1. I'm sure there would be dinosaurs in Faerie in some distant valley. :)

  5. I agree, Tristran was, as a young man, still very wet behind the ears when it comes to knowing what life is all about. So I enjoy the fact that he goes to a place where he will be forced to learn more, to have his eyes opened. I like the way this is referenced somewhat even in the scene where he gets knew clothes.

    The Lilim are great villains. I want to say more about them but will save it to Part II. It is so hard to wait!

    Oh, I love your answer to Faerie. I like that very much as well. Those magical areas like the untamed wilderness, etc. that are "lost" to us as mankind moved in and took them over. There is something profoundly sad about that. I just watched a documentary about the Yellowstone River which is America's longest non-dammed contiguous river. It is frankly amazing that something like this still exists and I sympathize with all those trying to protect it.

    I found this sex scene to be very lovely (and I too always have the first sex scene in American Gods pop up in my imagination when I think of Gaiman writing about sex) but still very much full of the animal passions side of sex.

    I thought the candle bit was great and don't remember reading that in other stories but also am not surprised that it too is an appropriated idea. I'm not as well read in fairy/folk tales as I would like to be.

    1. I would say that I'm glad to not be alone with the AG sex scene but, well, I'm sorry that you think of that too. ;)

  6. I really liked the little hairy man -- with the hairy voice -- as well. I wanted to see more of him later in the story, and would actually love a standalone volume devoted to his adventures (and cooking). Interesting observation that the villains stand out more than the protagonists: I suppose that's true, and what a curious way to write a story!

    1. Well, we never even learned what he was! There's so much more to learn about him and he obviously travels a lot and has adventures.