Welcome to the second (and final) installment of the Stardust Read-Along! As part of Once Upon a Time, we’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. This week we’re discussing the second half of the book–so spoilers abound! (And somehow, spoilers for Star Wars got in here too. You’ve been warned.)
I…have quite a lot to say here. And I’m a bit afraid people are not going to like it. But I think I’ll just dive into Carl’s questions and go from there…
In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran. What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?
This is definitely the classic arc of the hero taking a journey and growing in the process. We see some of it when Tristran wakes up to how badly he treated the Star (Yvaine, that is), and when he confronts the witch at the inn, and even when he can’t remember Victoria’s eyecolor. However…I have some trouble here, because I just can’t shake the feeling that an awful lot of Tristran’s character growth happened in Chapter Eight, in between being picked up by the flying ship and meeting Ditchwater Sal. That span covers weeks, miles, several adventures…and six pages. Those six pages irritate me immensely, because I’m convinced that Gaiman summarized some very important parts of the story–like too much of Tristran’s character growth. So much of this is wonderful that I want so much more of that section that we jumped past so quickly.
So, yes, Tristran is different. He has a taste for adventure, he’s at least a bit more insightful, and no one in Wall recognizes him anymore. But I’m not sure I saw enough of exactly how and why he changed. But for now, on to the next question.
The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own. So I ask the same question, what are your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?
I think the biggest change for Yvaine was around her feelings towards Tristran, with resulting changes to her attitude and choices. Initially she makes her vow to stay with him, and there are hints and suggestions near the end that it’s not only about the vow anymore.
But…and here we go again…while I can see that Yvaine fell for Tristran at some point, this romance doesn’t speak to me much. It feels like an awful lot of the falling in love part must have happened…in Those Six Pages. They’re mostly tolerating each other when the flying ship picks them up, and by the time they meet Ditchwater Sal, there already seems to be much more connection. Nothing in between but Those Six Pages. I think Gaiman summarized right past the love story too. Not all of it–some of it comes in at the end–but I would have loved to see that middle section much more expanded.
And while we’re on the subject of love stories–I was disappointed by Dunstan and Lady Una. There was such a beautiful story with the two of them in Chapter One, and I really believed that there was a connection between them (and I don’t even like love at first sight stories normally), but then in the end…neither one seems to have the slightest bit of interest in the other one! Granted, Dunstan is married, which makes it all a bit awkward, but…but…fizzle.
The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones. How do you feel about Neil Gaiman’s handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?
I already talked about issues with Those Six Pages above, but I’m sorry to say that it’s with the villains that I get into real problems. They were such wonderful villains and then they fizzled! Can you imagine if Darth Vader lurked around for two movies, confronted Luke near the end of the second, and then Return of the Jedi opened with the news that Vader had been shot by a stray laser beam and was dead? That’s more or less what it felt like.
We did get a confrontation with the Lilim at the inn, and that was an excellent middle-of-the-book action scene (i.e., Vader and Luke in Cloud City). But then…nothing! No second Death Star. Tristran and Yvaine never have to take their new strengths and abilities and relationship and use it all to confront the villains because the villains just sort of…defeat each other. And while in theory I like the idea of evil consuming itself, in practice…it all felt a bit pointless. Why create amazing villains, Mr. Gaiman, if you’re never going to have your hero fight them in a final epic confrontation?
Granted, this way was doing something unexpected and non-cliche…but things become cliches because they work. Stories have patterns, and patterns become archetypes because they work, and building up to a final epic confrontation…it works. Having Vader turn on the Emperor–unexpected, non-cliche, still works. Having Luke and Vader never meet up again? Well, that would be disappointing…
There is one scene when Yvaine meets the exhausted Lilim, and shows her pity by letting her go her way (or doesn’t show pity, if you believe that was a worse fate). I do like what this says about Yvaine’s character…but I still feel like the villains’ long hunt was leading up to something much more dramatic than where it turned out.
What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?
I still think there’s a lot that’s lovely in here. Gaiman’s writing is always beautiful, and the glimpses we get into the creatures and features of Faerie are so fascinating. There’s so much that is so very clever, like the Babylon candle, and so very magical too.
But…with apologies to those who love this book (and I know you’re out there)…I was ultimately disappointed. I had read this before, and I remembered being vaguely dissatisfied. Memory had blurred the particulars though, and I jumped in again because it was a read-along, and especially because I liked Neverwhere so much better on a reread. I was hoping to repeat that. I read the first half of Stardust, and really thought I had been wrong before. It was lovely, magical, excellent villains. Then I read the second half, and remembered why this is not one of my favorite books.
I love Gaiman’s ideas. I love the world he set up, I thought the characters had huge potential and the arc is a good one. I just don’t like how that arc was portrayed (too much went on in Those Six Pages) and I don’t like how it finally turned out with the villains. So, while I liked a lot, in the end I was disappointed. Though on the plus side–it was all quite fascinating figuring out why I have troubles with this book. From a writing perspective, it was an enormously helpful read!
If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there? If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?
Odd though it might sound, I absolutely would. I loved the world, and I’d be very curious to explore further. Hopefully the whole experience would turn out better for me! And if Gaiman wanted to write a companion book, expanding Those Six Pages out into 300 pages, I would read it in a heartbeat.
Is there any interest in doing a Book vs. Film group discussion?
Yes! I already had the movie at the top of my Netflix queue. Because I did like the movie, very much. While I normally object to movies that change the book, this movie changed a lot of the things about the book that bothered me. Carl posted today that we’ll be doing a book vs. film discussion on April 28th, so stay tuned!
Final thoughts…now that I’ve somewhat flayed a much beloved book of a lot of people…I would like to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the read-along, regardless of my ultimate feelings about Stardust. I loved reading everyone’s thoughts on Part One, and will be VERY curious to see the thoughts on Part Two, positive and negative.
And for those of you in the positive camp, by all means, try to change my mind! I wanted to love Stardust. I still want to love Stardust. I don’t really see it happening, but do please tell me about why you love it.