Trina Robins

Stardust (novel)

Stardust (1998) is the first solo prose novel by Neil Gaiman. It is usually published as a novel with illustrations by Charles Vess. Stardust has a different tone and style from most of Gaiman's prose fiction, being consciously written in the tradition of pre-Tolkien English fantasy, following in the footsteps of authors such as Lord Dunsany. It is concerned with the adventures of a young man from the village of Wall, which borders the magical land of Faerie.

In 2007, a film based on the book was released to generally positive reviews. Gaiman has also occasionally made references to writing a sequel, or at least another book concerning the village of Wall.


Stardust begins in a small English town named Wall, located a night's drive away from London. Wall is named after an old rock wall to its east, in which is a small opening leading to a forest. This opening is a portal to the magical world of Faerie. It is carefully guarded by two watchmen at all times, except once every nine years on May Day, when a market comes to the meadow just past the wall.

Faerie, a world also featured in many of Gaiman's other works, such as The Sandman and The Books of Magic, is composed of "each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there", and thus features many mythic creatures and objects. Most of Stardust takes place in Stormhold, a kingdom within Faerie named for the Stormhold, a fortress carved from Mount Huon.

The story begins in late April 1839, as Henry Draper had just photographed the Moon and Charles Dickens was serializing Oliver Twist. The majority of the book takes place seventeen years later, around October 1856.

Major characters

  • Tristran Thorn: The book's main character (renamed "Tristan" in the movie adaptation), a half-Faerie creature raised by his father and stepmother. Tristran foolishly promises to retrieve a fallen star for his sweetheart, Victoria (see below), and so unexpectedly finds the beautiful Yvaine.
  • Yvaine: A fallen star, which Tristran vows to find and bring to Victoria Forester. In Faerie, stars are living creatures. Yvaine appears to be immortal, but not invulnerable. She is pursued by the Lilim and the surviving sons of Stormhold, who want her for their own reasons. When Tristran realizes his love for her and lets go of Victoria Forester, Yvaine marries him despite their inability to interbreed.
  • Dunstan Thorn: Tristran's father. Main character in the beginning of the book. He visited the Wall Market to find a gift for his sweetheart Daisy, and ended up fathering Tristran by Madame Semele's abused Slave Girl, Lady Una. Prior to this, he had bought a crystal snowdrop from this girl, and later gives the flower to Tristran.
  • Victoria Forester: A resident of Wall described as "the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around". She is the daughter of Bridget Comfrey and Tommy Forester. Although very beautiful, she is somewhat proud and nitwitted. She ultimately marries a man called Monday and thereby unwittingly frees Tristran's mother, Lady Una, from slavery.
  • The Lord of Stormhold: The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold is an old man who rules Stormhold until his death. At the beginning of Stardust, he has four dead sons (Secundus, Quartus, Quintus, and Sextus) and three living ones (Primus, Tertius, and Septimus), in addition to his long-lost daughter Una. The dead sons appear as ghostly observers, while the living sons plot constantly to kill each other in order to succeed their father as Lord of Stormhold.
  • Lord Septimus: The youngest and most ruthless of the Lords of Stormhold. He is, by nature, a skilled assassin and has succeeded in murdering the majority of his family.
  • Lady Una: A cat-eared faerie girl of great beauty who works as a slave for Madame Semele until released by an improbable occurrence that fulfills the conditions of her debt. Lady Una suffers constant abuse at the hands of Madame Semele, being beaten and called a "slattern". When not toiling for the witch-woman, she is kept in the form of a multicoloured bird. She is later revealed to be the Lady Una, the daughter of the Lord of Stormhold and Tristran's birthmother.
  • Madame Semele/Ditchwater Sal: A witch, and a member of the Sisterhood to which the Lilim belong. The witch-queen knew Semele as Ditchwater Sal when she was "a young chit of a thing". On their first encounter, Semele drugs the witch-queen's food with a magical substance that causes her to speak only the truth, thus forcing her to blurt out the truth of the fallen star. Semele plots to find the star first and restore her own youth, but the witch-queen curses her so that she will never perceive the star in any way.
  • The Lilim: Three old women of great power. The eldest of the three is called "the witch-queen", though they are also called by this title collectively. They are never named, as they lost their names long ago, but the eldest adopts the alias "Morwanneg" at one point. The Lilim were once the beautiful queens of a magical kingdom of witches; when it was lost beneath the sea, centuries of age caught up with them. They seek the fallen star because by consuming her heart, they will be granted centuries of youth and beauty. Using magic counteracts the effect; therefore with each spell cast by the witch-queen, she grows older and uglier.


Dunstan Thorn attends the fairy market in the meadow, where he seeks a gift for his sweetheart, Daisy. He eventually settles on a crystal snowdrop, but becomes unexpectedly infatuated with the slave of the witch who owns the stall. They meet in a secluded part of the meadow and make love. Dunstan marries Daisy the following June. Several months after their wedding, a basket containing an infant boy is left at the wall, along with a scrap of parchment, on which is written "Tristran Thorn", who is evidently the faerie slave's son by Dunstan. Tristran is raised by his father and stepmother, ignorant of his true heritage until the end of the book. Seventeen years later, Tristran promises to bring the beautiful Victoria Forester a fallen star in exchange for her hand in marriage. She agrees to this, and he crosses the Wall into Faerie to find the star. He there discovers that the star is an anthropomorphic being, who is most displeased to accompany him to Wall, and that there are others who also covet the star for their own reasons. Tristran and the star, called Yvaine, travel across Faerie, evading numerous attempts to capture Yvaine, and setting off a chain of events which lead to some surprising revelations, and cause Tristran to question whether he really wants what he set out to achieve. At the end of the book, he finds himself forsaken by Victoria (though his infatuation had subsided greatly by that point), and instead chooses to marry Yvaine, with whom he had fallen in love on their journey. His heritage, and that of his mother, who is the daughter of the Lord of Stormhold (a Faerie nobleman), are revealed thereafter. After several years of exploring Faerie with his wife, Tristran accepts his inheritance as ruler of Stormhold. Yvaine becomes his queen, and rules the land after his death.

Publication history

Stardust was originally conceived by Gaiman and Vess as a "story book with pictures," created by both, to be published by DC Comics. During an interview to be included in the audio book Neil Gaiman explained how, one day while driving he had seen a wall on the side of the road and had conceived the idea of Faerie being behind the wall, this sparked an idea in his head about an American novelist who moved to England where he would find out about this wall, this book was to be called, very simply, Wall. Soon after he was nominated for a literary award which he won, at a celebratory party he saw a shooting star and immediately came up with the idea of Stardust. He dragged Vess out of a party that he was at and outlined the plot to him, Vess agreed to do the illustrations. Initially it was released in 1997 in what is known in the medium of comics as a prestige format four-issue mini-series. This means it came out once a month in a square-bound high-gloss comic, with high grade paper, high quality color and no advertisements.

Gaiman and Vess originally intended the story to be released complete, as a single book, which would better reproduce the painted illustrations of Vess and be a "story book" for all ages, and a release in this format was made in 1998. There was both a hardback (ISBN 1-56389-431-9) and a trade paperback edition (ISBN 1-56389-470-X). It is more accurately titled Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust (Being A Romance Within The Realm of Faerie). The hardback edition is quarter-bound in faux leather with the author's names, title and several stars inlaid in foil. It also has reproductions of the comic book covers and many sketches by Vess. The trade paperback has a very different cover design and illustrations by Vess, and has subsequently been reprinted with another different cover design.

Gaiman retains the copyright to the text and in 1999 decided, encouraged by publisher Avon, to publish Stardust as a conventional novel in hardback without illustrations. There was also a subsequent UK hardcover edition, from Headline. The book also proved popular with readers of the "romance" genre, although it is generally considered part of the fantasy genre. Thus the paperback publication was originally given three different covers which when placed side by side had one background image and a different primary image including a handsome man holding a woman in a passionate embrace, although this cover concept was never used.

In 1999, Charles Vess' Green Man Press produced a portfolio as a benefit for Charles Vess' wife Karen, injured in a car accident, titled A Fall of Stardust, which contained two chapbooks and a series of art plates. The first chapbook, written by Gaiman, comprised of "Wall: A Prologue" short story, "Septimus' Triolet" poem, "Song Of The Little Hairy Man", and "The Old Warlock's Reverie: A Pantoum" poem. The second chapbook was a short story entitled The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse by Susanna Clarke. Art plates were illustrated by William Stout, Mike Mignola, Terri Windling, Bryan Talbot, Jill Thompson, Paul Chadwick, P. Craig Russell, Mark Crilley, Elizabeth Johns, Michael Zulli, Robin Mullins, Lisa Snellings, Terry Moore, Tony DiTerlizzi, Linda Medley, Lorenzo Mattotti, Zander Cannon, Dave McKean, Jeff Smith, Trina Robins & Steve Leialoha, Gary Gianni, Janine Johnston, Stan Sakai, Michael Kaluta, Moebius, Rebecca Guay, Geoff Darrow, Brian Froud and Charles Vess. Those who order this collection directly from Green Man Press received an additional art plate by Sergio Aragones.

In July 2007, a new hardcover edition was published by Vertigo containing approximately fifty pages of new material, including new artwork and information on the production of the book.

Cultural references

One of the characters in Stardust is a large tree with red leaves that talks. The character was based on singer/songwriter (and friend of Gaiman) Tori Amos. She references this in the song "Horses" on her 1996 album Boys For Pele. She sings "And if there is a way to find you I will find you/but will you find me if Neil makes me a tree?".

The novel also makes a number of references to folklore and mythology. For example, the small, hairy creature that helps Tristran refers to the nursery rhyme How Many Miles to Babylon? when explaining to Tristran how to use the candle to travel long distances quickly. Another nursery rhyme, The Lion and the Unicorn, which is itself a reference to the heraldic beasts which appear on the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, is directly referenced when Tristran rescues a unicorn which is fighting with a lion over a golden crown.

The Lilim, the three witches who seek Yvaine's heart, may be a reference to the creatures of the same name in Jewish mythology.

Towards the end of the novel, it is mentioned that Tristran was rumoured to have been instrumental in breaking the power of the Unseelie Court. In Scottish folklore, faeries are often divided into the Seele and Unseelie Courts, the Seelie being the faeries benevolently inclined towards humans and the Unseelie being the malevolent or mischievous faeries.

At the very end of the novel, death is referred to as "she". This could be a reference to Death, a character in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman or it could be an additional reference to witchcraft and Celtic folklore as the Celtic Goddess of death and magic, Morrigan and may have been used as another muse to throw an alternate perception of traditional thought at the reader.


The original DC comic series was a top vote-getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards for Favorite Limited Series for 1998 and 1999. The collected edition of the series was a top vote-getter for the Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Award for Favorite Reprint Graphic Album for 1999.

In 1999, the Mythopoeic Society awarded Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature for Stardust.

In 2000, it received the Alex Award from the American Library Association, which called it one of the "top ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults".

Academic criticism

Meredith Collins has written about the use of Victorian imagery and motifs to establish Stardust in a particularly Victorian tradition of fairy tales. She comments both on Gaiman's usage of particular Victorian tropes, most obviously the explicit reference to Queen Victoria in the novel's beginning, as well as Vess's clear echoing of visual tropes of Arthur Rackham and Walter Crane, including one image that is strikingly similar to one of Rackham's illustrations for The Wind in the Willows. On the other hand, she sees also in Stardust clear references and structures of the comics tradition in which it was first published, leading her to view the work as a hybrid between the Victorian fairy tale tradition and the more contemporary comics tradition Gaiman is more often associated with.

See also


External links

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