(image found on Charles Vess’ site, here)
Dewey from The Hidden Side of a Leaf was a huge Neil Gaiman fan, so when deciding which books to read for the Dewey’s Books Reading Challenge, I wanted to include at least one Gaiman book. I decided to read Stardust, and while I was at the library the other day picking up another book, I happened to see the version that was illustrated by Charles Vess. I didn’t even know there was such a version, but it looked like it might be fun, so I picked it up. Boy, I’m glad I did. The pictures are so beautiful, and really add to the story. I’m sure the non-illustrated versions are lovely, but if you get a chance to read the illustrated version, I highly recommend it.
(image found here)
Now that I’ve convinced you to get the illustrated version, I’ll move on to the story itself. Tristran Thorn is a young man who lives in a town named Wall, which is separated from the land of Faerie by, um, a wall. One day he is walking with the lady of his dreams, Victoria, when they spy a falling star, one that falls to Earth. Victoria promises Tristran that if he fetches the star for her, she will give him whatever he wants. With visions of true love in his heart, Tristran ventures into the land of Faerie, determined to bring back the star and win Victoria’s hand in marriage.
He finds the star more quickly than one might expect, though it’s not the scientific thing that his teachers had led him to expect. Instead, he finds a beautiful woman with “a scowl of complete unfriendliness”. She is not the least bit pleased to learn that she has been promised as a prize to win the heart of Tristran’s lady love.
“I did it for love,” he continued. “And you really are my only hope. Her name, that is, the name of my love is Victoria. Victoria Forester. And she is the prettiest, wisest, sweetest girl in the whole wide world.”
The girl broke her silence with a snort of derision. “And this wise, sweet creature sent you here to torture me?”
Thus begins the journey back to Wall. Unbeknownst to either Tristran or the star, there are others out there who would do even worse to her than to give her as a gift, including an old witch determined to regain her youth, and a trio of murderous brothers, each intent upon becoming the last man standing, and thus inheriting the rule of their land.
This is a fairy tale for adults, or at least teens. Maya is 13, and I have no problem allowing her to read it, though there is some mild sex and certainly a bit of gore.
Gaiman is a witty and clever writer, and there are many tiny twists in the book that readers will find delicious, like this one:
It was night in the glade by the pool and the sky was bespattered with stars beyond counting.
[…] A field mouse found a fallen hazel nut and began to bite into the hard shell of the nut with his sharp, ever-growing front teeth, not because he was hungry, but because he was a prince under an enchantment who could not regain his outer form until he chewed the Nut of Wisdom. But his excitement made him careless, and only the shadow that blotted out the moonlight warned him of the descent of a huge grey owl, who caught the mouse in her sharp talons and rose again into the night.
[…] The owl swallowed the mouse in a couple of gulps, leaving just its tail trailing from her mouth, like a length of bootlace. Something snuffled and grunted as it pushed through the thicket — a badger, thought the owl (herself under a curse, and only able to resume her rightful shape if she consumed a mouse who had eaten the Nut of Wisdom)…
Having now read The Graveyard Book and Stardust, I’m thinking I might want to read more of Gaiman’s work. I’ve heard Coraline is quite good, so maybe I’ll look out for that at the library. Also, I’ve heard that the film versions of both Stardust and Coraline are wonderful, so I’m looking forward to seeing them as well.