My favorite thing about (most) Neil Gaiman audiobooks is that they’re narrated by the author. The only one I’ve heard that wasn’t is Anansi Boys, but I really liked that narrator (Lenny Henry) as well. I highly recommend checking if your local library has any of Gaiman’s self-narrated novels – read them while you commute! They’re effortless and ever so pleasant!
Now about Stardust: I bought the movie adaptation of Stardust (Released in 2007) several long years ago now in a $5 movie bin – and LOVED it. It was probably a year later before I’d even heard of Neil Gaiman (around the same time I discovered Goodreads), and a little after that before I connected that the movie Stardust was actually based on a novel of his. I liked the movie so much that I’ve been putting off reading the novel ever since.
There is a short (20 minute?) interview of the author at the end of the audiobook where I found out that Stardust was first published as a graphic novel. This intrigues me, I’d love to flip through a copy someday. He talks about how the story has been tweaked since then and how it came to be published in a novel form (this is all before the movie went into production). It seems Stardust was the first audiobook Gaiman recorded himself, which he apparently enjoyed because I’ve listened to Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book read by him already, and enjoyed them both very much :-) I thought the interview was a very good addition to the ending of the audiobook. Many of the questions were not just run-of-the-mill, and seemed very relevant to Gaiman as an author.
So first, the narration: I could tell by listening that this was at least an early attempt at narrating for Neil, I could hear where some of the narration was cut and they started a new clip (they faded it a bit – why?). It didn’t take away from the story, but it was noticeable in some places. As always, listening to the story went very smoothly. Neil’s voice is so relaxing; he has a great accent, but he also has a way of talking almost slowly, it’s like he takes care with each sentence, chewing each word – he’s a phenomenal story teller and a great reader.
I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t seen the movie when I write up this ‘review’ of the novel itself. As I listened I was almost constantly reverting back to the movie and noticing differences.
The movie captured me very early on. It’s about a ‘parallel’ world of magic with only one entrance from our world: in a gap in an old stone wall in the small English village so named: ‘Wall’. It is set sometime in the late 1800s/early 1900s? The gap in the wall is guarded at all times by someone from the village, and no one really knows what exists on the other side of it (this differs a little bit in the novel) – no one is allowed to cross it. A young man named Dunstan Thorn does, however, slip past and into a strange magical market just on the other side. He meets a beautiful young woman at a shop stall selling flowers, to which she sells him one for the price of a kiss. He finds out she is a slave/servant of the stall owner, who is away at the moment, and she cuts off part of the magical chain that binds her and gives it to Dunstan, which he also keeps (again, difference from the novel) – and they hightail it to the wagon behind her to get it on. Dunstan returns to Wall after his dalliance with only the small flower and the length of magical chain to remember his mistress by…until 9 months later, when a baby basket is pushed through the gap in the wall with his name on it: baby Tristan Thorn.
Fast forward nearly twenty years – and Tristan is now the young man we follow in the story. He promises a beautiful girl from the village that he will fetch her a falling star to win her hand in marriage, and crosses the wall to do so. His father had given him the two trinkets he had from his short trip over the wall, and a small black candle that was in the baby basket he was ‘delivered’ in. The candle is magic. All Tristan had to do was the light it and think of where he wanted to go. He was supposed to be thinking if his mother, to meet her, but Victoria (the beautiful girl) slipped into his mind just as the candle activated and he was transported straight to the fallen star. Of course, over the wall the ‘star’ is not a meteor – that is, a hunk of fused metals and ‘alien’ matter – she is instead, a beautiful woman, played by Claire Daines.
This is only the main plot – there are many sub-plots woven through and around the story that make it complex and magical. There are Unicorns, Witch Queens, Grand Kingdoms, and Ghosts; Pirates, Ancient Runes, Carriages, and Curses. This is an amazing fairy tale adventure for an adult audience, and a beautiful and classic coming if age story with a hint of romance infused.
Now that I’ve read the book, I appreciate more about the movie. They had some incredible actors, first of all: Michelle Pfieiffer, Robert DiNero, Claire Daines, and Charlie Cox. There were appearances by Ricky Gervais, Ian McKellan narrated, and Sienna Miller, who plays the lovely Victoria Forrester.
I found a few movie stills when I searched for the movie cover, so I will include some of them here::
I loved the movie, in short. I’ve recommended many people watch it, and lent it to several friends and family members. I can’t believe it was only $5!
Because of my high opinion of the movie, I had very specific and grand expectations for the novel – and yet, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect (it is Neil Gaiman, after all). One thing is for sure, there are many amazing covers for this novel. Here are two of my favorites::
I’ve read quite a few Neil Gaiman novels now, and I feel like I’ve definitely got a hold on his style. Although all of his novels are very different, they are all a little bit the same. This is one of his early(er) works, so perhaps that was part of it, but I just wasn’t blown away by the story. Perhaps it’s the same reason I wasn’t blown away by The Princess Bride book – the movies just blow them out of the water – they’re both amazing.
In a way I think the movie solved some of the conflicts more easily and more gracefully than the book does. The minor characters are much more well rounded in the movie adaptation as well (sorry Neil!). One example of the consolidation of characters and plot points: The Little Hairy Man. (Note: All that I’m about to explain happens in the first quarter of the book, so I don’t count them as spoilers, but you might).
Gaiman wrote a character called the Little Hairy Man. Tristan meets him once he crosses the gap in the wall to find his fallen star. This is where Tristan in the novel acquires the light-travel candle and the length of magical chain he uses to bring the star along back with him (along with a few other useful things, like clothes). In the movie, Tristan’s father, Dunstan, gives Tristan these two essential things before he goes on his adventure. This is the time when he tells Tristan that his mother is from across the wall, and that she provided the candle for him to come and see her when he was able to. The second version makes more sense to me – logically. Why would the little hairy man provide Tristan with the candle and chain, really? They are both extremely valuable. And what better time for Tristan’s father to tell him about his mother (in the book, Tristan thinks that Dunstan’s wife is his mother, and he has a sister. In the movie his father is still a bachelor…it doesn’t explain what Tristan knows of his mother before this).
Besides the small changes like that made by the movie, the rest of it must have been really simple to make, because Gaiman portrayed them so completely and wonderfully in the book – they just had to build the sets and adorn costumes to make the story come to life, the magic was already there.
This and the aforementioned Princess Bride are my two biggest book to movie complaints. I kick myself in both cases for not reading the book first. In both cases, the books were such a perfect outlines for the movies, there was little room for failure, only enhancement, and that they did in both cases very well. I know the book has magic of it’s own, but it was overshadowed by the movie for me, since I’d watched it first. It was almost like the book was an emptier shell of the movie plot. I am sad that that happened :-(
That being said, I LOVE fairy tales and especially ‘grown-up’ fairy tales – if you haven’t read or seen the movie of Stardust (or Princess Bride for that matter), please do. But if you want to read the book at any point, do it first, I’m telling you!
Thanks for reading guys,
See you next time.