As you know from previous posts, of late I’ve become a Neil Gaiman fan, having read (along with Carl and the gang) Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book. And you also know, knowing me, there has to be a ghost in there somewhere. I love what Neil Gaiman said at the end of The Graveyard Book when asked if he believed in ghosts: “I believe in ghost stories, which is not quite the same thing” (qtd. in “About the Book” 4).
So, it’s fitting that in our Stardust discussion we begin with the ghosts. Gaiman has fun with these apparitions who are, despite an unfortunate proclivity for murder, rather lovable bumblers. My favorite is Primus Stormhold who even takes young Tristran under his protection, though had he known they were brothers, he might not have. In life, each Stormhold male is intent on killing his brothers to attain the throne. In death, they form a brotherhood they lacked in life.
The ghosts embody one of the book’s themes, a sort of Catch-22. In order to be a good ruler, you must wish not to rule. But if you wish not to rule, you avoid becoming a good ruler. Cases in point: The Stormhold brothers lust for power for the sake of power, the populace be damned. Tristran and Yvaine eschew power but rule well. Paradoxically, Yvaine somehow slips the bonds of patriarchy to become the finest monarch the realm has ever seen, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity.
Yvaine the Star-woman leads into the other aspect of Stardust I find interesting: Gaiman’s take on women. On a related note, Carl has encouraged participants to compare Stardust to other fairy tale/fantasy books. The book that really comes to mind for me in this examination of women is Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
Woman as Catalyst
In Neverwhere, Door begins Richard’s hero quest by falling across his path. In Stardust, the star Yvaine begins Tristran’s quest by falling from the sky. Both Richard and Tristran were complacently following a path set by others, but the women change all that. Later, each protagonist discovers that the woman of his plans is not the woman of his dreams.
Woman as Moral Guide
In Neverwhere, Richard follows Door until he finds his own moral direction and can effect his own transformation. Door is the guide who prompts Richard to step out (literally) of his shallow, programmed life. In Stardust, Tristran begins his journey as a vaguely self-absorbed youth with the possession of Yvaine his object. She is the ultimate objectified object for whom Tristran initially holds no regard. It is under her influence—her mere presence—that he begins to transform and mature.
Ultimately, however, in both Neverwhere and Stardust, the hero’s quest belongs to the male. Neverwhere is both darker and more complex (with additional roles for strong women) than Stardust, which follows a more traditional fairy tale trajectory.
It’s all good. Some days you want that 72% cacao, and some days nothing but a Milky Way will do—with a little stardust mixed in.