Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman was born in 1960 in Portchester, Hampshire, England. He loves to read and claims to have been able to do so since he was four years of age. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorecock, and many others inspired him. In the 1980’s he conducted a number of interviews and wrote book reviews which ultimately was beneficial in getting him published later in his career due to connections in the publishing industry he acquired in those days.
In 1984, he wrote a biography of the band “Duran Duran” and a book of Kim Newman quotations called Ghastly Beyond Belief, which sold very well although he though they were terrible.
What really got him noticed was writing “Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion” and collaborating with Terry Pratchett with the hilarious doomsday novel “Good Omens”.
Ultimately, his most enduring fame came from his re-write of the old DC Comics character “The Sandman” in which he changed quite drastically from the original, making it more hip, gory, and since it was being published by DC’s Vertigo label, nudity, blood and cursing were allowed. “The Sandman” is to this day considered to be a classic work of graphic novel fiction and I myself have the complete collection in both graphic novel form and in bound collectors editions.
In 1999, Gaiman released Stardust which is a fantasy novel (and also a graphic/illustrated novel version). The story is primarily about Tristran Thorn (a half-Faerie, half-human) and Yvaine (a fallen star) and their travels through the lands beyond the wall.
Tristran lives in a small English village named simply “Wall” which is set against a massive stone wall which devides the Human world from the world of faeries (which to my memory was never actually named). Tristran knows he’s different and wishes for more. He desires “the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around” (i.e. Victoria Forester), who only enjoys his attention but doesn’t love him.
One night they witness a falling star and Tristran claims that he will cross over the wall and collect the star for her if she will marry him. Thinking that Tristran isn’t serious, she agrees. Tristran does indeed cross the wall into the faery lands and comes across a crater which has a beautiful young woman at it’s center with an injured leg, Yvaine, which Tristran comes to realize is actually the fallen star. He forces Yvaine to go with him as he is intent on bringing her back whether she’s a person or a rock to win his prize, Victoria.
The story follows the two as the experience hidden dangers at every turn, dangers such as the Lords of Stormhold who are also after the fallen star to gain the rule of Stormhold while killing off each other. The witch, Ditchwater Sal and worse of all the Lilim which are three sister witches who have grown quite old and wish to capture Yvaine to cut out her heart and consume it to become young again.
I have to say, I loved this book in both forms; however, I preferred the book form over the graphic/illustrated novel. The charcters are enjoyable and the story is both memorable, unique and at the same time vaguely familiar. While over the wall, many characters and situations resemble fairy tales we learned and read when we were children, yet, they aren’t at the same time. They’re not as terrifying as the actual originals, yet are creepy in the way only Neil Gaiman knows how to tell them. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is about Neil’s style that makes it so creepy and in this case “sweet” at the same time, so I won’t try…just sit back and enjoy, again and again.
As of note, there was a theatrical release of Stardust in 2007, staring Charlie Cox as the renamed Tristan Thorn (face it Tristran doesn’t roll off the tongue as well), Claire Danes as Yvaine and Michelle Pfeiffer as the Witch Queen, with Robert De Niro, Peter O’Toole, and Ricky Gervais. The movie was good, but, but much of what made the novel greate wasn’t present. The journey was too short and the campy portrail of Captain Shakespeare as a cross dressing pirate was way too over the top. The movie couldn’t decide whether it was a fantasy, comedy, or romance. The movie was OK…it just wasn’t as good as it could have been, which is often the case when a beloved book is turned into a movie, particularly when it’s done by an American big distributor. What was a saving grace was that it wasn’t produced by a big studio.
If you enjoy this, try:
- The Sandman (graphic novels)
- American Gods
- Anansi Boys