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Literature / Stardust

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Stardust is a modern Fairy Tale written by Neil Gaiman. The main plot centers around Tristran Thorn, a young man with a mysterious ancestry who wants nothing more than to win the heart of his beloved Victoria. When he grandly declares that he'd even give her that star that just fell while they were watching the sky, she challenges him to do just that in return for anything he wants from her.

The fallen star turns out to be a girl named Yvaine, who isn't too keen on becoming Tristran's prize possession. The star's dislike of him becomes the least of Tristran's problems, however, as he learns that he isn't the only one who wants the star, and that some of them have far more malicious designs on her, all in the name of beauty, power, and/or fame. Needless to say, the road back home is quite a long and eventful one, and that's before the Reveals begin coming to light...

Stardust was originally published in four parts by DC Comics, lavishly illustrated by Charles Vess, before being collected into book form. It has also subsequently been published in a standard novel format without the illustrations.

In 2007, it was adapted into a movie. In 2016, it got an Audio Adaptation on BBC Radio 4.

If you're looking for the bizarre Golden Age superhero comic, go here.

Stardust contains examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: Tristran starts out trying to force Yvaine to come back to England with him to show her to Victoria to win her love, even chaining him to her by a silver chain, and then the two subsequently fall in love.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Robert Monday (forty-five) and Victoria Forester (seventeen). This is actually foreshadowed and played with early on, but quickly buried beneath the main plot.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Played straight, as in quite a few in Gaiman's works. The eldest of the Lilim doesn't die, but ends up an elderly crone again and has to go home and face her sisters' wrath for not getting them the heart of a star. Even Yvaine is sorry for her.
  • Another Dimension: The Land of Faerie, located just on the other side of a seemingly innocuous stone wall in a rural English village.
  • A Spy at the Spa: As part of the witch-queen's innkeeper disguise to lure and kill Yvaine, she pampers Yvaine with a bath and massage.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Tristran and Yvaine bicker constantly, but as time goes on it becomes obvious they really care for each other underneath it all.
  • Beardness Protection Program: Inverted — Primus shaves his beard, hoping that it'll make Septimus hesitate before killing him. We never get to learn whether or not it would have worked.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Stormholds really need some therapy, with the princes killing each other to get the throne and the king disappointed that they aren't doing it efficiently enough.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "Septimus" is obviously from the Latin for "seven", but happens to also be close to the Greek for "poisonous".
  • Bittersweet Ending: The book could have had a Happily Ever After ending, but decides to explore what happens after Happily Ever After. To quote The Sandman, "If you go on long enough, all stories end in death."
  • Cain and Abel: The customary method of royal succession in Stormhold is that the last prince to survive free-for-all fratricide among his brothers becomes the heir.
  • Came from the Sky: Yvaine, being a star.
  • Cool Sword: The witch-queen wields one that is made of obsidian.
  • Curse Escape Clause: The Curse Escape Clause for the witch's slave (actually Princess Una, the lost Princess of Stormhold and Tristran's mother) is that she will be free "when the moon loses her daughter, if it is in a week when two Mondays come together." These events both come to pass: the former is Yvaine giving her heart to Tristran, and the latter is that Mr. Monday and Victoria get married, and once Victoria has married him and taken his name, two Mondays have come together.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Yvaine starts off as aloof and abrasive (quite understandably, due to being forced to leave her home in the sky forever), but gradually becomes nicer as she bonds with Tristran and meets other benevolent inhabitants of Earth (such as the unicorn and the Perdita crew).
  • Departure Means Death: If Tristran had taken Yvaine out of Faerie, she would have turned into a meteorite. Yvaine knew this, and was prepared to step over the wall near the end of the book if Tristran didn't return her feelings and was still in love with Victoria Forester.
  • Engagement Challenge: Tristran's quest to find a star for Victoria. Its deconstruction is one of the plot points, where Tristran realizes that in his quest to marry her, he's ended up falling in love with the star instead.
  • Exact Words: Victoria promises Tristran anything he desires if he'll bring a fallen star to her. At the end of the book, he reminds her of this, and then goes on to say that what he desires is that she marry Robert Monday and be happy.
  • Expospeak Gag: "There is a proverbial saying chiefly concerned with warning against too closely calculating the numerical value of unhatched chicks."
  • The Fair Folk: Stormhold is just one kingdom within the Land of Faerie, and Faerie is inhabited by all manner of supernatural beings — witches, tree-nymphs, stars in the shapes of humans, and more.
  • False Soulmate: Eventually, Victoria to Tristran. At the start, he is so crazy about her that he begins his quest for the star for her sake, but by the end he has fallen in love with Yvaine.
  • Foreshadowing: While talking with Ditchwater Sal, the eldest Lilim states that, "The seed that will grow into the tree that will be felled to shape the cradle of the babe that will become the hero who is destined to kill me has not yet been planted". Shortly after they part ways, the narration pauses to focus on a squirrel that has just found an acorn, and runs off to bury it, and ultimately forget where they left it....
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Downplayed, as aside from featuring a sex scene in chapter one and having a Bittersweet Ending, the book generally adheres to all the standard tropes of fairy tales.
  • Gate Guardian: The town of Wall appoints two of its citizens (a different set every day) to watch the hole into Faerie to make sure none of the locals gets curious and wanders across.
  • Gender Bender: The goatherd chap gets this treatment, being transformed into a girl to act as the witch-queen's daughter in her inn ruse.
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: The villains are the Lilim, witches who were formerly queens of a powerful magical nation (the text refers to them as witch-queens). In the present, they rely on stars to keep them young and beautiful. In contrast, Lady Una is Faerie's sole princess, and unlike the Lilim and her seven murderous brothers, she is kind, good-hearted, and supportive of her long-lost son.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Tristran, to an egregious degree. He has one human ear and one pointy one.
  • Heroic Bastard: Tristran, whose parents only knew each other (in multiple senses of the word) for a single night. However, legitimacy doesn't seem to matter for the succession to the throne of Stormhold.
  • Historical In-Joke: Tristan promises Victoria he would find the source of the Nile for her and name it after her. The source of the Nile would be found in 1858 and named Lake Victoria - after Queen Victoria though.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Lilim's final attempt to capture Yvaine fails because of the charm the Lilim placed on Ditchwater Sal which made it impossible for Sal to notice Yvaine's presence.
  • I Gave My Word:
    • One witch gives her word not to harm another, and keeps it — but nevertheless manages to cause her considerable inconvenience.
    • Victoria is prepared to marry Tristran as per her promise, even though she doesn't love him and the promise was made flippantly.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: All the sons of the late king, in the latter's opinion... for not killing each other fast enough.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: When Tristran finds the star, her eyes are raw and red with weeping.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Stars and humans. They can't have offspring.
    • Faeries and humans. They can have offspring, Tristran himself being an example.
  • I Owe You My Life: Much to Yvaine's chagrin, Tristran saves her life, making each responsible for the other.
  • Klingon Promotion: How the princes of Stormhold try to gain the throne... with their father's full approval. Of the brothers, Septimus is the last one standing... only to get unceremoniously killed off by the Lilim.
  • Land of Faerie: The setting of most of the story.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Two witches competing for the star meet on the road and have a conversation, at the end of which one magically handicaps her competitor and wipes her memory of the encounter, as well as cursing her to be completely unable to sense the star if ever she should come across her.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Trapped with what is basically the most powerful witch ever and with no method of fighting back, Tristran improvises a Babylon candle from the leftover wax, using a lace from his jerkin as the candle's wick; however, the resulting candle is so small that he has to stick his hand in the fire to get it lit. His hand never recovers enough to actually be useful again.
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: Subverted, as Tristran's father is an unremarkable human, but his mother is a princess of Stormhold, and it is through her that he may ascend to the throne of Stormhold.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Tristran's mother to the princes of Stormhold, having been kidnapped by the witch Sal as a child and being thought dead.
  • Loser Gets the Girl: Tommy Forester marries the most beautiful woman in Wall, Bridget Comfrey, after losing a Cock Fight over her with another man.
  • MacGuffin Turned Human: Yvaine is the fallen star that the potential heirs to the throne of Stormhold, the witch trio, and the protagonist all need to retrieve. Of course, we know she's a star right from her introduction, and so does everybody else. Tristran is just a little slow on the uptake.
  • Magic Fire: Fires created by witches burn with colors other than normal due to their magic.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Implied with a bit of the eldest Lilim's introspection on the extremely long time she's been in the world and how weak her powers have become. Even when she is temporarily restored to a younger, more powerful form, her abilities absolutely pale in comparison to the epic feats she once pulled off with barely a thought. It's left unclear whether this is due to her own deterioration or if the magic of the world in general is fading.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Victoria in the beginning initially refuses to kiss Tristran but accepts his flirtations and tells him she'll kiss him, marry him, whatever he likes, if he brings her the star that has just fallen. In the end, she confesses it was just her incredibly foolish idea of getting rid of him, since at that point she had already decided to marry Robert Monday. In her defense, she never thought Tristran would really go to fetch the star and disappear for many months.
  • Master Poisoner: Septimus, whom the text notes is "one of Nature's poisoners".
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Yvaine and Tristran. The latter eventually dies and the former lives on alone, forever.
  • More Experienced Chases the Innocent: When young Victoria Forester and her friends talk about her suitors, one of the friends says that the only good thing about a match with forty-five-year-old widower Robert Monday would be his sexual experience. The entire conversation is Foreshadowing the fact that Victoria does end up with Robert (and by the time the wedding is near, Victoria is already pregnant).
  • Mundane Fantastic: Magic is treated very casually, even by Tristran. In fact, he has inherited the family talent for locating things in the Land of Faerie quite easily, being able to identify the location of places he has never even heard of before simply by hearing their names, and has no issue using candlewax and a nursery rhyme to pseudo-teleport.
  • Muggle and Magical Love Triangle: Downplayed in both cases, since there is no active competition between the rivals (they never meet in the former case and only meet once, when the triangle is resolved, in the latter).
    • Dunstan is courting practical, down-to-earth Daisy Hampstock, but becomes absolutely smitten with the mysterious fairy he meets at the fair. He has a one-night stand with the latter but marries Daisy and eventually gets over the fairy.
    • Tristran is, in the beginning, madly in love with beautiful village girl Victoria Forester, but ends up falling for Yvaine, a star who can't even cross the wall into the human world. He ends up with Yvaine, and it's revealed Victoria was never planning to marry him.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Victoria never intended for Tristran to really go in search for the star, and she's devastated she might have sent him to his death.
  • Nature Tinkling: The short man is strongly implied to have pooped on a tree, and then Tristran urinates on it.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted, as in the entry for Nature Tinkling above. Several characters are described going about their business.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Tristran's mother is to be released from her servitude when the moon loses her daughter, if it happens in a week where two Mondays come together. What fulfills the conditions is that a star (a daughter of the moon) gives her heart entirely to Tristran the week Mr. Monday and Victoria Forester got married, and once Victoria has married him and taken his name, two Mondays have come together. The chain breaks at the moment that this happens. It is hinted that Tristran's conception and birth was part of a Gambit Roulette to achieve this end.
  • No Name Given: The witch-queens. Their names were lost when Carnadine sank beneath the sea, though the eldest uses the alias Morwanneg, which means "wave of the sea".
  • No Ontological Inertia: Billy turns back into a goat after being headbutted by the unicorn.
  • Numerical Theme Naming: The male children of the Lord of Stormhold: Primus the eldest, Secundus the second-oldest, and so on and so forth. The sole female Stormhold child, meanwhile, is called Una, which means "only".
  • Nursery Rhyme: Nursery rhymes contain great secrets. One character jeers at the way ordinary people recite them to babies as if they weren't so powerful.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Tristran was conceived when his father, Dunstan, had a one-night stand with one of the stallholders at the annual fairy market. She left baby Tristran with Dunstan the following year, since her life situation was not conducive to raising a child. Dunstan went on to marry a local woman, and although Tristran later finds his mother, she and his father don't get together in the end.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Portmantitle.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: Victoria Forester wants to work as a barmaid, but her mother Bridget adamantly tells her that it's not a suitable job for a respectable young lady. The readers are aware, thanks to the prologue, that Bridget used to be a barmaid herself.
  • Phosphor-Essence: Yvaine glows more brightly the happier she is. Yvaine herself is not particularly powerful; however, her heart is, and the brighter she is, the more powerful her heart is.
  • Portmantitle: A combination of "star" and "dust".
  • Precision F-Strike: When Yvaine falls into Stormhold and is in pain from having fallen from the sky, she lets out one of these.
  • Psycho Knife Nut: The Witch Queen loves to stab people to death. And unicorns as well.
  • Rags to Royalty: Tristran goes from being a normal rural village boy to being the king of the great Faerie kingdom of Stormhold.
  • Really 700 Years Old / Time Abyss: Lots of characters are much older than physically possible. The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold is supposed to be hundreds of years old, Yvaine is a star, and the Lilim are just as old as the whole world.
  • Relationship Reboot: Tristran and Yvaine do this.
  • Road Trip Romance: Yvaine and Tristran fall in love on their weeks-long journey from the place where Yvaine fell from the sky back to Wall, where Tristran plans to show her to Victoria.
  • Royal Blood: Tristran, by virtue of his mother being a long-lost princess of Stormhold.
  • Runic Magic: Throwing rune stones is used as a method of divining the future. Primus, in particular, is noted to have the ability to read runes.
  • Sacred Hospitality: When one witch pledges to treat another as if she were her guest, the other takes it as a perfect promise.
  • Scars are Forever: Yvaine limps after her fall from the sky, and Tristran burns his hand — and in contrast to how it usually turns out in fairy tales, both are somewhat crippled for life as a result. Either there was no cure available, (which is difficult to believe, since they are in a land full of magic, and they eventually become king and queen of Stormhold), or they eventually just decided to keep their handicaps.
  • Science Destroys Magic: The more civilized our world becomes, the fewer links it has to the other world.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: There are two major villains, who effectively and elegantly dispose of each other when the heroes aren't even around.
  • Shock and Awe: Although not a superpower, it is still a weapon.
  • Shout-Out: A subtle one to one of Gaiman's other works.
    Then Death came in the night and whispered her secret into the ear of the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold, and he nodded his grey head and said nothing...
    Outside there was a gust of wind, and the fire flared up green and blue and white.
    Or, as Coleridge put it:
    About, about, in reel and rout
    The death-fires danced at night;
    The water, like a witch's oils,
    Burnt green, and blue and white.
  • Stay on the Path: Anyone who strays from the path through a serewood will fall victim to murderous plants.
  • Stealth Pun: The name of the young dullard who owns the goat is Brevis. Think about what action goats are known for...
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Tristran realises his love for the most beautiful girl that he left home for was shallow and meaningless when he returns.
  • Succession Crisis: The whole reason for the shitty way the princes of Stormhold treat each other. Resolved when all the princes kick the bucket, and Tristran is revealed to be the son of their sister and therefore the last remaining male heir.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: According to Yvaine, Victoria doesn't know she's pregnant.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Tristran is asked, in his dream, to keep down the noisiness of his dream.
  • Technicolor Fire: One witch recognizes the fire of another, because witches' fires burn strange colors.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Babylon candles, the Fellowship of the Castle's hinted-at signature move.
  • Threshold Guardians: Two of 'em, drawn in various combinations each day from the various people of Wall to guard the passage into Faerie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Billy the goat, making it justified in this specific case. Enchanted into human form, it tries to headbutt a unicorn. Think about that one for a second.
  • Unknown Rival: Close to the end, Victoria meets Yvaine at the fair and chats with her happily, completely unaware that Yvaine is in love with Tristran and jealous of her. Finally, Victoria reveals she is marrying Robert rather than Tristran, and the trope is nullified.
  • The 'Verse: Shared with American Gods, though you'd only know it by reading Wall: A Prologue.
  • The Wall Around the World: The wall in the village of Wall, separating the human world from Faerie. It's not clear just how long it is and where it is located on Earth other than in Wall.
  • When Trees Attack: Tristran gets in trouble with a hostile part of the forest early in his trip beyond the Wall.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The ending of the book: after Tristran dies of old age, Yvaine is left to live in a place far from the home to which she can never return, without the man she loves, forever.