Stardust...May you attain your Heart's Desire

Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire. And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it” (1). So writes Neil Gaiman in the opening lines of Stardust serving notice that this is simply not your Grandmother’s fairytale but a tale for a new generation. We have come a long way from “once upon a time.”

Stardust tells the story of Tristran Thorn, a well-mannered, big-hearted lad living a quiet life in the town of Wall located in rural England. The town is named after the high grey rock wall found immediately east of town center whose purpose is to divide our world from another filled with magic and possibility. No one may pass through the wall except “once every nine years, on May Day, when a fair comes to the meadow” located beyond (4). It is during one such May Day market that Tristran’s father has his own small adventure culminating nine months later in Tristran’s birth.

Never knowing his origins, Tristran goes about the daily business of growing up. Like most young adults Tristran has dreams of leaving town, going on adventures, and winning the heart of the town beauty, Victoria Forester. One evening as Tristran is ineffectually proposing to Victoria they witness a falling star streaking over the wall into the lands beyond which Tristran vows to retrieve for the pledge of her hand. Unknown to Tristan, many other parties seek the same prize for their own motives, some ambitious and others diabolical.

The quest beyond the wall is a suspense laden race complete with witches, fairies, pirates who fly in airships harvesting lightning, wood nymphs, and ambitious princes who would be king by any means necessary. Tristran’s main defense through each hardship relies upon the charity of others fostered by his own selfless actions and well mannered behavior. Humorous, terrifying, and wickedly violent echoing unsanitized pre-Disney fairy tales; Stardust is a modern tale illustrating a hero coming to understand the nature of his own heart and the truth of his own desires.

As imaginative as M.T. Anderson’s futuristic Feed and as linguistically evocative as Susanna Clark’s homage to Austen in Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrel, Gaiman writes to exemplify the language and forms of days past, while juxtaposing the modern teenage struggle with objectification and true emotion. In Stardust, the once upon a time beginning does not necessarily lead to happily ever after as Gaiman holds a mirror to the reality of the complex relationships found between friends, lovers, and parents.

Recommendations for Teachers

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust offers a good option for teachers to introduce the genre of fantasy. The language is Tolkienesque, yet very accessible. Both male and female students will find appeal in this book, as it is full of action and adventure yet bound together by a love story. They may also find appeal in the theme of unrequited love throughout the book. Students may make connections between their own experiences with trying to find love with Tristran’s struggle to get Victoria Forester to marry him.
There are a lot of unique characters in Stardust. This would be a good book to use while introducing the concept of major and minor characters. A teacher could give a breakdown of each character and have students decide whether or not that individual plays a major or minor role in the story. It would also be interesting take a look at how characters change (or don’t change) over the course of the book. Stardust provides an entertaining way to show students how characters can be round or flat, and why they are this way.
Stardust would be a good book to throw in a booklist for those students interested in fantasy. The plot is easy enough to follow, yet has a lot of elements going on to make it very interesting. The characters are fun and diverse and the faerie world is very entertaining.

About Neil Gaiman
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Neil Gaiman, almost 50 now, was born and raised in England. He now lives in America, in the cold state of Minnesota. He has three children, all of whom he loves dearly. He takes pride in his writing, in making his work fresh and interesting, and something altogether different than anything else on shelves today.
He is best known for his work in comics and in novels, but he has also had his hands in many other kinds of writing, including screenplays. He writes mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He is an author, storyteller, and linguistic magician who enjoys comic writing over other forms of literature. He says, “One of the joys of comics has always been the knowledge that it was, in many ways, untouched ground.” His poetic style coupled with extensive knowledge of classical legends, myths, and history gives rise to a voice unheard since the brothers Grimm.
Since his initial success as an award winning graphic novelist creating such works as the Sandman comic series, Gaiman has produced literary works for children, young adults, and adults alike. Consistently and successfully blending older motifs with a modern sensibility, Gaiman’s work has established itself as some of the most inventive and creatively fresh contributions available today. Gaiman's most recent work, The Graveyard Bookrecently won The 2009 John Newberry Medal for "most outstanding contribution for children's literature."

The majority of his young adult novels, including Mirrormask, Stardust, and most recently Coraline, have been made into major motion pictures. A comic series of his was turned into a mini-series on the BBC, called Neverwhere. The comics and novels he had written have been the recipients of many awards, including the Nebula, Hugo, and Newbery Medal. The list extends far beyond these and he has compiled the awards in one place.

Gaiman has his own website,, on which he keeps a web blog, He updates this blog weekly with his progress and writing process and the journal has gained a lot of following from young readers and writers.


The trailer for Stardust, the film:

Advice for aspiring young writers from Neil Gaiman:

Additional Resources:

Stardust by Neil Gaiman - A preview of Stardust on Google Books.
Stardust (Novel) - The Wikipedia page for Stardust. (WARNING: Contains Spoilers!)

Neil Gaiman
Interview with Neil Gaiman - A 'Just One More Book' Podcast with Gaiman talking about technology. - The official website.
Neil's Journal - Keep up with what Gaiman is up to next on his blog.
Neil's Works - A complete listing of Gaiman's work, listed by genres including books, comics, films, and more!
Neil Gaiman - Neil Gaiman's page at the Internet Movie Database listing his film credits.
Twitter - Keep up to date on Neil's own Twitter site!

Related Information
Coraline - The website for Neil Gaiman's latest book to film translation: Coraline.
The Graveyard Book - Browse Gaiman's newest book!
The Graveyard Book Video Tour - Video coverage of the Reading Tour for Gaiman's 2009 Newbery Medal Winner.

Reviewed by:
Kelly Boston
Casey Heath
Greg Heisenfeldt
Shelby Lincoln

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