Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Flu and books do not much mix unless the book complements warmth and fuzzy(headed)ness. Usually this necessitates rereading old favourites, especially children's books (by that I mean young adult, not picture books).

I managed one new adult title, Neil Gaiman's STARDUST. I have read all of Gaiman's graphic novels, which are inspiring and full of genius. His Sandman series contains one of the finest, most sympathetic renderings of Death that I have encountered. Death is a young woman, sister to Morpheus the god of dreams (the Sandman), and she comes to you in whatever form you desire. There is a wonderful episode where the storyline is about something entirely different, but in the background Death as a young, approachable woman begins to play with a little girl in the park; by the end of the story the two of them are walking away hand in hand, the child happily chattering. An unforgettable image.

So STARDUST is my first exploration of Gaiman fiction and I find it light as air and somewhat frothy (think champagne, gloriously insubstantial but delicious). This book is a non-intimidating way in to the world of Gaiman which, in my experience, is usually a whole lot darker, and that can only be a good thing if it attracts legions of new fans. Set in Victorian England (although it could be now, no matter) young Tristran Thorn lives in a village which marks the boundary with Faerie. The men of the village of Wall watch over the border, keeping the peoples of both sides apart. Tristran is infatuated with the lovely Victoria Forester and, in a fit of pique, promises her a falling star. The only problem is that the star falls on the other side of the wall, in Faerie...

How does Tristran get through the guarded wall? Will he find the star? What does he give Victoria? You''ll have to read the book yourself. What I enjoyed (as always, with Gaiman) were the layers behind layers:
A question like 'How big is Faerie?'does not admit of a simple answer. Faerie, after all, is not one land, one principality or dominion. Maps of Faerie are unreliable, and may not be depended upon.
We talk of the Kings and Queens of Faerie as we would speak of the Kings and Queens of England. But Faerie is bigger than England, as it is bigger than the world (for, since the dawn of time, each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn't there has taken refuge in Faerie; so it is now, by the time that we come to write of it, a most huge place indeed, containing every manner of landscape and terrain). Here, truly, there be Dragons. Also gryphons, wyverns, hippogriffs, basilisks, and hydras. There are all manner of more familiar animals as well, cats affectionate and aloof, dogs noble and cowardly, wolves and foxes, eagles and bears (pp. 70-71)
Once upon a time while studying at university (unfortunately I don't remember which course), I read THE TRAVELS OF SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE which astonished with his nonsense disguised at truth. He purported to recount his actual travels around the world in the 1300s and what he found along the way (a free copy can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg). Readers at the time (including Columbus and Da Vinci) would have thought his bizarre tales of encounters with strange beings and wondrous countries had a base in reality. I rather like the idea that Mandeville's wacky world might have retreated into Faerie (and I bet Gaiman would too)!

Gaiman has his own website and keeps a wonderful journal/blog, which I highly recommend - an author very generous with his time.

This autumn STARDUST becomes a movie (see here for a trailer). Great looking cast. Let's hope that the charm of "'Scuse me," said a small and hairy voice in his ear, "but would you mind dreamin' a bit quieter? Your dreams is spillin' over into my dreams..." (p. 82) is not lost in the film. What exactly is a hairy voice, then?



Blogger A. said...

My first Gaiman book was Stardust, and I really loved it (I do love champagne!) so when I chose Neverwhere for my next, I was quite startled at the difference. As you say, very much darker.

7:32 pm  
Anonymous Litlove said...

I really do want to read some Gaiman, but I find it difficult to know where to start. Thank so much for this wonderful incentive to get going on his work, Equiano!

8:34 am  
Anonymous danielle said...

I enjoyed Stardust and am looking forward to the movie. I need to read more of his work now. I wouldn't mind trying something a bit darker...or is all of the rest of his work in the dark side?

2:46 am  
Anonymous David said...

@litlove - Personally I recommend you start with volume 1 of The Sandman and work your way through. It will be quite a ride.

3:29 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Welcome A! Gaiman is an acquired taste, but so clever, especially in the SANDMAN series, which you can read just as straightforward stories, but if you happen to know much about fairy stories and fables of the world they are simply brimming over with references.

Litlove,the first I read was THE BOOKS OF MAGIC, which I found interesting but didn't deeply engage with. I would go with David's recommendation below to start with volume 1 of THE SANDMAN and keep going. I should warn you that some of it is terrifying (I wouldn't have the series in a house with small children) but you will score major cool points with your teenage son! Do read SANDMAN in order. My local library in Kent has the lot, so I suspect you can get them from your local lib too.

Danielle, I don't know about the other fiction as this was my first. I recently mooched ANANSI BOYS so will post on that when I'm done. For you I'd also suggest that you start with SANDMAN 1 in the graphic novels. Should count for that fantasy challenge of Carl's that you're doing too!

Thanks, Dave. 100% agree.

4:30 pm  
Blogger Carl V. said...

Nice review, and I am really intriqued with the other book you mentioned. Stardust is one of those books that I think is deceptively simple. It flows so wonderfully and magically that I think it is easy for some to dismiss it and yet it has its complexities and a beauty which not many fairy tale writers accomplish so well.

Neil is defintely a writer who tries not to be put in a box. Some really dark stuff, some really light stuff, and some in-between.

btw, I left you a comment in today's post in response to your question about joining the challenge

5:11 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Thank you, Carl. You should find a copy of the Mandeville quite easily. Now, I'm over to sign up for the competition...!

11:39 am  

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