"At age fourteen, by a process of osmosis, of dirty jokes, whispered secrets and filthy ballads, Tristan learned of sex. When he was fifteen he hurt his arm falling from the apple tree outside Mr Thomas Forester's house: more specifically from the apple tree outside Miss Victoria Forester's bedroom window. To Tristan's regret, he had caught no more than a pink and tantalising glimpse of Victoria, who was his sister's age and, without any doubt, the most beautiful girl for a hundred miles around."
Neil Gaiman, Stardust, p. 29.Knocked through this very quickly and pleasurably, patting myself on the back for noting various references to what Grimm fairy-tales I've read (the Dr got both books for Christmas). Gaiman's got the feel, the strangeness and the Freudian undertones (glimpses of vivid sex and brutality) spot on, though his morality is more fathomable and consistent.
It's also much more plotty, and longer as one sustained story than the Grimm stuff. It could have been far longer in fact, but Gaiman glosses over digressionary adventures in a sentence, teasing us with details from his fairy-tale world without having to get all indulgently epic about it.
Tristan wants to impress Victoria, and to get rid of him she says she'll do anything if he'll fetch her the star they've just watched falling. Tristan sets off, but the star fell on the far side of the Wall that keeps out the lands of Faerie. He's not the only one who wants the fallen star. And she's not best pleased either.
Tristan's a bit late in discovering girls at 14, isn't he? Though I guess they didn't have James Bond films in the 1830s. And in the prologue for (the never written) "Wall", there's a girl who comes on for the first time at 13. Which - and I admit not to being an authority on the subject - seems a bit late. Perhaps both characters hold onto their innocence later than most because of their connection to Faerie.
The fairy world is a real and fascinating place, which also reminded me of Little, Big and Strange and Norrell, and bits of CS Lewis. The ending made me think of Arwen from Lord of the Rings. And I'm aware that all of these are helping themselves from older mythologies which I should really get round to reading one day.
As with Clarke's book, it's set in the 19th century and mixes the period costume we know with fanciful fairy-tale world - grounding the made-up with familiar history. Since we feel we know something of the parochial life of Victorian small towns, it makes everything more credible and real.
It's a little predictable, and sometimes the revelations are a bit too spelt out. We don't need Victoria, for example, to explain how there's two Monday's this week. And though it's simply told, wryly funny and charming, it's also odd and spooky and really not one for children.
Not that they wouldn't enjoy it, I just think they'd miss what it's really about. It's not about a childish world of make believe, but that we (ourselves as adults and as modern society) have left that childish world behind.
Related stuff, if you're bovvered: