Neil Gaiman’s novel (or in its first incarnation, story with pictures) Stardust is, at its heart, a Victorian fairy story. Ordinary village boy is hopelessly in love with beautiful village girl. Boy pledges to fulfill a quest to win girl’s heart, and ventures into an unknown realm to do so. The quest: retrieve a fallen star. The unknown realm: the world beyond the Wall. Faerieland.
When a star falls onto earth, there is light and heat and then cold, pitted rock. When one lands in Faerie…
“And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said “Ow”, and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck”, and then it said “Ow”, once more.”
And there you have Yvaine. She who once graced the night sky, dancing with radiance, has been slammed to earth. Leg broken. Completely alone. When all but pounced upon by our cheerful young village lad, she’s not in the best of moods.
“You’re the star,” said Tristran, comprehension dawning. “And you’re a clodpoll,” said the girl, bitterly, “and a ninny, a numbskull, a lackwit and a coxcomb!”
When Tristran explains the nature of his quest – return Yvaine to his village crush – she is understandably cross.
“I just want you to know,’ said the girl, coldly, ‘that whoever you are and whatever you intend with me, I shall give you no aid of any kind, nor shall I assist you, and I shall do whatever is in my power to frustrate your plans and devices.’ And then she added, with feeling, ‘Idiot.”
He has no desire to bind Yvaine forever, merely to prove that he was able to retrieve the star and so win the affection of his village girl. In fact, he intends to help the star return to her home when his task is complete.
“That doesn’t happen,” she explained. “Stars fall. They don’t go back up again.” “You could be the first,” he told her.”
Of course the heart of a star holds powerful magic, and there are many who would stop at nothing to claim it. Other forces come into play. Princes and sorceresses seek the fallen star. There is trouble, as in any true quest, at every turn. Tristran finds courage and heroism. Yvaine finds (continued) tenacity and deep, unexpected love.
For his part, Tristran is equally smitten.
“He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize how much he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man has been called.”
When villains are vanquished and affections are sorted, Yvaine has her happy-ever-after with Tristran. They adventure for a while, then settle down to rule his rightful realm. But she is a star, and will shine for time untold. When her love sleeps, forever and at last, she remains: a star bound to earth.
“They say that each night, when the duties of state permit, she climbs, on foot, and limps, alone, to the highest peak of the palace, where she stands for hour after hour, seeming not to notice the cold peak winds. She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars.”
postscript: While I fully adore the original novel, I really liked the 2007 movie adaptation; just planting that flag.