Study Guide

Stardust

By Neil Gaiman

Stardust Introduction

Have you ever seen a shooting star and wondered where it's off to? Forget making wishes—we want to know what happens to those brilliant flashes of light once they escape our line of vision.

We're not here to talk about astronomy, though, we're here to talk about Stardust, a book which is the lovechild of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Charles Vess and features, among other things, a star who falls to earth and looks a heckofa lot like a girl. The book was first published in 1999, and if you're lucky, you've got a copy with some of Vess's gorgeous illustrations in it. If not, though, get thee to your local library pronto. We promise it's worth the trip.

In Stardust we follow Tristran Thorn, a teen from Victorian-era England who goes to fetch a fallen star in Faerie to bring home to the girl he thinks is his true love. But nothing—and no one—is what it seems, and adventures ensue, magical creatures abound, and secrets are revealed.

This book has a lot of the same vibes as The Princess Bride, The Never-Ending Story, and Ever After, so expect excitement mixed with dazzling descriptions and cute characters. It won acclaim amongst fans and critics alike, receiving a nomination for the Locus Award, an ALA award, and both the Geffen Award and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.

We guarantee you won't feel the same way about stars ever again after reading Stardust, so grab a flashlight, put on your adventuring clothes, and get ready to go.

What is Stardust About and Why Should I Care?

Do you ever feel like no one respects your boundaries? Have you ever been bullied or beaten up? The rough reality is that most of us know to some degree what it's like not to have the lines we've drawn respected.

A lot of characters in Stardust have run-ins with consent and boundaries, too. Tristran waltzes into Faerie, prepared to bring back a fallen star, without ever considering what the star has to say about it (spoiler alert: she's not a fan of this idea). And the witch-queen wants to cut out the star's heart in order to restore her youth, while the surviving lords of Stormhold want to find the star because she's the key to the throne for them.

As you might guess, these are some pretty wrong-headed approaches to boundaries and consent. Tristran, at least, is capable of learning and changing his mind, and when he starts to see the star as a person, instead of an object, things go better for him and her. The same thing happens in his interactions with Victoria. He goes from pathetically begging her to kiss him (without really caring whether she wants to or not) to saying that she doesn't owe him a kiss or anything at all, since it's her decision what to do with her life.

If even a hormonal and heavily-crushing teenage boy can learn to respect other people's boundaries, maybe there's hope for the rest of us. That's one of the take-home messages of Stardust, though you, of course, are free to respectfully disagree. Just don't get all up in our faces about it.

Stardust Resources

Websites

Neil Gaiman's Stardust Webpage
Click to see all the editions of Stardust out there, with links to more of Neil's stuff in the upper bar.

Charles Vess's Website
Hop on over here to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of Vess's drawings.

Movie or TV Productions

Stardust the Movie 2007
You want an all-star cast? We're talking Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro, and Ian McKellan (okay, he's the voice of the narrator). The film's not totally faithful to the book, but it's interesting to see how exactly it brings the plot to life.

Articles and Interviews

Gaiman Writes About Writing Stardust
Want to know what Gaiman was thinking when he started writing the book? What he thought of the screenplay? Read on, dear Shmoopers.

Jo Walton's Review of Stardust at Tor.com
Want to read a fantasy writer's take on Stardust? This review helps situate it in the fantasy genre.

Marie Brennan's Structural Analysis of the Plot of Stardust
Okay, if you really feel like nerding out with us, click here to read this folklore-scholar-turned-fantasy-author's interpretation of Stardust using Vladimir Propp's famous fairy-tale morphology theory.

Gaiman and Vess's comments on Stardust
Here's some good info about how the collaboration between Gaiman and Vess developed, and how the book took shape as a movie.

Video

Trailer for the Stardust movie
Welp, they made some changes in the movie. You can probably guess a few of them just from watching the trailer.

Audio

Panel Borders Interview with Neil Gaiman
Alex Fitch talks with Gaiman about Stardust as well as the perils of packing.

Images

Gallery of International Covers
Scroll down to see how Stardust is interpreted by different artists.

Illustration for Stardust by Charles Vess
Can you guess which scene from the book this is?

Movie Poster for Stardust
Just what it sounds like.