Study Guide

Stardust Courage

By Neil Gaiman

Courage

The wind blew from Faerie and the East, and Tristran Thorn suddenly found inside himself a certain amount of courage he had not suspected that he had possessed. (2.44)

Luckily for Tristran's attempts to flirt with Victoria, he gets a boost from the wind from Faerie. Is it because winds from Faerie are magical, or because Tristran's heritage comes from there? Either way, the wind emboldens him to ask Victoria if he can walk her home, which he probably wouldn't have done otherwise.

His coat was thin, and it was obvious he would not get his kiss, which he found puzzling. The manly heroes of the penny dreadfuls and shilling novels never had these problems getting kissed. (2.81)

In Tristran's fantasies, fed by reading material of dubious quality, he'd get Victoria to kiss him, as easy as can be. Unfortunately, though, that's not how things go. Tristran pictures himself as manly and brave, like the heroes he reads about, so what's the deal? Where's the broken link? Possibly it's that he's never actually done anything brave just yet.

Tristran shook his head. "I'm sure I can find a way […] If necessary, I'll fight my way past the guards." (2.114)

Now <em>there's</em> a courageous thought. But unfortunately, it's a bad plan. We don't think Tristran has much experience fighting, or any training or skills that would help him, so he'd likely just get pummeled. Still, it's the thought that counts, right?

"Buck up," said Tristran. "We're nearly there." He grasped the little hairy man's free hand in his own larger hand and pulled him forward. (4.91)

The serewood is pretty darn creepy, and full of trees that eat people… and animals… and whatever else they manage to ensnare. Tristran and the little hairy man are on their way to the path out when the little hairy man starts to freak out. Tristran reassures him that they're almost there, and indeed, they make it out shortly after. Maybe Tristran didn't think of this as a brave thing to do, but it was, because it helped get them out of a dangerous situation.

There were burrs and leaves in the lion's mane. He held the heavy crown out toward the great beast. "You won. Let the unicorn go." And he took a step closer. Then he reached out both trembling hands and placed the crown upon the lion's head. (5.48)

Hey, how about going and breaking up a fight between a lion and a unicorn? That sounds like a piece of cake, right? Er, no, not so much. The fact that Tristran steps up to do it, which means approaching a giant lion to give it the crown it wants, shows us that Tristran is actually pretty brave. He probably didn't <em>feel</em> too brave while doing this, but the fact that he did it speaks volumes.

"Now," said Tristran, one hand gripping the star's arm, the other holding his makeshift candle, "now, <em>walk!</em>"

And he thrust his left hand into the fire. (7.80-81)

Sticking your hand into the fire: brave or stupid? Maybe a little bit of both? Obviously Tristran knows that this is going to hurt, but he does it anyway. It's their best chance to get out of the inn before the witch-queen skewers them, and as desperate a gamble as it is, it works. Last-minute escape: achievement unlocked.

In Berinhed's Forest Tristran outfaced one of the great, tawny eagles, who would have carried them both back to its nest to feed its young and was afraid of nothing at all, save fire. (8.115)

As Tristran and Yvaine make their way through Faerie to the wall, they have all these crazy encounters with bizarre and dangerous creatures (including people). Some of them are apparently harder to fight or outsmart than others, such as these almost-totally-fearless eagles.

She nodded, and raised her head, so her pretty chin pointed toward Tristran. "But I gave you my word, Tristran. And I <em>will</em> keep my word, and I have told Robert this." (10.80)

Wow, props to Victoria for being brave enough to keep her promise to Tristran, even if it stinks for her. She's in love with someone else, and wants to marry him, but she'll come through on her oath to give him his heart's desire no matter what. Knowingly sacrificing your happy future in order to keep your word sure sounds brave to us. Or maybe it's just stupid? The line between the two can get pretty thin.

"But there are so many places we have not yet seen. So many people still to meet. Not to mention all the wrongs to right, villains to vanquish, sights to see, all that." (Epilogue.7)

This is what Tristran says to Yvaine when they finally make their way to Stormhold after wandering through a good chunk of Faerie. Apparently his courage hasn't faltered at all, since he still feels like going out and fighting bad guys is a great idea. 

He was valiant in battle, though his left hand was scarred and of little use, and a cunning strategist; he led his people to victory against the Northern Goblins when they closed the passes to travelers; he forged a lasting peace with the Eagles of the High Crags, a peace that remains in place until this day. (Epilogue.14)

Tristran remains brave and courageous throughout his rule of Stormhold, according to this. Maybe he's not the top warrior in Faerie, due to that little "let's stick our hand in the fire" incident back at the inn, but he seems to make up for it with bravery and skill. And that, in turn, sure seems to make him a good ruler.