Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Stardust

Stardust is a 2007 fantasy adventure film directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars an ensemble cast led by Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mark Strong and Robert De Niro, with narration by Ian McKellen. The film is an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman 1999 novel of the same name. The movie opens roughly 19 years years prior to the start of the main character’s, Tristan Thorn (Cox), story with the meeting of his parents in a strange magical land. Baby Tristan is left for his father, Dunstan (Younger: Ben Barnes, Older: Nathaniel Parker) to raise in the fictional English town of Wall. When the story jumps ahead 18 years, Tristan is a rather naive boy who believes himself to be in love with the vain Victoria Forester (Sienna Miller). After seeing a falling star, Victoria agrees to marry Tristian if he retrieves it for her in time for her birthday. The night he is to set off, Tristan learns the origins of his birth in the magical land next to the town of Wall. Using a Babylon candle, which allows a person to instantly travel to the place they are thinking of when it is lit, gifted by his mother (Kate Magowan), Tristan tries to find her. But Tristan gets distracted by his thoughts of Victoria and the star, transporting him into a large crater where he falls onto a young woman (Danes) who he mistakes for his mother. He quickly realizes that the hurt girl is actually the fallen star and sets out to bring her back to Victoria, which leads to a wild journey for Tristan and the star, Yvaine, including run-ins with princes, witches, and even pirates. In this blog post I will look at the backstory established between the two mediums as well as the ways Tristan’s character is developed in the story. 

When the book Stardust opens the reader is introduced to the two worlds which live next to each other, that of the English town of Wall and the land of Faerie which are only divided by a stone wall, hence the town’s name. Every nine years a market comes to Faerie and in early Victorian Era England a young Dunstan Thorn decides to cross the wall and see the market where he meets a fairy woman, Una, who is enslaved by a witch until the terms of her curse are broken. Dunstan buys a glass flower from Una for one kiss and the two have sex, leading to Tristan’s birth. From the moment the book starts it is set up much like a child’s fairy tale, but it quickly introduces much more mature elements, including the previously mentioned sex, but also brutal murder and sacrifices in explicit manners. The book reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis in the way the fairy tale is set up, but it is very evident that the novel is for adults more than children with some of the darker elements and humor coming more in line with The Princess Bride (movie directed by Rob Reiner and book by William Goldman). In the movie we get some of this backstory, but like with most adaptations a portion of it is lost. For the movie residents of Wall they aren’t really sure what goes on beyond the dividing wall as it is kept as a larger secret. Also the name of the whole land is changed from Faerie to Stormhold, which in the books was more of a small land ruled by Lords inside of the world of Faerie rather than the kingdom itself with its own royalty and king. Both versions allow for that sense of nobility for the main character Tristan, as it turns out his mother is the lost daughter of the Lord in the books or King in the movie. So after his quest he is rewarded like many epic heroes with wealth and status, which was both earned and always meant to be his. 

One key way the two versions of Tristan are different comes from the fact that through the  book, Tristan seems to want to stay in Faerie, the character still believes he is meant to be in Wall. The book Stardust also gives more of a background for Tristan’s (spelled Tristran in the book) life in Wall, which not only includes his father but also a step-mother, who he grows up believing to be his true mother, and a half-sister. Between his family and his affection for the much more likable book Victoria, one might think book Tristan would be more eager to return home after his months-long quest. But like many fairy tales the main hero never seems to truly want to leave the world of his adventures; giving the book Tristan an almost Lucy Pevensie feel to him as he goes from rather naive but with a good heart, to reluctant ruler and true adventurer. It takes really seeing Victoria again after months for Tristan to realize it was never truly love. This, combined with Tristan only learning about his parentage at the end of the story, allows for Tristan to finally leave his old life in Wall completely behind and go be with Yvaine in Faerie. He continues his adventure with Yvaine until he is ready to settle down and become Lord of Stormhold, after nearly a decade of more adventuring. From the book it seems that Tristan, even as he loves his adventures in Faerie, can’t seem to let go of the life he had and believed he was meant for in Wall until the very end. Part of that I think is the fact he had fully still believed himself human at the start of his adventure, so he expected his human life to be waiting for him when he returned. But when he found out his family wasn’t what he believed and his mother was really a fairy noble, it allowed his character to let go of the human side of himself and even be worthy enough for a star. Which, like in many fairy tales, didn’t come from the fact he was never worthy of what was meant to be his, but he had to grow and change to recognize his worthiness.

 Movie Tristan though seems to be much more infatuated with Victoria, at least in the beginning, and has plans to make it back to her in only a week. In that week though, Tristan manages to fall in love with Yvaine and before he even gets back to Wall, plans on being with the fallen star. The two realize their feelings for one another much more quickly, in part due to the character Captain Shakespeare (de Niro), which helps his attraction to Victoria to also fall away quicker. Add in the fact that movie Tristan goes into his journey with the knowledge his mother is someone otherworldly, these two things allow him to more fully embrace the world of Stormhold, and rarely does he bring up Victoria himself after the first two days of his quest. Even when he does return to Wall it is to turn down Victoria and tell her off for being so vain, never intending to stay as he has already consummated his relationship with Yvaine and is going to return to Stormhold so they can be together.                                                                              

The movie Stardust (2007)  has been one of my favorite fantasy films for quite some time in the ranks of Princess Bride (1987), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), and Prince Caspian (2008). That being said, after reading the book it is definitely a “fantasy film”, which isn’t a bad thing and I find to be quite enjoyable, with the cool lightning pirate montage and the battle with the witch sisters, but the book truly feels like a fairy tale or even an classical epic in the way it is written. It is hard to find a film that really feels like a fairy tale and not just fantasy because of how films are formatted, compared to the traditional use of either oral retelling or reading it off a page. The use of a narrator in the movie Stardust helps to bring it closer to feeling like a fairy tale, which is something that  Princess Bride (1987) also makes use of. But I think why Gaiman’s book works so well is he is always using a main character that has been taught nursery rhymes and fairytales in the way many human people have, so his knowledge of those things allows Gaiman to play with the trope of a hero. This gives the story an almost parody-like quality to it that works quite well, which is something I have found appealing in fairy tale writing of the last century. Overall, if you are looking for a good family movie time, Stardust (2007) is great, though it does touch on some rather explicit violence, like the book it is based off of, so be warned. On the other hand, if you are looking for something that will make you feel like you are reading a fairytale from your childhood and is sure to capture your adult attention then Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is perfect for you. 

For my next blog post, I will be looking at the 1999 gothic supernatural horror film Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton and loosely based on Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

-Jo Spangler, Blogger.

Jo Spangler — Film Blogger: Jo Spangler graduated Summa Cum Laude from Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with minors in Creative Writing and Film Studies. They currently work as a Customer Services Associate at the Naperville Public Library and at Barnes & Noble as a Bookseller. In their free time, Jo enjoys reading, listening to music, and taking walks with their dog, Dublin. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, they plan to become a children’s librarian. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s