Stardust (Neil Gaiman): Tangents

So there I was last night, brimming with domestic bliss from a successfully cooked dinner (peppery chicken with capsicum, carrots, onions and garlic stir-fried with hoi sin sauce and chilli. And rice with the fluffiness and fragrance that no one does better than Thailand), and I decided it would be a great thing to continue in achievement mode by getting a start on my property essay, due this Friday.

I was convinced of this all the way up the stairs to my room.

Then I came in, saw Stardust (thanks Vikram!) on the bed, and before I knew it I was happily snuggled under my duvet, propped up by Sheep cushion and hugging Butterfly cushion (thanks Esther!) with my warm honeyed lemon tea nearby, Kind Of Blue from the speakers, and the BT Tower with its top lost in clouds through my window.

I don’t know whether it’s just me and my Neil Gaiman obsession or that he really is damn good, but there’s something about his writing that always makes me feel the wonder I felt when I was six years old, and JRR Tolkien told me about an intricate, intriguing fantasy world populated with creatures that had always wandered the fringes of my imagination, but were always one-dimensional caricatures before Tolkien gave them language, culture, mythology, life.

My initial enchantment with fantasy didn’t really last. I love David Eddings (despite his self-plagiarising tendencies), but more because of his humour and the uncanny parallels between his world and ours than because he actually manages to unshackle me from reality. I appreciate the originality and humour of Terry Pratchett, but somehow reading his books always feels like there’s a list of obvious jokes and references you’re supposed to get, and I find myself exhausted within minutes of beginning. I ploughed through six of Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time tomes, and finally gave up when I realized I hated almost all the characters and couldn’t care less about their fate or the fate of their world. In general, most of what I pick up seems to be much of a muchness, and I usually find myself reading for the sake of getting through the book, rather than because I actually give a damn.

Neil Gaiman’s worlds are whimsical beauty with flashes of incredible morbidity. You can read his stories just for simple enjoyment, but if you explore the plethora of mythological, literary and cultural references he throws in, you’re amazed by the richness and diversity of the material from which he draws his inspiration: that amazing repository of the human imagination. The good part is that he doesn’t club you over the head with any of it – his writing style is infinitely accessible, and you almost don’t notice the craftsmanship that’s gone into it.

So that’s how I spent last night: body snuggled in bed, mind roaming the serewoods and skyharbours of Faerie.

Addendum: Reading over that again, I feel the need to say that I am not one of those strange types who swears she has gossamer wings and leaves bits of sugar around for her invisible fairy sisters. I only like Neil Gaiman’s fairies, and most of them look horrible and micro-demonic.