Stardust (1999) by Neil Gaiman is an adult fairy tale about a young man named Tristan Thorne who seeks to win the hand of the woman he thinks he loves by recovering a star that has fallen to earth. He lives in a small town named Wall that adjoins a region called Faery. The worlds of fantasy and reality overlap somewhat, but for the most part they remain separate. Guards at the entrance to Faery prevent its inhabitants from entering the town. The story is set in the early years of Victorian England, though in the regions of Faery we seem to be in medieval times, or even no times at all. The clear distinction between the real and unreal in this narrative, the underlying premise that normal rules of science and logic do not apply, at least in the realm of Faery, make it diverting and in a certain way enchanting. Gaiman’s handling of characters, his whimsical tone, his steady control of the tale, enhance the overall impact. I read this book to counterbalance and assuage the effects of the history of the Holocaust that I had just finished. But as much as I might want to claim that its story is light and fanciful, it has dark moments. Three brothers die in various ways as they seek to lay claim to the throne of their dead father. And a vicious witch tracks the fallen star—a young woman named Yvaine—with the intent of killing her and cutting out her heart.
This fairy tale has a happy ending of sorts, but it is qualified by the differences between the land of the real and the realms of Faery—one is mortal and transient while the other is governed by fancy, magic, and imagination. The happy conclusion in the end becomes remote and chilly.