The edition of the book I read was the fairy tale by Neil Gaiman illustrated beautifully by Charles Vess. I suppose you could read this book without Vess’ illustrations — but why?
The story is charming, the illustrations very rich and the combination made for a great read.
Dunstan Thorn lives in an English town called Wall that exists next to Faerie, the land of faeries — a land that is dangerous and fraught with peril. Two men from the village guard the gate at all times.
The only time anyone is allowed to cross to Faerie through the break in the Wall is on Fair Day, when the fairy folk bring their wares to sell in the neighboring faerie meadow.
On one such day, Dunstan meets a woman with whom he is smitten. She makes a date to meet him that evening.
A year later, she leaves a baby at the Wall with a note identifying the child as Dunstan’s. He could not deny his child, and his new wife raises the child as her own.
In 18 years’ time, the young man Tristran Thorn becomes enthralled with Victoria Forester, the town beauty and daughter of his employer. One autumn evening when he sees a shooting star fall on the other side of the Wall, he impulsively promises to bring the star back to Victoria if she will marry him. She agrees — after all, no one is allowed beyond the Wall.
But young men smitten with pretty girls do ill-advised things, and Tristran is no different. His father, understanding his son’s nature, persuades the Wall guards to let the young man through to follow his dream.
Tristran is not the only one who saw the star fall. The eldest sister of a group of old witches must have the heart of the fallen star to regain her youth. She takes a potion to re-create herself for the road and goes off in search of this fallen star.
The star, however, is the topaz of the Lord of Stormhold, who on his death bed throws his kingdom’s jewel as a test for his remaining sons. The one who can find this jewel will rule the kingdom. This collection of men is joined by a collection of dead brothers. Each has killed the other as part of his effort to obtain the throne for himself. Let’s just say death does not take the late brothers out of the story.
Between ruthless brothers, a youth-hungry hag and a besotted young man, the star has little chance to remain undiscovered.
Tristran sees a great transformation in himself. He loses the shirt off his back, literally, and must make friends along the way to survive. He also evolves into a new and different person who has talents unknown and undeveloped in the other world, and he finds a confidence he did not have.
The sons vying for the lordship of Stormhold also undergo transformations, but of a more permanent kind.
The hag herself evolves during this search in sad and scary ways, encountering friend and foe, and using her magic for her own end.
I enjoy Gaiman’s work on its own, but I highly recommend finding the illustrated version for this read. You will not be disappointed. It is truly a Faerie Tale worth reading more than once.
(By the way, I hear the movie is a fantastic treat for the eyes. I hope it's because they paid attention to Vess' artwork.)