June 22, 2020


Neil Gaiman's beautiful fairy tale novel Stardust was published in 1997. I was already a fan of Gaiman's work by then, and snapped it up. I loved it immediately. I have no idea how many times I've read it since, but probably at least half a dozen, and watched the movie as many times.

Somehow, in all that time, despite having his image on my altar since 1995, despite having noticed that the character had a particular name associated with the god, despite having grasped that the character was apparently immortal, I never got that one of the characters is implied to be Dionysos himself.

I feel a little better that I can't find anyone else talking about having noticed this on Google. Only 7 hits for the string stardust gaiman "dionysus" "bromios", none of which discuss the connection.

Spoilers ahead, I supposed.

Mr. Bromios, proprietor of the Seventh Magpie Inn ("Seven for a secret, never to be told" indeed!), "was tall, and his skin was olive; his black hair was curled tightly on his head; his eyes were green. As the girls of the village became women they took notice of Mr. Bromios, but he did not return their notice. It was said he had come to the village quite some time ago, a visitor. But he had stayed in the village; and his wine was good, so the locals agreed." He is described as looking just the same eighteen years after his initial appearance as he did at the time of the quote, and, apparently, as he had "quite some time ago".

Bromios, it must be said, is Greek for boisterous or noisy. It is one of the famous epithets of Dionysos. The mainades chant it ecstatically in The Bacchai, for example.

The village, for those unfamiliar with the book or movie, is Wall, a small, stolid, farming and shepherding sort of place, the only notable feature of which is the Wall for which it is named. The Wall is tall, and made of grey stone. There is one gap in the Wall, which is guarded 24 hours a day by two men of the village, with cudgels, which are honestly mostly to show off and discourage children with. Through the gap, one can see an ordinary meadow, and beyond that, a wood.

And beyond that? Beyond that last field we know, indeed...

Every nine years, on May Day, a fair is held in that meadow, with stands mostly erected by the people from beyond the woods (although Mr. Bromios sets up a tent to sell wine and pies, so that people can avoid eating and drinking that which is served by the others). People come from all over the world to Wall to attend the fair, and the villagers of Wall attend, too. There, they can buy miracles and wonders. New eyes for old, bluebell cloth, bottled dreams, coats of night, rings of eternity... the riches of Faerie right there, just a step away from rural England. Once every nine years.

And Mr. Bromios sits there, providing wine and ale, and smiling.

Update: He also has a collection of small statues and clay pots, and a club wound about with ivy. He's also still there and still unchanged in the 1980s.