Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Sandman

Fables and Reflections (Sandman, Book 6)

Neil Gaiman (various artists)

Date: 04 January, 1994   —   $13.57   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy/Horror, Graphic Novel

The Sandman series is a story about story, centered around Dream, the arbiter of the land of ideas. I had rather review the story as a whole, and so have linked to a collection that provides some of the most powerful single episodes in this entire collection.

The series begins as a typical horror comic but over the course of seven years develops the weight and granduer (not to mention the inevitability) of a grand tragedy. The structure of the comics industry at the time accounts for the style in which the series develops; at the time it began, there was no idea that a thoughtful intelligent comic for adults could be widely sold and appreciated, and the Sandman literally built that audience from nothing. So the first book, Preludes and Nocturnes, seems almost trite in light of what follows it, especially as it threw in all manner of characters from other DC comics. Later books chart their own path, though many of the characters that populate the Dreaming pay homage to earlier DC horror lines.

People think dreams aren't real because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real, but they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes...
It is in the second book, The Doll's House, that the series truly hits its stride. Gaiman dared to make his central character a peripheral one in this storyline, instead focusing on a young woman named Rose, who has been trying to track down her young brother. This quest takes her into serious danger in the manner of old unadulterated fairy tales, and has repercussions throughout the series. (But then, all of Gaiman's storylines do, so just assume this is the case.)

Subsequent books exxamine the nature of reality, and of true freedom. Season of Mists can best be examined from the perspective of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning. Frankl was an inhabitant of a World War II concentration camp, where the Jewish faith he ignored as a child became real to him. He tells us that we always have choices, no matter how circumscribed our lives, even if our only choices revolve around how we look at certain things. When we say, "I have no choice," it is in reality a far more complex statement, meaning "I have no choice IF I want..." In Season of Mists, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, yadda yadda, demonstrates that freedom in a surprising manner.

By the time one gets to Fables and Reflections, one is thoroughly entrenched in the mythology that Gaiman has created, where the Endless are anthropomorphic representations of certain qualities of life such as Dream or Death, where Desire is cruel and the twin of Despair, and where the games some of them play have goals that are counter to what one might expect. This collection opens with the tale of Emperor Norton and ends with a tale called Ramadan, the most popular single episode of the series. (It is illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who is best known for adapting myths into lyrical comic form.) On the second or third readthrough of the series, many of these individual episodes take on a weight that foreshadows the events later in the series.

Brief Lives is the beginning of the end. Dream is enlisted by his youngest sister Delirium to search for their brother, who left them centuries ago. The search, which he took on for reasons unconnected to his brother's whereabouts, makes him realize certain changes he must make in his own affairs. This is Hamlet's decision to wait and see how it falls out; one can feel the shape of the tragedy approaching even if one does not know its form. The interruption of Worlds' End merely underscores the tragedy to come; when travelers seek shelter in the Inn At Worlds' End, the price of haven is a tale. The tales verge from horror to heroic, and sometimes even hint at the recursive and the multilayered.

By the time of The Kindly Ones, the ponderous inevitability of the future comes into play. Many of the side stories converge in this one book, to complete a tapestry of story. The follow-up, The Wake, is all about graceful ends. It has been mentioned as a great comfort in times of bereavement, because it helps to bring a sense of completion to life. It also subtly changes many of the patterns in the previous storylines, to show that things have changed drastically. (If you are not much given to analysis, the Sandman Companion mentions what some of them are, or you can search online for annotations that will let you know where the changes lie.) As one of the characters states in Worlds' End, the ceremonies made at the ending of life are not for the dead but for the living. They are there to bring comfort and to bid the dead goodbye.
I regret the conversations we never had, the time we did not spend together. I regret that I never told him that he made me happy, when I was in his company. The world was better for his being in it.

These things alone do I regret: things left unsaid. And he is gone, and I am old.
The final episodes range back in time, underscoring the importance of the events that have happened, and do, indeed, bring the series to a graceful end.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.

Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.

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