Thoughts on The Sandman

This will be the first time I have posted anything about a written work, but I think it is fitting and even a bit necessary. I was so moved last night when I completed The Sandman that this simply flowed out of me. Enjoy:

There are certain stories that wait for you. Some books deter readers due to their colossal word counts, dense subject matter, or difficult prose. Other books are not read because the reader is simply not ready for them. That’s how it was for me with The Sandman.

When first I came upon four volumes of DC’s Absolute, large print editions of Neil Gaiman’s seminal comic series, I was seventeen. Chuffed at their relative cheapness, I bought each for about thirty dollars, secure in the knowledge that The Sandman is widely held as one of the greatest comic stories of all time. After receiving the weighty parcels (each hardcover volume weighs a hefty seven pounds), I immediately set to reading. Halfway through Volume One my attention wavered; the reason for my waning interest, I could not place. I loved Gaiman’s prose, the way he threw his distinct voice into each character, becoming god-like personifications of primordial powers, daemons, killers, teenagers, children, characters of myth and legend, and even the Devil himself. The story twisted, effortlessly weaving through genres ranging from horror to fantasy. I loved it all, but I wasn’t ready. So I put The Sandman on the shelf and there it waited.

Now, seven years later, I have completed The Sandman and I can honestly say that my life has been enriched for having read it. Through seventy five issues that spanned from 1987 to 1996, Neil Gaiman crafted an impossible tale about Dream (sometimes called Morpheus and Lord Shaper, among many other titles from many other times and cultures), one of the Endless, the seven primordial personifications of the universe. Of his brothers and sisters – which include Destiny, Delirium, Despair, Desire, Destruction, and the unforgettable Death – Dream is perhaps the most discerning; often stoic and thoughtful, he is wholly committed to his task of managing the Dreaming, which is the collective dream energy of all people and beings, home to everything impossible and spectacular.

Dream’s story starts with an ending. Returning from some unknown conflict (illuminated in the recently released prequel, The Sandman: Overture), Dream is captured by a group of humans who used black magic in hopes of netting his elder, powerful sister, Death. Dream eventually escapes and over the course of seventy-five issues, he winds his way through history, myth, and literature; he ventures through many landscapes including the realm of Faerie, a sepulchral city singularly obsessed with funereal rites, ancient Baghdad, and even the biblical Hell, encountering a wide cast of characters that includes the likes of John Constantine (of Hellblazer fame), the JLA’s Martian Manhunter, the Devil, and the bard himself, William Shakespeare.

Though often violent and dark, The Sandman also bursts with humor and hope; Dream may not be the most empathetic protagonist, but he is a being dictated by a strict set of rules and a discerning sense of logic. Moments of drama are deftly written and each reveal and emotional turn is believable and moving, adding to a clear sense of progression and change vital to the overall message of the series. Through Dream’s emotional highs and lows, the reader comes to know him intimately. Each story arc illuminates a different part of this universe which Gaiman has created, filled with imaginative storytelling that ranges from detailing Dream’s troubled dealings with his fractious, inscrutable family to reality-altering events that threaten the safety of the Waking World. Though The Sandman is mainly about Dream, it is also about the power of storytelling. Scattered throughout The Sandman’s pages, one will find a number of anthology-like short stories, parables, and fables that not only serve to showcase the power of Dream (and Dreaming) throughout history, but also the timeless, necessary, and intrinsically human quality of telling stories. Whether you’re a writer, a poet, an actor, a historian, or just a person who enjoys reading books or watching movies, The Sandman has something to tell you; something intimate, moving, and immediately understandable.

Aiding Gaiman’s potent literary voice are a slew of talented artists whose varying styles perfectly fit the tales they are illustrating, breathing life into both the impossible and the familiar. Each issue is also accompanied by an off-kilter and striking cover page by English illustrator/photographer Dave McKean which manages to speak for each issue with a single, thematic image. Overall, The Sandman (and especially the Absolute Editions) are gorgeous renditions of Gaiman’s creative vision, lending an ever-changing, yet always compelling lens through which the world of The Sandman can be viewed.

I cannot describe the staggering achievement of imagination that has been achieved within the pages of The Sandman. To read it is to take part in an experience and story unlike any other, one that twists its way through the real and the unreal, the world of man and the vastness beyond. It is a story that reminds us of the necessity of stories, that it is not only alright, but necessary to indulge in fantasy, and above all, to never take for granted the wonderful, baffling, power of dreams.

 

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