With today’s unending slew of accounts that unhook many fairytale characters from their more familiar (and often ‘sanitized’) bedtime storybook versioWith today’s unending slew of accounts that unhook many fairytale characters from their more familiar (and often ‘sanitized’) bedtime storybook versions—like those featuring a thrice-divorced Prince Charming, a one-foot cyborg Cinderella, and a rifle-wielding Red Riding Hood who collects wolfskin coats—it is safe to say that revisionism, indeed, is the new black. Many authors and moviemakers are jumping on the bandwagon but only a handful can deftly play around in the genre. One of them is Neil Gaiman, and he has once again proved this in one of his most recent works, The Sleeper and the Spindle.
The novella is both a retelling and a mash-up of two beloved fairytales. When a “sleeping plague” spreads from a nearby kingdom, the unnamed Queen knows she has to do something. Stripping off her wedding dress to don her chain mail and sword, she travels to the kingdom with her three friend dwarfs and tries to stop the curse by the “usual way”: a kiss on the lips of the root of it all, the fair princess in her seemingly eternal slumber. Unbeknown to many, though, the princess is not who they think she is…
Long before its ‘picture-book’ release, The Sleeper and the Spindle has already caused a rather controversial buzz in the Internet. It was when one of its beautiful full-spread illustrations, the one showing Snow White and Sleeping Beauty kissing, surfaced in various social media. There were scattered homophobic bashings but after people got a hold of the tale, some are now complaining why there isn’t an actual inkling of lesbianism in it! That’s the hard-to-please audience for you, but I think Gaiman, being the playful prosemeister that he is, does this on purpose.
So yes, despite what it looked like, The Sleeper and the Spindle did not really cross into the LGBTQ territory. What Gaiman did is swerve into another path to underscore the will and power of women. Gaiman made her Snow White wear the Lady-in-Shining-Armor trope but with a twist; she wakes the princess from the witch-sleep, and the motive is to save her kingdom from the plague. Here, romance is pushed in the backburner; here, masculine roles are taken by the female characters.
More important than that, the women in the story—both the good and the bad—got to showcase individuality and the strength to stand by their own decisions. Yes, there is the overt problem of enchanted sleep, but the undercurrents of internal battles constantly pop up. Even in the beginning Snow White is shown as somewhat dreadful of the future. She has doubts, she wrestles with her conscience, and she wants to hold tightly to her freedom. Who says you should always stick to what is expected of you? Who says other people’s standards officially dictate what would become of you in the future? Gaiman concludes the book with an answer to that.
Typical of Gaiman, the story takes a flavor so dark, but one that does not quite cross the spine-tingling darkness of his other revisionist stories like Snow, Glass, and Apples. Good humor is thrown in there, too, the kind that could be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
And let us not forget to mention Chris Riddell’s gorgeous black-and-white art! These certainly added to the beauty of this little gem. Inlaid with metallic gold ink, the detailed, wispy illustrations give a modern gothic feel to the whole book. Seeing them made me want to check out other Riddell’s works, and I totally will.
Packaged altogether, this one deserves four stars....more
For me, diving into a Neil Gaiman world is some form of sweet literary suicide: you clutch a chunk of his universe in your hands and feel yourself vanFor me, diving into a Neil Gaiman world is some form of sweet literary suicide: you clutch a chunk of his universe in your hands and feel yourself vanishing, for a time, from your side of the world. But if there is any death involved here, it is that of the reality scoffing at the belief that fantasy can’t teach you anything worth bringing back after your short period of escapism. In a Gaimanesque world, you always bring with you something that will change you after closing the book.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a good example of this. Gaiman has made gargantuan feats before like American Gods and the Sandman series (whose fandom, by the way, has been revivified months before the release of Sandman: Overture), and they both leave lasting impressions in their readers. Ocean is an entirely different kind of giant. In only 178 pages, it has an impact that can dwarf novels thrice its size; it has the power than can both slake and renew the thirst only a fiction-famished soul can experience.
The novel follows a nameless narrator who takes a solemn stroll down memory lane (semi-literally) and lets himself be assaulted by a strange portion of his childhood. Sitting by the pond in Hempstock farm, he recalls things that have changed his life.
If I were to describe Ocean in a few words, I’d say it’s like a well-buried time capsule of the subconscious in book form. Have you ever noticed how there are certain fragments of the past that we remember more in feelings than in memories? They are the moments that don’t quite pass the threshold of clarity until we stumble upon something that brings us a rush of high emotions to magnify them. They are extra-special because they have contained themselves in a secret space in our souls to preserve the magic of their rareness. That’s how this poignant novel reads—or feels—like.
As always, I admire Gaiman’s ability to maneuver his writing voice box without ever removing the style that you can only associate with him. It doesn’t matter how old the character is, he’ll be able to worm inside their heads and breathe them to life convincingly. The magic just flows easily. Ocean is tagged as the newest adult book Gaiman has produced in a long time; it’s true in a sense. But you can’t possibly ignore how youthful its tone is when you’re finally reading it, even if the body is mostly just well-patched-up memories. The author is more than adept in playing the storyteller’s age seesaw. It’s an amorphous thing, his technique. Much like a dream. Or a memory. In the end I’d say it’s a novel for adults, for children, and for adults whose scared children-selves are curled up somewhere in their cores, waiting to be noticed again.
The tale is populated by a colorful, female-driven ensemble: on one side Gaiman toys once more with the triple-goddess trope in the characters of the Hempstocks; on the other we have a Lovecraftian creature who assumes the form of a beautiful woman. The little narrator gets torn in the middle of the conflict of the two sides—which by the way I refuse to label “good” or “bad,” as their representations are thrown over with a blanket of shades of gray due to the differences of their motives (that is apparent too, even if the seven-year-old storyteller, like any other kid, has this blatant need to identify the black from the white).
Ocean does not follow a formulaic martyr story; instead we are presented with a reel of scenes that is just that—a reel that you couldn’t do anything but watch, no matter how you dread the next scenes. I love how the main character’s helplessness and a rather shocking sense of mortality permeates through the readers. Somehow, somewhere in the middle of the whole thing, the readers will realize they will stop being a listener and take the role of an unconscious sounding board of the narrator. Sympathy is easier established than empathy, and I laud this novel for aiming for and successfully achieving to build the latter.
The clash of the female forces is depicted in a perfect ballet of wonder, reasons, and sacrifices that I could not help but marvel at. It tells us that pigeonholing of power in genders can be annihilated; that we make choices and the world is not a jury of how we deal with the consequences; that no one passes or fails as a person. It tells us a portion of the things we already know but sometimes refuse to acknowledge.
This is a good read, the kind that lodges itself in your heart because it is more than deserving to be in that time capsule of memories you make when traversing the worlds of fiction. As far as I can tell, this is the closest thing Gaiman has ever written when it comes to autobiographical stuff. After devouring this, I felt as if I’ve been given a peek at something I did not know I wanted ‘til now, and I have to emphasize it has nothing to do with Gaiman being one of my favorite authors. I have confirmed that memories are fragile things too, and though they are as breakable as the next piece of glass, they can shatter whole skyscrapers of platinum if you will give them the power to.
Five out of five stars for the memorable ride....more
I’ll be blunt—this is perhaps not the best anthology of short stories about Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. They are not on par with the quaI’ll be blunt—this is perhaps not the best anthology of short stories about Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. They are not on par with the quality of the original series, although that’s not saying this collection is totally unreadable. It's just...dominated with duds. There are some shorts that are so engrossing like “Each Damp Thing,” “Splatter,” (my favorite!) and “Stoppt Clock Yard.” I also liked Tori Amos’ epilogue about Death, although technically it’s more like a personal reflection where she “encounters” the quirky Endless. The others just elicited long yawns from me, or just made me feel like getting through them is a chore. I guess they just don’t have the “popcorn for the hungry mind” feel the epic ten-volume series gives the readers....more
A collection of interviews focusing on Neil Gaiman and the other authors/artists he collaborated with, Hanging Out with the Dream King is a one of a kA collection of interviews focusing on Neil Gaiman and the other authors/artists he collaborated with, Hanging Out with the Dream King is a one of a kind backstage pass for fans of Gaiman’s oeuvre, especially of The Sandman graphic novels.
Conversations with David McKean, Craig Russell, Karen Berger, Sam Keith, Colleen Doran, Mike Dringenberg, Tori Amos, Terry Pratchett, and many others are very fascinating—I’ve jotted down the names of those whose works I suddenly wanted to check out after reading the interviews. This is a satisfying treat to devoted fans who want to know the not-so-easy albeit enjoyable process of partaking in the creation of today’s set of most phenomenal masterpieces.
Presentation-wise, this also receives a thumb up from me. The black-edged pages, vibrant illustrations from various works, and creative portraits of the interviewees are a bonus! All in all it’s an amazing fan package. Take note that the bigger chunk of this book was devoted to the Dream King’s collaborators. If you want something more Gaiman-centric, I suggest you try reading Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman.
In Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman universe, Death is not a “tall guy with a bone face, like a skeletal monk, with a scythe and an hourglass and a big whiteIn Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman universe, Death is not a “tall guy with a bone face, like a skeletal monk, with a scythe and an hourglass and a big white horse and a penchant for playing chess with Scandinavians” (cliché much, Sexton Furnival). Gaiman’s interpretation of Death is exactly the concept’s opposite: a quirky, perky Goth girl with a jovial demeanor, a down-to-earth aura lingering about her, a sunny smile, and the Egyptian symbol of life dangling around her neck. As if that paradox is not enough, Gaiman spawned yet another mini-series featuring Death in a gritty yet hopeful tale that celebrates life, talks about how love can change a person’s way of living, and shows what it means to be alive.
A follow-up to Death: The High Cost of Living, Death: The Time of Your Life takes us back to the story of the lesbian couple Donna “Foxglove” Cavanagh and Hazel McNamara. The couple was first introduced in The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House and was seen again in the first spin-off featuring our favorite antropomorph of demise. The spotlight is now focused on them as they crossed paths once again with Death…and this time, there is a bargain involved.
After a drunken one-night stand with a co-worker, Hazel becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy, Alvie. Foxglove forgives her partner and accepts Alvie as her own. But happy-ever-afters are hard to come, especially for same-sex couples. Hazel and Foxglove's relationship screeches close to the brink of collapsing, what with the latter being engulfed in the suffocating arms of fame. Foxglove is a successful and globetrotting rockstar, and to maintain her status, she must never reveal her true sexuality to the public. To top of it all, Alvie dies. Now, normally, Death doesn't make deals, but she remembers Hazel fondly when she walked the earth as a mortal not so long ago (requirement of being a psychopomp). So she agrees with the bargain: she extends Alvie’s life for a time, and when that time finally runs out, Hazel, Foxglove, and Alvie will be meeting up with her in her realm and someone must stay behind as a payment. At the final turn of the glass, everyone meets up in the limbo in the borders of Death’s realm to do what needs to be done…after all, a bargain is a bargain. Death may be a cheerful as your chummiest neighbor, but she plays by the rules of the universe’s book, not even sparing the concept of palabra de honor.
What I liked the most about Gaiman is that he can easily beguile everyone who is touched by the magic of his words, even if the very bones of the tales he’s telling are already bordering on trite. The premise of this little tome is something I’ve heard of ages ago. But Gaiman being Gaiman, he finds the best angle to tell it from, and populates it with people you would surely care about.
Unlike The High Cost of Living, this story resembles the usual pattern of The Sandman novels, where the featured Endless only stands as a character that serves as the bobbin where the threads are being pulled into, without standing as an outright protagonist or heroine.
As for the art, hands down: I loved it. Carefully drawn and inked, the illustrations appear to be vibrant with life yet still give off the dark theme of this "purported" story about demise.
Over all this is a satisfying read: a story of music, sacrifices, friendship, sexuality, mortality, and unconditional love that is sure to resonate with a lot of readers.
Two word: Cuteness overload. Apparently, Jill Thompson's diminutive editions of Morpheus and Death that first appeared in The Parliament of Rooks hadTwo word: Cuteness overload. Apparently, Jill Thompson's diminutive editions of Morpheus and Death that first appeared in The Parliament of Rooks had a huge following. I heard that lots of fans demanded to see all the Endless in their "chibi" goodness, and Thompson granted all their wishes in this little storybook.
Obviously it's a kid's book--they didn't even mention Death's name!--so it would be a tad criminal to point out its lack of depth concomitant with the graphic novel series. That also explains the being OOC (out of character) of the Endless save Del herself. The story's rather hackneyed maybe, but it's definitely something that a child would appreciate. I'd say it falls under my umbrella of good bedtime stories, one that I'd read to my future kid when he/she's still too young to understand the standard series. No reason to deprive the future generation of good literature, right? :P
Anyway, the story's about Delirium who thinks she lost her dog--Barnabas--when it truth it's the other way around. A portion of the story reminds me of a book I read back when I was in gradeschool, the one with the owl who's too scared to sleep because there are moving lumps beneath his blanket (it turns out that the lumps are his own feet).
Endless Nights is a sevenfold compilation of stories featuring each of the Endless, set in various times ranging from when the solar system is not yetEndless Nights is a sevenfold compilation of stories featuring each of the Endless, set in various times ranging from when the solar system is not yet a system in itself to the period after Lord Morpheus’ downfall. I enjoyed it for the most part, but some tales didn’t quite quench my thirst for a satisfying treat concomitant to the phenomenal ten-volume series.
SPOILERS ABOUND. The first installment, “Death and Venice,” is divided into two narratives: one about a kingdom in Venice whose duke made it so—with magic of some sort—that neither time nor death would touch everyone inside their gates; and one about a pessimistic soldier who comes home to Italy to visit the island where he meets a pretty gothette when he was a boy. You guessed it right—the girl is Death. The stories converge when Sergei, the soldier, meets Death again outside the gates of the said kingdom. I wouldn’t say anything anymore about what happens, but you know how it goes—when Death reaches her hand out to you, it only means you’re on your way to your final destination. This is quite a bizarre tale where our favorite demise-anthropomorph takes a backseat. I have mixed feelings about the story as a whole, but I certainly love the highlights of the soldier’s thoughts. It’s as if I can feel the emptiness he is experiencing. P.Craig Russell wows me again with his patented artistic prowess.
“What I’ve Tasted of Desire” comes next, and from the title itself you already know which of the Endless this is about. I commend the artist because every single panel is a magnificent painting, though I have to admit I have to read this away from my parents or my sister for they might think I’m reading a pornographic comic from the olden times. Haha! Milo Manara is one heck of a good illustrator, I tell you. Anyway, the story’s about a maiden who is transformed by Desire into the ultimate seductress. When her husband is killed, she takes revenge against the murderers by using her most powerful weapon: lust.
Next is “The Heart of a Star,” which tells yet another failed love story of our late Sandman. I sort of enjoyed this one because it explains a few things, particularly about the origins of enmity between Dream and Desire that is ever-apparent in the previous graphic novels. It as well provides a few glimpses to the earliest set of Endless when Delirium is still the cute Delight, and when the first Despair is shown, squat and ugly as the Despair we met in the series but with red tattoos all over her body (and can we say less taciturn?). The setting is in a parliament of stars where we see living suns of different planets in their anthropomorphic forms: Sol (of our very own Earth), Rao (of Superman’s Krypton), and Sto-Oa (of the Green Lantern’s Oa). I guess this is where Gaiman first applied the idea of star in human form, the same concept of his novel Stardust.
What I loved the most in this compendium is “Fifteen Portraits of Despair”. There are no long storylines or foretastes of history about this Endless; instead there are fifteen vignettes about people whose hearts were snagged by the hook of Despair. Artists Barron Storey and Dave McKean joined forces to make “beautifully grotesque” (the most fitting description I could give) pieces of art that feature some characters in the micro-fictions and Despair herself. “Less is more”, they always say, and I love how Gaiman can tell the best of stories with just a few set of words. Each tale is disheartening indeed.
“Going Inside” features Delirium. Take this as an admonition: I almost had a headache deciphering what the new characters are talking about in the first few pages. I only realized that that’s how everything should be, because they are actually mentally challenged people and I’ve just been inside their heads. Well, what do I say? Bravo, Gaiman…that’s one heck of a mindf**k. Here Dream--the new one--recruits five nutcases to help find Delirium, who is lost and hurt inside her own realm. Dream and the others (Barnabas and Matthew) can’t go deep inside Del’s realm because no one ever gets out with his or her sanity intact. Coupled with the marvelous art that complements the crazy tone of the story perfectly, I guess this issue achieved its main purpose. Also, I’ll just say that Matthew is as funny as ever! One line and I cracked up. No pun intended.
The penultimate story is “Destruction on the Peninsula”. It’s about an archeologist who dreams of the end of the world, and then works at a mysterious site where artifacts from the future can be extracted. Destruction plays a minor role. In this story he is sort of baby-sitting his little sister Delirium. I’m not sure where in t The Sandman's timeline this fits, but I have a wild guess it’s when Delight transfigures into Delirium for the first time. It has an interesting premise, but I’m not totally pulled in by the story.
The last tale, “Endless Nights,” is of course about Destiny. No stories of any sort are told, but we are given a small tour to Destiny’s garden and a few information about the Cosmic Log. Very brief and interesting, I guess how this is done just fits Destiny. Whatever story we are going to be told, after all, is written on that mighty book chained to his wrist. :p
In general, this is a quite refreshing and pleasant read. ...more
So this is where we wake up. After being lulled by the nocturnes, after trekking the steep places that only exists when we slumber, after journeying wSo this is where we wake up. After being lulled by the nocturnes, after trekking the steep places that only exists when we slumber, after journeying with the good and the bad and the in-betweens, after hurrying to and from the heart of the Dreaming, there will come a time when we need to open our eyes. Nightmares or good dreams—they have to end sometime..
Those were the words that came in my head some time ago, when I was about to read the last volume of this beloved series for the first time. I have the same thoughts when I reread this recently. The Wake is the solemn "epilogue" tome for The Sandman where all characters mourn the death of Morpheus, the Dream king. But it’s not just all about mortality; it’s also about constant changes in life, forgiveness, endings and new beginnings, and looking forward to the future.
The threefold account of farewells, eulogies, and reminiscing may seem a tad too long for an epilogue but it seems just right to me, after the lengthy adventures we had with the brooding Lord Shaper. So the Endless sans Destruction gather to prepare the ceremony for the late Dream. Mourners, dreamers, deities, friends, and even old nemeses come to pay respect to Morpheus; some speak of their encounters with him, some prefer to keep silent and grieve. As I said I read this before, but rereading Matthew’s speech almost made me well up again. He is such a loyal friend:
"I was told to say whatever was in my heart. And I thought I was going to say something about how he was my boss, and how he gave me a second chance, and how he trusted me. About how sometimes he treated me like he thought I was an idiot, and sometimes treated me like he was my boss, and sometimes--very occasionally--treated me like a friend. I was going to say something about how he died. And about how that was what I wanted to do too...but that isn't what's in my heart. Not really. He was the most important person in the world to me, and he's gone...but you can't kill dreams. Not really. I mean, despair may be the thing that comes after hope, but there's still hope. Right? When there's no hope, you might as well be dead. What's in my heart? A lot of sorrow. A little regret...and the memory of the coolest, strangest, most infuriating boss...friend...boss...I ever had. That's what."
All three issues are affecting in some way, and I liked how the narration is on the second person point of view. When the speaker says “Everyone’s here…you’re here,” I feel as if I’m really there. I like how it goes so far to tell the readers that it really did happen, and we just forget it in our waking hours, tantamount to normal dreams. It’s been a great series, but just like what the Kindly Ones once said in the previous tome, “For good or bad, it’s done.” All-things-shall-perish-from-under-the-sky and all that.
Daniel Hall as the new incarnation of Dream is still adjusting, and it’s understandable. He looks exactly like Morpheus, except that he’s all white—hair, skin, garments, even the wobbly speech bubble. He seems to be more compassionate than his predecessor, as seen by his treatment of his servants as well as his easy issuance of forgiveness (and perhaps love) to Lyta Hall. She was, after all, his mother once upon a time. I think a spin-off or a series zeroing in on the new Dream would be great, too. His fear in meeting the other Endless for the first time is almost endearing; his confusion about everything being strange and familiar at the same time is too…humanlike. He’ll certainly be a darling for most Sandman fans.
The art is gorgeous—soft and shady, unlike the sharp and vibrant illustrations in The Kindly Ones. I think it’s fitting for the atmosphere of the volume.
Anyway, there are also three stand-alone stories here, one about Hob Gadling (the long-living mortal friend of Morpheus this time chitchatting with the lovely Death), one about a Chinese story that have parallels with the tale of Orpheus and Morpheus (the art is superb!), and the last one about William Shakespeare again (yes, it’s a sequel of sorts to A Midsummer Night’s Dream). They are wonderful, of course, but they seem a little out of place being compiled in the same volume as the first three.
It’s hard to say goodbye to a very good series, but as I’ve said in the introduction of this review, we will eventually come to that stage. ...more
“AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?—four words that children ask, when you pause, telling them a story. The four words you hear at the end of a chapter. The four“AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?—four words that children ask, when you pause, telling them a story. The four words you hear at the end of a chapter. The four words, spoken or unspoken, that show you, a storyteller, that people care. The joy of fiction, for some of us, is the joy of imagination, set free from the world and able to imagine.”
These are literary rock star Neil Gaiman’s words that graced the first pages of Stories: All-New Tales, a compendium of twenty-seven bite-sized fiction by an eclectic set of tale-spinners and storytellers. Edited by master anthologist Al Sarrantonio and Gaiman himself, the stories comprising this collection do not fall under any umbrella genre; they’re simply written to celebrate good storytelling.
While most of the stories did succeed in making me go “I want to know what happens next!”, some just lacked the necessary ‘oil’ to propel themselves up to the five-star rung of my rating ladder. It’s a mixed bag—just like most anthologies—but as a whole I enjoyed it very much. Most of the contributors are immensely popular; I’ve heard positive things about them even if I haven’t read their works. This anthology then provided some sort of tasters for me, and after I turned the last page I have a new list of authors to keep tabs on.
Here are mini-reviews for my favorites and runner-ups from the collection, in no particular order:
• Fossil Figures by Joyce Carol Oates. A story that reads like a real parable, this is about the fates of twins who are each other’s yin and yang even when they’re still inside their mother’s womb. It’s the epitome of picturesque writing and rather peculiar but effective dialogues. I sort of expected a ‘bang!’ at the end, but the imagery that closed it is haunting enough to stay with the readers. •Wildfire in Manhattan by Joanne Harris. Basically it is a whimsical tale that reads like a twee descendant of Gaiman’s American Gods. The tale is set in the modern times where Norse deities are living among ordinary humans after the Ragnarok, working as restaurant owners, rock stars, and the like. But even with mortal facades, the gods are not safe from their nemeses. I enjoyed this one. The ex-trickster god Lucky/Loki is practically humor-on-legs that reading from his POV is such a fun experience, but the recycled premise and execution deducted a couple of stars from my rating. Who can blame me? I’ve seen this kind of thing with a better caliber (wiggles eyebrows at Gaiman). •The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman. It is a fairytale with beguiling imagery and dark undertones reminiscent of Brothers Grimm’s works. The spotlight bounces from a dwarf’s search of a cave allegedly filled with gold to a revenge story involving a missing daughter. Magnificent as usual, this tale is a fine example of Gaiman’s magic with words. I liked how even the smallest of descriptions can tell a story on their own. Call me predictable, but this gem is one of the few in this collection that I loved. •Weights and Measures by Jodi Picoult. This is a poignant account about a married couple emotionally and physically suffering in the wake of their daughter’s death. Nothing much happened, but damn if the heartbreaking lines and scenes didn’t find a chink in my emotional armor and widened the damage to a bigger fault. I will try reading Picoult’s longer works, I guess. •A Life in Fictions by Kat Howard. This is an extremely inventive tale about a young woman who finds herself sucked into a story—literally—whenever her boyfriend writes fiction, with her as the muse. It may be flattering at first, but she realizes she can’t return from a story truly unscathed. It’s very quirky and I enjoyed it for the most part. •Catch and Release by Lawrence Block. This is a tale about a serial killer who has a peculiar habit of catching and releasing his victims, rendering himself a ‘vegetarian’ criminal…but not really. It’s a thrilling and creepy ride and it can keep you on the edge of your seat. •The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon by Elizabeth Hand. One of the longest in the anthology, this is an affecting story about three men who attempt to create a present-of-sorts for a dying friend, who has a penchant for things concerning aircrafts and their histories. I guess the piece’s length has something to do with the characters becoming easier to love page by page. In general it’s a touching story. •The Therapist by Jeffrey Deaver. Divided into mini-chapters, this story is about a behavioral specialist who saves people—in his unconventional way—from ‘neme’, a virus-like entity that purportedly possesses a person and causes its host to relinquish emotional control. It’s intriguing and very engrossing, especially the courtroom scenes. There’s a little science fiction feel to it at first, what with the long but good explanations of ‘neme’ that engulfed almost the first mini-chap. I’m commending this for cleverly toying not only with the psyches of the characters but also of the readers. •The Cult of the Nose by Al Sarrantonio. A tale about a man’s obsession over a cult whose members appear in scenes of carnage and ruin. I find it tedious at first, but a second reading rewards me with a realization that the man’s state of mind is better explored with the writing style. There’s a wee shock of a twist at the end. Now that I think of it, it is a tad similar with The Therapist. •The Devil on the Staircase by Joe Hill. Amazingly written both form-wise and content-wise, this story centers on an Italian boy who meets the spawn of Lucifer at the bottom of the staircase of his hometown after committing a crime. I wish to read more works in the same vein soon, if ever Hill has more of them. •Samantha’s Diary by Dianna Wynne Jones. The lightest piece among the bunch, this is a rather cute story with shades of science fiction and backboned by the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I find myself chuckling while reading it, even if most of the scenes are pretty predictable. •Leif in the Wind by Gene Wolfe. This is perhaps one of the best speculative shorts in the compendium, zeroing in on the thirty-year, six-man space mission to an alien planet. Its ricocheting atmosphere of desperation and hope, reality and illusion, is a great plot device to build such a clever piece of science fiction.
The duds (most of which are not mentioned here) are not downright bad—they are either run-of-the-mill or they just failed to make me say the first four words of this review. Indeed, Stories: All New Tales is a treasure box of gems with a few stray rocks in it, but overall I loved it. ...more
“It would be really neat if death was somebody, and not just nothing, or pain, or blackness. And it would be really good if death could be somebody li“It would be really neat if death was somebody, and not just nothing, or pain, or blackness. And it would be really good if death could be somebody like Didi. Somebody funny, and friendly, and nice, and maybe just a tiny bit crazy.”
Sexton Furnival, one of the main characters of Death: The High Cost of Living, shares this sentiment with me—and perhaps also with legions of other Sandman readers when they meet Death of the Endless for the first time in Preludes and Nocturnes. It’s a nice thought, or a profound wish if you will, and it only proves that Gaiman created one of the best unconventional characters that touch the readers’ hearts.
Death: The High Cost of Living is a spin-off of the Sandman series. I just finished rereading the sixth volume, Fables and Reflections, and I would have reviewed it and gone on to Brief Lives…except that I’m craving for a lot of Death perkiness and peachiness that I decided to skip to this novel first. It contained no spoiler for the rest of the graphic novels anyway.
This triple-issue miniseries tells one of those “days”, when Death walks the earth as a mortal so she could taste the “bitter tang of mortality”, some kind of a requirement for being the divider between life and afterlife. Here, Death takes on human flesh as a girl named Didi, and she literally stumbles upon Sexton Furnival, a suicidal boy. In a whole day they spent together, both took from each other important lessons about life and the value of it.
There is nothing much to say about the plot; even if there is an antagonist of sorts in the form of the Eremite, the spotlight is on the Death incarnate and Sexton. Didi clearly treats the requirement of being a mortal as a gift, as she seems to enjoy the company of people, the food, the music, and other trivialities that most humans take for granted. Sexton wants to commit suicide because—of all the other deeper reasons he could possibly think of—he is bored. He doesn’t love anyone, doesn’t hate anyone, he isn’t a hero and there isn’t a bad guy out to get him; in short he thinks there isn’t anything interesting happening in his life and he might as well be dead. What I find amusing is that Sexton, deep inside, must not really want to die. The first thing he ever does when a refrigerator falls on him in the garbage dump is scream for help.
In the end, after interacting with Didi/Death, he admits to thinking of life so much after the day they spent together. In such a short time, he matures and values life more. Didi on the other hand admits to wishing her one-day life could have never ended, but her Death-self (which enigmatically exists in another plane) says that’s what gives life value: its ending.
All in all it’s a very interesting read, an account in a day-in-a-life-of-this-someone format. The premise, as I’ve said, isn’t really meaty at all, but the witty banters and the extreme charisma of Didi give the story a sheer gravity. Plus the art is gorgeous too. :) ...more
The Sandman graphic novels are a myriad of styles in themselves: Preludes and Nocturnes cemented the foundation of the whole series, introducing us toThe Sandman graphic novels are a myriad of styles in themselves: Preludes and Nocturnes cemented the foundation of the whole series, introducing us to Morpheus, the axis where this fictional universe rotates; The Dolls House proved how Gaiman can masterfully weave a story of mortals thrown in a mythology. In Dream Country, Gaiman gives us a quartet of stand-alone short stories—Calliope, A Dream of a Thousand Cats, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Façade. While Sandman takes a backseat again in this volume, Gaiman used him as a significant role-player in the first three stories.\
In “Calliope”, Gaiman meshed ancient Greece and the modern times in a generic “be careful what you wish for” story. Richard Madoc, a novelist, is struggling from a very bad case of writer’s block for almost a year now. Fraught as he is by his bosses, he gets himself a trichonobezoar, a ball of hair found in the stomach of a girl who has Rapunzel syndrome or a disorder where she compulsively eats her own hair; it is believed to be an elixir of sorts by many. He trades this thing to an old writer named Erasmus Fry for the muse Calliope—yes, THAT Calliope—and begins to abuse her, getting ideas in the process. I take this sick story as a metaphorical representation of how greedy and desperate people can be just to be successful, and I commend Gaiman for giving the readers this spot-on reflection. The tale’s premise might not be entirely original, but the author took a perfect angle to tell it. Instead of zeroing in on Madoc’s, the spotlight is on Calliope. In this issue another failed love story is hinted at, this time between Calliope and Oneiros (Morpheus’ Greek name), and a story about their son that will be told in the next installments. “Calliope” also shows how his long-time incarceration changed Morpheus, in that he forgives Calliope for their bitter past.
“A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is a bizarrely adorable fable about a cat who seeks justice and understanding about the cruelty of her owners, and she goes to the Cat of Dreams (yes, Morpheus—dreaming felines see him as a feline as well). This story shows how powerful Morpheus is: he is the Dream King not only of humans but of all other living things too. Most of all, it shows how potent a dream can be, in a sense that it can bring change in the world. :)
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, as you may have guessed, includes William Shakespeare. Morpheus overhears the playwright bellyaching about not having enough inspiration (seems like writer’s block is a recurring theme in this series, eh?). He makes a bargain with Shakespeare: in exchange of inspiration, the latter should write him two plays. The first is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which Morpheus will give as a present to the king and queen of Faerie. This is not my favorite in this little compendium, but I liked it just the same, having a link to a scene presented to the readers in The Doll’s House. It promises more links in the future, and I quite like the buildup.
Please forgive my bias but for me, the last story, “Façade”, takes the cake because Death (my favorite Endless) is here. :p Plus it features another awesome DC universe superheroine, Element Girl. Urania “Ranie” Blackwell becomes a metamorphae—a shape-shifter of sorts that can alter the chemical composition of her body—after coming in contact with the Orb of Ra. It’s a gift more than a curse; she tries changing her face into flesh, but it smells like rotten meat so she settles for silicate. It reduces Ranie into a pariah, and she wants to die to end her suffering. Death doesn’t actually come to the rescue—she’s just passing by—but she is able to help Ranie find her peace anyway.
As a whole it’s a wonderful compilation. It’s amazing how Gaiman can use his mythology to produce other tales and at the same time giving us a glimpse of more sides of the Endless through the new tales. ...more
Am I the only one who thought this is a mishmash of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and the classic wolf-riddled admonitory bedtime stories lAm I the only one who thought this is a mishmash of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and the classic wolf-riddled admonitory bedtime stories like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”? The Wolves in the Walls, a collab work by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, is yet another landmark tale that speaks directly to young readers while teaching a few lessons like open communication in the family.
SPOILER-ISH! Basically the story revolves around Lucy (aka the girl who cried wolf), who tells her family about the wolves lurking behind the wallpapers. Her relatives however dismissed her fears as a product of her overactive imagination, and they are actually too engrossed into their own worlds to deal with Lucy: her mother (like any mother) is a personification of domestic order, her oblivious father plays tuba, and her annoying brother plays video games. Nobody believes her…until the wolves do plunge out of the walls, invading the house and rendering the family homeless. Lucy is the one who acts to glue the family together. With a Coralinesque bravery and a simple strategy, she goes back to save her stranded toy, Pig Puppet, and in the process they are able to get their house back.
The characters—at least in the part of the relatives—are reminiscent of the people in The Day I Swapped my Dad with Two Goldfish. The hardnosed heroine reminds me of Coraline, though there are numerous differences between them. It’s a pretty rad read all in all, though of course I’ll appreciate it more if I’m a kid. :p With Lucy hearing those noises, I imagine it striking a chord with a lot of kids, since the very scene embody common fears of a child. There are significant lessons embedded in the storyline as well, making the story weightier.
I’ve learned that this tale is conceived with help from the kids of the Gaiman and McKean. Maddy Gaiman has a nightmare of wolves scratching the walls of their house. Gaiman helped Maddy cope with this fear by storytelling, making strategies to escape from the wolves or something like that—and these plotting became a part of the story. Liam McKean does only a little contribution though, and this is the image of the Pig Puppet. :p I think it’s quite adorable, how they pieced together things from real kids and create something that kids can appreciate. :) ...more
This is a very crazy read…kind of like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but simpler and madder in a this-is-from-a-child’s-perspective kind of way. TThis is a very crazy read…kind of like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but simpler and madder in a this-is-from-a-child’s-perspective kind of way. The title says it all actually, when a boy seeks for something to trade for his friend Nathan’s two goldfish. Nathan rejects everything that the boy offers until the latter sets his eyes upon his dad. Nathan agrees, and the fun begins.
At first I’m not sure if I like this or not, because it’s absurd—and that’s saying something because I’m all for the oddball stuff. I’m no stranger to Gaiman’s works, even the other books he penned for children (Coraline and The Graveyard Book). I think this is his first work where he actually explores the natural weirdness of a kid’s thoughts. I don’t know how he does this, but it’s like he wormed his way into a kid’s brain and sat there, jotting down all the ideas that float past him until he builds up a whole story.
If I were a child and I were to read this, I bet I’d really enjoy it. But what I really liked about it is that it may slightly strike a chord with anyone who’s been a part of a typical family—you know, if you experienced petty sibling fights and noticed how your parents are sometimes oblivious to the *universe* haha. It’s all weird and cute. Once again, Dave McKean wows me with his artwork. He’s simply amazing. I loved how the fonts (or are the writings actually hand-written?) are done in a kid’s chicken scrawl of penmanship. It adds to the adorableness. ...more
Would you give your heart to someone for Valentines’ Day—literally? Neil Gaiman’s buffoonish Harlequin certainly will. In this romantically twisted reWould you give your heart to someone for Valentines’ Day—literally? Neil Gaiman’s buffoonish Harlequin certainly will. In this romantically twisted re-imagining of Comedia dell’Arte and the British Pantomime, Gaiman once again proved that he is a wizard of storytelling. Couple that with John Bolton’s adroit hands with a palette of colors and what you get is a little literary treasure that will leave a lingering feeling in you after you turn the last page.
Harlequin Valentine follows the story of the Harlequin, who nails his heart to the door as a valentine gift for his Columbine, Missy. The contrast between the characters is like black and white: Harlequin is very romantic and fickle, while his Columbine is practical and sensible. Bolton’s amazing depiction of the juxtaposition is spot-on, since his illustrations really resonate with the personalities of the characters. I like how he blends some bright photo-realism to his actual paintings and contrast them with the subdued backdrop. Columbine tries to figure out what she will do to the heart as she puts it in a sandwich bag; Harlequin meanwhile stalks her and falls more deeply in love. The storyline becomes more interesting as it becomes peppered with characters from the Comedia and the Pantomime, including Doctor and Pantaloon, and of course Pierott. This is like role-assigning actually, since the Harlequin only thinks of the characters in the people he is encountering during his little adventure.
I’ve read Gaiman’s longer works, and what I’ve noticed is that he has different attitudes in writing them compared to the short stories. His novels are riveting, leaving an ecstatic hangover to those who read them. Mostly Gaiman takes time in unveiling all the parts of the story, like carefully putting down the parts in the safe places in the middle of a mine field and guiding the readers to them. He said so himself, he’s not the kind of writer who pens stories that should be done in one-sitting. In writing short stories he is quite the opposite—brevity after all doesn’t favor that process. He deftly builds the plot with a touch of elegance, yet in the end drops it with a bomb that will leave the readers reeling at the end. It’s not the “I’m shocked” kind of bomb though—it’s the “It’s effect is still on me” kind. For something so short, the effect is surprisingly long-term.
That’s the effect of Harlequin Valentine on me.
I think this will be not enjoyed by people who are not entirely familiar with the Comedia/Pantomime. Even if there's a comprehensive sort-of guide that came with this format, I think readers will still be confused.
Anyway, as for the whole idea of "switches" (spoilery so I'll say nothing more than that), I'm not sure if this is the first story where he applied that concept. I mean, I've seen it in American Gods and a short film, who knows if there's an earlier work where he used that? Not that it's much an issue of originality. It's still his idea though. *shrugs*
This graphic novel includes two of Gaiman's short stories from Smoke and Mirrors, and I'll provide separate reviews for them.
DAUGHTER OF OWLS: Neil GaiThis graphic novel includes two of Gaiman's short stories from Smoke and Mirrors, and I'll provide separate reviews for them.
DAUGHTER OF OWLS: Neil Gaiman penned "The Daughter of Owls" in style of one of his favorite authors, John Aubrey. I enjoyed it enormously; the prose set the mood of the tale quite right, for it felt as if it was really written a long time ago. The story is about a girl left on the steps of a Church, holding Owl pellets that when crushed would reveal small animal bones. She was isolated but she grew up beautifully, and when some of the men in town heard about her beauty, they went to her to rape her. Owls came to her rescue then; the chilling ending quite tied itself up with the beginning, with the mention of new owl pellets:
“On the morrow, when the sun was high, the good-wives of the Town went through Dymton a-hunting High and Low for theyr Husbands and theyr Sonnes; wch, coming to the Convent, they fownd, on the Cellar stones, ye pellets of owles: & in the pellets they discovered hair & buckles & coins, & small bones: & also a quantity of straw upon the floor.”
Creepy, indeed. This tale showed how versatile Gaiman is as a writer—no matter what style he uses, as long as he throws something....something Gaimanesque in it, you can be sure that you’re in for a great read, haha. I like twisted fairytales, and The Daughter of Owls sounds like one. While I think short fiction was not Gaiman’s particular forte (try his best-selling novel American Gods and you’ll know what I mean)—you can clearly see the commendable way he develops the plot and characters in his longer works—it is evident that his shorter works can leave their impact as well, just not as great as the impact of his novels. I still think the drabbles and short stories are praiseworthy, especially if you’ll compare them to other SF contemporary works that were longer and more florid but don’t make their points. Gaiman can always surprise, shock, or just plainly creep you out in his briefest writings.
THE PRICE: The Price is a story of a middle aged writer living with a penchant of adopting stray cats. A newcomer to his feline family is this mysterious leonine black cat that shows up every morning with bleeding cuts and wounds. Curious about who or what this cat is fighting every night, the writer decided to spy and discovered that the cat is more than what it seems.
The Black Cat character quite struck a chord with me, since I’ve read the novella Coraline before I purchased Smoke and Mirrors (I think now that Gaiman took that cat and redesigned him into less of an angel and more of a guide for Coraline. That’s just an assumption though). Something’s lacking in this story, I think. Maybe it ended so abruptly—I really wanted to see more of this story. It was like, I was already drowning in the setting he’d created and then he pulled me back up to reality without any warning. At least that’s what it felt like. I think it was too short.
Also, it reminded me of the bonus story in the introduction of the collection, The Wedding Present. The part where the Black Cat was kept in the basement and all bad luck came rushing in, and how it ended when they set the Cat free again to loiter around their house and yard…it’s reminiscent of how the wedding description “sucked” all the bad luck away. Not in the same style, but the similarity is there.
Lovely description of the cats and the transforming Devil, though. I loved those parts immensely....more
While Morpheus starred in the forefront in Preludes and Nocturnes, he takes a backseat in The Doll’s House. Here, mortals—the Walkers—fueled the storyWhile Morpheus starred in the forefront in Preludes and Nocturnes, he takes a backseat in The Doll’s House. Here, mortals—the Walkers—fueled the story.
The Doll’s House treads on the similar path as Preludes and Nocturnes. In the first volume, Morpheus has to find important talismans; in the second volume Morpheus has to seek for dreams that have escaped his realm and morphed into human forms in the wake of the chaotic events in P&N. We get introduced to Rose Walker, a dream vortex that was fathered by an Endless. After the ninth issue, the adventure follows a decent story of manipulation, betrayal, friendship, and love.
“Tales in the Sand”, the prologue of sorts of this volume, discusses the fractured love story of Morpheus and Nada, the African queen who was mentioned in P&N as the lover whom Morpheus incarcerated in Hell for all eternity. We discover that Desire manipulated the two to fall into this messy affair. I loved the tragedy, even if in the hackneyed mortals-and-deities-are-never-meant-to-fall-in-love kind of way.
But what I really liked the most, strangely, is the Rose and Morpheus exchange about who’s manipulating who, which practically became the theme of this volume. Rose is half-Endless and half-human, and when she finds this out expresses her rage about these god-like beings treating mortals like playthings, or dolls. Morpheus responds by saying that the Endless are the anthropomorphic representations of concepts created by man, so it’s the other way around. It’s practically the whole tone of the story, the main driving force being Desire and his/her/its bad antic’s consequences. This is a good follow-up to Preludes and Nocturnes. The twisted darkness is still there, writhing beneath the melancholic tone of the whole tome. I’m glad to see new characters as well, and I’m particularly amused by Hob Gadling. He’s the reason why our Morpheus has somehow shown a side of himself that could actually be akin to humanity. :D
Preludes and Nocturnes is not my favorite Sandman graphic novel, but I understand how it needs to plant the literary seeds so that in the next volumesPreludes and Nocturnes is not my favorite Sandman graphic novel, but I understand how it needs to plant the literary seeds so that in the next volumes, the plants of the plot would sprout out to life with well-defined story arcs. It is, after all, the prologue.
The whole volume follows the story of Dream, also known as the Sandman/Morpheus/Prince of Stories as he escapes from a mystical prison and embarks on a journey to find three talismans: a helm, a pouch, and a ruby.
• The tome kicks off with “The Sleep of the Just”, where we see how Dream is incarcerated, how it affects the sleeping and dreaming of the world, and how he wakes up from his sleep. I was intrigued by The Magdalene Grimoire, but the whole thing about the summoning of the wrong Endless didn’t really interest me; that kind of mistake-that-started-it-all is a bit passé, in my opinion.
•In “Imperfect Hosts” we delve deeper into the DC universe when we’re introduced to Cain and Abel. Not much action, but I liked the smooth incorporation of two mythologies.
•I ‘m quite contented with “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, because John Constantine is one of my favorite DC Comics characters. This is a nice, engrossing issue where Dream tries to get his pouch of sand, with a poignant ending for Rachel, Constantine’s former girlfriend. Loved it.
•“A Hope in Hell” receives a thumb up from me. Here we get to see a vaguely revealed yet fractured love story of Morpheus with Nada, and the triumvirate that rules Hell: Lucifer, Beezlebub, and Azazel. Here we see how Dream uses his wisdom to outwit the demons and attempts to get his helm. I liked it.
•“Passengers” is a bit confusing to me, and not much fun like what other DC Comics readers tell me. It must be a shame, but I’m not really familiar with the Justice League (the graphic novel version at least); this is the first time I’m introduced to Mr. Miracle/Scott Free. I do know who Scarecrow is, though, and I once again commend the effortless melding of stories. A new character by the name of John Dee/Dr.Destiny enters, and the plot thickens drastically...
•“24 Hours” is the most gruesome of all the issues in this volume. Many people have been tortured here, and while I’m not new to this kind of darkly twisted stuff, it still disturbed me. Not my favorite, although I quite liked the appearance of the Fates.
•In “Sound and Fury”, John Dee and Dream battle. Perhaps the most riveting part, being the climax. The tangible world and Dream’s realm are both shown, with the wide-range effect of the power of dreaming going haywire. The ending is spot-on.
•While it may only serve as an epilogue of sorts to this tome (or the “denouement” issue) that is not really linked to the previous seven issues, I loved “The Sound of Her Wings” because this is where Death, my favorite Endless, appears for the first time. She emerges as a Goth girl chiding her moping brother Dream. I marvel at how Gaiman designed her character, so unconventional and down-to-earth that it is the complete opposite of the usual depiction of “death” in popular culture. Also, I notice that while the previous issues have twisted, action-fueled flavor, this last issue has the tone that resonates with the rest of the succeeding volumes. It’s by no means light, yet it has a feel of serenity in it that blends perfectly with the underlying dark theme. Here we see Dream watching Death do her work—fetching souls after they shuffle off the mortal coil and then accompanying them to their destination. Quite a lovely closure to the volume.
All in all it’s a captivating read, a good springboard to a new mythology that an older audience will surely enjoy. I used to refer to the whole series as “graphic novels for the thinking man”, and I still think of it that way. The artwork is okay, although compared to the illustrations of the latter volumes it is still inferior.
For me, Season of Mists (The Sandman volume 4, issues 21-28) is where Neil Gaiman really starts to unspool the threads of his own magic at length, weaFor me, Season of Mists (The Sandman volume 4, issues 21-28) is where Neil Gaiman really starts to unspool the threads of his own magic at length, weaving them to the first filaments of the series’ foundation that we found in Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House. Here we get more than just fragments of the enigmatic central character of the series, Morpheus; we get to see his depth and how he slowly gets to have more touches of humanity (maybe not the technically correct term but it’s the first to come to mind) in himself.
ABUNDANT SPOILER-ISHNESS (halt now if you haven’t read it)! The story kicks off with a reunion of the Endless, sans one sibling: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. Characterization is of course spot-on: my favorite moments are when Death cracks a humorous comment about refusing to be pigeonholed (“Aw come on! You know how much I hate wearing that stuff…next thing you’re going to be moaning that I ought to get a scythe!”), Desire being the trouble-seeking and malicious creature that he/she/it is, and Delirium being adorable in her own bizarre, scatterbrained way. We see how the reunion is like an ordinary family gathering—with banters and all—except that this one isn’t really ordinary at all. Desire succeeds in angering Dream by talking about the latter’s love life, particularly about Calliope and Nada. In Preludes and Nocturnes we learn how Dream condemned Nada to Hell for ten thousand years after she turned him down. Death, who is closest to Dream, admonishes him about his behavior—induced by caprice and backed by his big ego— towards Nada’s negative response. Dream realizes his mistake and decides to free Nada from Lucifer Morningstar’s realm.
Morpheus’ decision sets the wheels of this tome running. Based on the glimpses of the haughty Dream King that we have from the stories before his incarceration, the drastic changes in him are very noticeable. This is what I’m saying he seems to have a ‘human’ touch to him after all. The first, of course, is apparent in his treatment of Rose Walker and Hob Gadling in The Doll’s House; now after ten thousand years, after Death whacks some sense into his head, he is ready to forgive. In so many mythologies I’ve encountered several punishments akin to damning one other entity to an underworld of sorts after it offended a co-deity or a higher god, and maybe one side of Dream has a propensity to that. But Gaiman gave him a side that those entities lack: a side that can strike a chord with anyone who has pulse, anyone who has feelings. Morpheus says his final farewells to a few people including Daniel, a baby gestated in his realm, and Hob Gadling, his mortal friend. There is no tinge of drama in the goodbyes, but I find them poignant. I loved the moment he bade Death farewell; my heart sort of twitched when I read the last panel, with Death wiping a tear from her eye and muttering “idiot!”
But the goodbyes are only the beginning. In hell, Lucifer Morningstar has a revelation: his kingdom is almost empty now, and he is abdicating his throne. He explains to Morpheus how tired he is of reigning in Hell, and in the end there is no fight (see P&N for the complete reason). Instead Morpheus is given the key to Hell, making the place a protectorate of his.
Imprisonment, freedom, and escape—these are recurring themes of the whole series since the first issue. Lucifer knows resigning is like hitting two birds with one stone: he is escaping responsibility and he is also imprisoning Morpheus in a more difficult life.
And it sure is a burden to the Dream King, especially as creatures from various mythologies—Norse, Egyptian, Japanese, you name it—come to him, trying to claim the key. Morpheus sees an escape when representatives from the Silver City tells him that the Creator wants the key back, that Heaven is meaningless without Hell. So he surrenders the key to the rightful one. Violent reactions are expected especially from Hell’s former denizens; they even try to blackmail Morpheus about Nada, but everything works out well in the end. Dream once again offers Nada to be with him, and yet again she refuses. This time, not hindered by blind arrogance, Dream accepts it and releases Nada—not only from her millennia of imprisonment, but also from her memories of him.
One other theme that persists (this time taking root in Dream Country) is that sometimes Hell is not a place, but situations we put ourselves in: “We make our own hell”. Death said it; Lucifer himself said it, as well as the dead English school boy Charles Rowland. Lucifer and Rowland also states, in their individual ways, that you don’t have to stay forever in a place or situation just because other people think you should. Both of them liberate themselves.
Anyway, about the Rowland issue, sure it first looks like a filler chapter, but I think it gives the readers a fragment of the repercussion of Lucifer’s abdication, both in the literal and metaphorical way. BTW, I’ll just say that one panel made me sort of sick (I’m eating while I’m reading the novel—just saying) and I’m suddenly very grateful how the penciler and inker aren’t so graphic about the torture scene. *shivers*
In A Game of You, Gaiman goes back to pick up an ostensibly minor thread in The Doll’s House and zeroes in on it: Barbie’s story. Morpheus again lurksIn A Game of You, Gaiman goes back to pick up an ostensibly minor thread in The Doll’s House and zeroes in on it: Barbie’s story. Morpheus again lurks in the periphery of the tales in this volume yet plays a significant role in the end. A Game of You tackles several themes that reappear frequently across the whole Sandman series, but mostly the spotlight is on the power of dreams, finding your own identity, how sometimes oneself is one’s source of suffering, friendship, and sexuality.
Interestingly, this tome is driven by a three-dimensional set of female characters—even if one of them is only female at heart. One of the many things I liked about Gaiman is how he molds every character with evenhanded precision no matter who they are, no matter what their sexuality is, or no matter how low or lofty their stations in life (or death!) maybe. The beautiful Barbie, now divorced with Ken, struggles to stay away from her former self by doing something quirky and different to her face every day, like painting chessboards or fishnets on it. Wanda is Barbie’s happy-go-lucky transsexual friend, whose identity-related plight we readers know nothing about until we’re let inside her dreams and until we reach the end of this volume. Hazel is a lesbian whose mind will not let her rest because she thinks she got pregnant from a drunken one-night stand—something that she doesn’t know how to tell her partner, Foxglove. Foxglove may be the character that is least explored here, but we’re given a glimpse on how she hides behind a false name and from a past she wants to forget. And Thessaly—well, as one character said it, at the surface she’s “like a bimbo, but only with the brains instead of the looks”. But this is The Sandman, and nothing on the surface is to be trusted. :p
Plot-wise, there isn't much happening. It's got a simple premise, but the well-molded characters make up for that. It also plants some more seeds that will grow as important plot devices for other issues (i.e. Death: The Time of Your Life).
As a child Barbie dreams sequentially, returning to a place called the Land where she is the Princess and where she has friends. These dreams only come to a halt when she comes in close proximity with a dream vortex (see The Doll’s House). Meanwhile, Morpheus feels that something is amiss, and it turns out that a skerry (an islet in the shoals of dream) is dying. It turns out that this is Barbie’s Land. After an encounter with one of the denizens of the Land, Barbie goes back to it and tries to save it from the Cuckoo. What happens next is a tangle of epiphanies, magic, realizations, and grief.
My favorite theme in this opus is about Identity in one way or another, almost all the characters have issues with it. Aside from Barbie and her paint masks, we have Foxglove, whose former name—Donna—she abandoned long ago because of her past. And then there is Wanda—Alvin to her relatives—who suffers the ordinary things a tranny would.
I also liked how Gaiman went back to the “who-plays-who” theme he put in “The Doll’s House”, when it turns out that all the creatures in the Land are all products of Barbie’s overactive imagination, as live versions of her favorite childhood toys. Maybe this is why I thought more of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, even of the volume makes more references to the latter.