Joey Karlin's Reviews > The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

The Sandman, Vol. 6 by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Mar 24, 2010

it was amazing

** spoiler alert **

Joey Karlin “Readers Response” (quotation marks courtesy of those who know that “Readers Response” is a glorified term for the word “Book Review”.)

The Sandman Volume 6: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman

Well thanks-a-freaking-lot Neil Gaiman. How the hell do you expect me to “respond” (review) this!? Here I am expecting a good old fashioned story line concerning the antics of everyone’s favorite physical embodiment of the power of dreams, imagination, and storytelling, and you instead give me a collection of 9 short stories each told with a unique perspective opening my eyes more to the overall universe of the Sandman! Oh wait…

Like I said, Fables and Reflections is a collection of 9 short stories. They are about, in this order: A play write/director with a crippling fear of success, a man who declares himself the Emperor of The United States, a Princess in Napoleon era France traveling with the disembodied (yet living) head of the Greek Mythology character Orpheus, an old man telling a possibly true story about a young man traveling cross country in pursuit of the love of a beautiful woman to his grand child, the ere of the now dead Julius Caesar disguising himself as a beggar to talk to his friend about the state of things Rome (or wherever they are, I forget), a young Marco Polo having delusions (or maybe not) in a cursed desert as he frantically searches for his father, the story of the Greek Mythology character Orpheus told with the assumption that Orpheus is the son of the Sandman, a toddler somehow traveling into the world of dream where he is told much more interesting versions of bible stories by Cane, Able, and Eve, and finally the story of a Hindu King selling his beautiful city to the King of Dreams.

Jesus H. Christ, that last paragraph just told you the synopsis and it’s taken me 20 minutes to type (not counting me flipping through the book trying to recall all the stories). Neil Gaiman reminds me off a character I once read about in a book, (incidentally this book I’m speaking of is The Sandman Volume 3: Dream Country, a collection of 4 stories of the sandman universe.) this character was an author. He had written one humongous critical success and couldn’t write a single word else because of writers block. He does whatever sensible person would do in this situation: buys a woman from another writer, who when you rape, make’s writer’s block disappear and gives you ideas for stories. (That isn’t the part that reminds me of Neil Gaiman.) In the end of the story, the writer is cursed to come up with ideas for stories infinitely, and lacking a pen and paper, cuts himself open and writes them all down in blood on a wall, causing his inevitable death. Neil Gaiman is a bit like that. Except instead of brutalizing himself he publishes volumes of the Sandman and crams way to many ideas to be reviewed as 1 into them.

Each story really is great, with the possible exception of Fear of Falling (the one about the play write). I suppose the big thing I must consider is that Sandman was originally published as an actual comic book. So each volume is just a collection of them in order. And Dream Country and Fables and Reflections are just the times when he got tired of big dramatic story arches and decided it would be fun to write short ones. However that is a bit confusing to think about once you consider that volume 8: Worlds End doesn’t have any visible boundaries between chapters. Okay, well now that I’ve given myself a headache; time for the real review. I’m going to try to do each story, so hang onto your pants.

Fear of Falling: While I’m not much a fan of the looks-like-someone-dipped-a-cats-claws-in-ink-and-had-them-scribble-on-paper drawing style, it does offer a somewhat uplifting beginning. Nice overall, yet the fact that we see it before the table of contents means we’re afraid the whole book will look like this.

Three Septembers and a January: The story of the self proclaimed emperor of the United States is a very humorous, and uplifting in a way I can appreciate. Basically, Dream, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (all characters in this series) get into a fight to see who can claim a man before their older sister Death does. Dream gives him the dream of being the Emperor of the United States, and he gains a sort of reputation while having no real power, making him the friendliest king in existence. Desire, Despair, and Delirium make their attempts at claiming him, but Dream still keeps him with the Emperor of USA deal, and it ends with the King dying. The Last shot is him walking into the distance with Death, Death saying “I’ve met a LOT of Kings, and Emperors and Heads of State in my time. I’ve met them ALL. And you know something? I think I liked you best.”

Thermidor: The Napoleon era France thing. This story is for some reason placed before “Orpheus” which tells the story of how Orpheus became a living disembodied head. I believe it’s trying to do like what it did in Pulp Fiction. Tell one coherent story-line all mixed up because a part that happens chronologically in the middle is a better conclusion. It doesn’t totally work, because you’re given literally NO back-story about Orpheus. Having never studied this part of Greek Mythology, it was very confusing. “Why is Dream saying that a disembodied head is his son, and why does the heads name rhyme with Dreams other name? And why does it need to be taken to the top of that mountain by that girl? And what the hell the comic relief character from Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure doing here?” Yet, after a half hour on Wikipedia I understood it. Not the most enjoyable story for me, but possibly the best for others.

The Hunt: This is the one about the old man telling his grandchild a story. While it was good reading, it seemed a bit too simple to belong in Sandman. The old man had a generic, yet semi-realistic approach to modern technology, but that’s not what we should be concerned with. He told a story about a young man in the olden Tolkien days. The man went searching for a young woman he had somehow acquired a picture of. He also had a book that belonged to Dream. In the end Dream says he’ll let him have the girl if he can have his book back. And rather than raping the girl (what was to be expected at that point) he just gave her the picture. Sort of an odd story. But entertaining.

August: A rather haunting and sad story. This is the one that’s about the ere of Julius Caesar. The ere is named August. August is the current emperor, Julius being dead, and the story is mostly about August talking with his friend about the current state of things in Rome. But the real interesting bits are where August has flashbacks, each one going further and further into his life. They tell the story of how he became Julius’s ere. Eventually you find out that Julius raped him, and he agreed to adopt August as his son if he let him do it every night, and he’s been having nightmares ever since. Pretty heavy stuff. It’s really hauntingly told, brought down by the somewhat dullness of the non flashback parts.

Soft Places: This is the one about Marco Polo. Now, I have to admit the only part of this that interested me in the slightest is the very end, where Dream shows Marco the way back to his dad. And even that was only interesting because it revealed that that story took place in the events of Volume 1. The rest is about Marco having delusions about meeting some other people who are also having delusions. So, interesting on the level of concept, but its rather dully told.

Orpheus: HA! Now this is the real high point of the book. It tells the story of Orpheus in Greek Mythology. The twist is that in this version, he is the son of Dream. It is a really very tragic story. Orpheus gets married to the love of his wife (who’s name escapes me) and she gets killed by a snake about 10 minutes later. Orpheus considers suicide briefly before going to see his aunt, Death. She lets him go to the Underworld where he meets Hades, to talk him into giving him his wife back. He agrees under the condition that Orpheus walk the long way out of the Underworld, and never look back. Orpheus gets half way before convincing himself that he has been tricked, and turns around only to see that his wife was following him. However, since he turned around she is now being thrown back into the underworld. Smart boy that Orpheus. So, Orpheus, back in the real world, attempts suicide by letting himself be attacked by a group of “Bachache” I think they were called. Basically half beast half women, they are. But, rather than killing him, they tear off his head and curse it to stay alive. It ends with Dream confronting Orpheus and telling him that for what he has done, he can never look or speak to him again. The final shot we see from the perspective off Orpheus, watching his father Dream walk slowly away from him, not even considering looking back. This story is the best told of all of them, and its also told 4 chapters long. So yeah, real high point.

Okay, I’m gonna level with you now. Its taken me over an hour to write what I have, and I’m sure this is much more than is actually required for a readers response. I’m done. Just read it.
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