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Monday, April 6, 2009

Sandman VI, VIII, IX

Sandman VI, VIII, and IX by Neil Gaiman
Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge, Dream King Challenge, for the love of Neil Gaiman

The sixth Sandman graphic novel, Fables and Reflections is a series of short stories similar to Dream Country and World's End. While most of the tales don't add to the main plotline, like all of Gaiman's graphic novels, there are characters, plotlines, and details that come from previous storylines or will play into future storylines. One of my favorite stories is Three Septembers and a January, a tale that sounds too fantastical to be true... except that it is a true story. Joshua Abraham Norton, a failed businessman moves to San Francisco and declares himself the Emperor of the United States. He prints his own currency and publishes his royal decrees in the newspaper. Thanks to Gaiman, we at last learn the behind the scenes story, which involves a contest between Desire and Dream.

Other stories include Orpheus, which introduces us to Dream's son and sets up the background for the next major plotline and a number of other fairy tales and myths. Fairy tales, Roman emperors, mythical cities, and the French Revolution are just a few of the dazzling number of settings.

Next up is Brief Lives, where Delirium convinces Dream to help her search for their missing brother, Destruction. The Endless have been introduced previously, but in this novel we finally get a more satisfying look at their lives, their realms, and their sometimes dysfunctional relationships. Previously, I had not cared much for Delirium, but in this novel as she leads Dream on erratic and (to his mind) pointless search, I started to really warm up to her. She has a knack for misadventures and for saying the wrong thing at the right time. Also, interesting is Gaiman's portrayal of Destruction as a kindly soul weary of his duty, taking up art in his retirement.

This novel starts as a kind of a lark, a buddy adventure between the free-spirited Delirium and the straight-laced Dream, and takes a more serious turn as the people around them start dying. Dream, who at the beginning of the series was remote, cold and willing to let humans die without a second thought, has evolved to a point where he is more in tune and sympathetic with humanity. Determined to make their mission succeed so that their human companions will not have died in vain, Dream finds himself making a choice that he knows will possibly lead to his own destruction.

Between Brief Lives and The Kindly Ones, is World's End, which I had previously read and reviewed here.

And finally, we arrive at The Kindly Ones, the climax of several loose plotlines that we've been following since the first few novels. Over the years, Dream has managed to accumulate a number of beings with grudges against him. In this novel, several of them come together to carry out their revenge. Lyta Hall, who had once, with her husband, attempted to fill the void left when Dream was imprisoned, knows that Dream had claimed her son, Daniel. When she comes home and finds her son missing, she immediately latches onto getting revenge and seeks the help of the Furies, empowered to bring destruction to those who have spilt family blood.

Dream is not necessarily innocent. He has, by the decisions made throughout the course of the series, caused the events of The Kindly Ones. He has spilt family blood, although it was a mercy killing. He did claim Lyta's son, although it wasn't him who kidnapped her. Dream knows his responsibility, and his actions to save himself and his kingdom become increasingly half-hearted. At last, the novel ends with Dream and Death sitting on a desolate peak together, talking about everything and nothing at the same time. Death is my favorite character of the series, and the exchange between the two as Dream finally accepts his fate is heart-renching.

Should I read it? You'd be missing out if you didn't.


Nymeth said...

I love love love that final scene with Dream and Death. Once, when asked to summarize the Sandman in one sentence, Neil Gaiman said, "The Dream King learns that you either change or die, and makes his choice." I think that shows in The Kindle Ones in particular.

I love these books so much.

Kim L said...

Nymeth-so true! It was such a powerful scene. One of the more affecting graphic novels I've read recently.