One of my husband's favorite authors is Neil Gaiman; in fact, he was the one who introduced me to his works. He's read American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust, and The Graveyard Book, to name a few. But he has yet to read the Sandman graphic novels back then – this was just a year or so before we got married. So on one special occasion (what it was, exactly, escapes me now) I decided to gift him with the complete Sandman graphic novels set – all ten of them. It took me some time to collect all, but I did, thanks to the awesome staff at the old Powerbooks branch at the nearby mall. The novels have been with us for years now, proudly displayed on our shelf, but I mustered the courage (yes, courage) to pick up the first volume only recently.
I was blown away.
Dream, aka Morpheus, is the protagonist. The story begins when Dream is inadvertently released from years of imprisonment by Roderick Burgess, a sorcerer/magician who sought to capture Death but ensnared her younger brother Dream instead (yes, her). Upon his escape, Dream realizes that during his captivity, he has lost the three totems or "tools" containing his power: a pouch of sand, a helm and a ruby. Thus he begins the quest to recover his treasures, traveling all the way across cities and down to Hell to reclaim them.
My basic and recurring problem with graphic novels has always been this: I tend to lose myself in the illustrations – literally. I would more often than not find myself unable to follow the chronology of the text, depending on how and where they are situated on the page. I’m usually at a quandary over whether I should gloss over the illustrations first and try to grasp the scene from them, or read the text first so that I could at least assess where the drawings will point me. There are times I would not comprehend the meaning of a certain drawing, what it seeks to convey. In this particular work, there was an illustration where I didn’t get that I was supposed to be seeing something from Dream’s point of view – that I shouldn’t be looking at an object from a third person’s detached viewpoint, but rather, from the narrator’s himself – Dream’s. When I saw that panel, I had to consult my husband about it, and it was only when he explained that I fully understood. Okay.
Once I got the hang of the illustrations and the accompanying text, I realized that I was stressing over nothing. It was then that I began to appreciate the story more. And what a story it was! What fantastic storytelling it was!
If you’ve read American Gods, you would know that it’s a retelling of various mythology and religion – Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, among others – merged into one long novel. Deities were made human, given human names, made to suffer and struggle like humans. Now, take that basic plot and apply it to Death, Heaven, Hell, and the realm of the comics, and then get an awesome storyteller in the person of Neil Gaiman to do all the conceptualizing – there’s your first Sandman volume.
There are eight stories that make up the entire volume: Sleep of the Just, Imperfect Hosts, Dream a Little Dream of Me, A Hope in Hell, Passengers, 24 Hours, Sound & Fury, and The Sound of Her Wings. In these stories, you will probably recognize Cain and Abel, the Arkham Asylum, John Constantine, and Doctor Destiny. Not quite familiar? Worry not, Google is your friend.
My favorite of the eight stories is A Hope in Hell because of the challenge that Dream had to face before he could claim his totem from one of Lucifer’s minions. Amidst the darkness and eeriness of the stories, it was in this story that something positive came off. And I loved how that one turned out.
Dream’s pursuit to reclaim his lost totems – literally, to Hell and back again – was highly engaging. Yes, the entire work is dark, violent and graphic in certain parts (particularly in 24 Hours), but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless. I am no excellent judge when it comes to artwork, but the drawings were pretty accurate – as dark and as complicated as the stories that make up the volume. Dream’s likeness kind of resembles Neil Gaiman himself, if I may say so.
Warning: not suitable for young readers.
Book Details: Bought brand-new, borrowed from the husband :D