Book Review: The Sandman (Volume One) “Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman,┬áSam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III

TL;DR – The impacts on reality when the Lord of Dreams is caught and caged by a man obsessed in conquering death.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

He is known to many as “The Sandman”, to others he is called “Morpheus”, and those closest call him simply “Dream”. He is the ruler of the realm of possibilities and impossibilities, his creations assigned to generate hopes and nightmares. He is one of the Endless; a family that comprises of “Desire”, “Despair” and “Destiny” to name a few.

When Dream is accidentally captured by Roderick Burgess, a magus obsessed with achieving immortality and wanting to capture “Death”, he finds himself in the unusual situation of being the captive, when for most of his existence he has been the captor. Three objects that contain an abundance of Dream’s power is taken from him. A pouch of sand, a ruby and a helm.

Trapped inside a magical cage, Dream watches as Burgess uses his tools for his own selfish ends. In the process, the world is struck by an epidemic known as the sleeping sickness; a disease that causes people to fall asleep and never wake up. Others turn into a zombie-like state where they can’t fall asleep. Dream knows that irreparable harm is striking humans everywhere, and he also knows his own Dream realm is being ruined.

Several decades pass. When Dream finally escapes, he begins a quest to hunt down his pouch, ruby and helm. His goal is to restore his realm and the human world. But everything has changed, including himself.

Review

Neil Gaiman’s imagining of The Sandman/Morpheus/Dream is nothing short of brilliant. Combined with the sublime and ethereal illustrations of Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, volume one is a treasure trove of wonderful stories that will leave you pondering long after you’ve read the last page.

Dream is a wonderfully complex character who undergoes transformations and struggles with conflicts of his own identity and being. He can be magnanimous and ruthless, compassionate and cruel, aloof and familiar. His connection to the human world and his rule over his own realm are filled with the contradictions of his own persona. One minute he can be empathetic, the next he can be disconnected.

As a being that appears to exist eternally, Dream is remarkable in that he undergoes changes in emotions and perceptions that make him fascinating. He is not some god-like creature that presents himself as immune to human feelings and expressions.

If anything he witnesses the inhumanity of humanity through characters such as Roderick Burgess and later John Dee (a.k.a. Doctor Destiny), who escapes from Arkham Asylum, and responds in ways you would not expect for a being of the Endless.

Volume one contains the first eight issues published by Vertigo Comics and largely follows Dream’s quest to retain his pouch of sand, magic ruby and helm. It is not the objects themselves that are of interest but the hands in which the objects have fallen into and how they have been used.

By far the most riveting sequence is when Dream faces off against John Dee who is in possession of the ruby. Issue #6 titled “24/7” is nothing short of captivating as we watch Dee use the ruby to manipulate the staff and patrons in an American Diner and revealing all the wonderful and wretched sides of human beings. He ultimately concludes that humanity should be driven mad and he will be the ruler of this mad world. When Dream seeks to intervene, Dee attempts to destroy Dream and take over his realm also. When Dee’s machinations backfire and he is defeated, I expected Dream to dole out swift and brutal justice. But instead, I was surprised by the actions Dream took in concluding Dee’s fate. It is not that Dee ends up back in Arkham Asylum, but the interactions Dee has with Dream leading up to him being incarcerated once more.

And while “24/7” was probably the most riveting, the most thought-provoking in volume one was the last issue titled “The Sound of Her Wings”. In a totally unexpected turn of events, we see Dream sitting on a park bench feeding the pigeons. He has accomplished his quest and retrieved all his lost power, but unexpectedly we find him listless and melancholy. It is here, Gaiman introduces Death, Dream’s older sister. Their interactions are surprisingly familial, and Gaiman’s portrayal of Death is as layered and complex as Dream. They are wonderful foils for each other and their actions and thoughts will change your own perspective of the real and unreal, life and death.

You’ll never look at your dreams in the same way ever again.

5 out of 5.