Dream Country (Sandman) Library Binding – 18 Sep 2008
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About the Author
Neil Gaiman is the most critically acclaimed comics writer of the 1990s and is the author of numerous books and graphic novels. He is the New York Times No. 1 best-selling author of American Gods and Anansi Boys. Kelley Jones is a regular artist on Batman for DC Comics. Past credits include Sandman, Swamp Thing, Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, Batman: Bloodstorm, and Batman: Dark Joker - The Wild. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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In "Calliope," a struggling writer is willing to do anything if he can write his second novel, but he's got a wicked case of writer's block. So he gains possession of Calliope, the muse of literature, and rapes her so that he can write once again. Desperate to be free of her imprisonment, Calliope calls on the only one who can help her.
Then "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" shows a congregation of cats, one of whom tells a story of how her owners murdered her kittens. This led her into a journey into the Dream Country, so that she might see the truth about dreams and reality.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" takes place as Shakespeare and his company perform the titular play on a hillside. Morpheus appears, along with the Faerie Court of Titania and Auberon, and the origins of Shakespeare's talent are revealed at last as the play goes on.
And finally, "Facade" introduces us to Element Girl/Rainie, a retired superheroine who lives a reclusive life because of her frightening appearance. When an old friend calls her, she crafts a false face to hide her appearance -- only to have it fall off during their dinner. The devastated Rainie longs to die, but it will take a visit from one of the Endless to help her...
Despite the title ("The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country"), there's not much of either the Dream Country or Morpheus in this volume. In fact, there's only one foray into the Dream Country, and Morpheus makes two cameos, one major appearance, and is completely absent from the story "Facade."
Rather, this is a chance for Neil Gaiman to flex his storytelling muscles. Each of the stories is painfully bittersweet, and are shadowed by loss, loneliness and misery. There are some moments of wrenching horror (Calliope being raped for inspiration), but Gaiman also shows off his dark, witty sense of humor as well ("'I am that merry wanderer of the night'? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to-life-and-limb, more like it").
And the art is absolutely gorgeous. Charles Vess's delicately-drawn, colorful pictures make the entire faerie story come to life, and the muted, shadowed art of the cats and their vision of the Dream Country is entrancing. "Calliope" is brightly colored but clouded with shadows and darkness, as if the writer's heart is overshadowing the world around him.
"The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country" has small but significant connections to both the Sandman and the Dream Country -- four haunting, bittersweet stories from a master storyteller.
The first story is Calliope. A young writer, Richard Madoc, has a bad case of writer's block following the success of his first novel. In desperation he turns to the occult to find a way out of his problem and enlists the help of Erasmus Fry, an elderly author and successful playwright. It turns out that Fry owes his success to his imprisonment of Calliope, one of the nine muses of antiquity (and the former muse of Homer), and he passes control of Calliope over to Madoc. By holding her hostage and abusing her, Madoc gains the inspiration he needs and becomes a bestselling writer, churning out novels, a poetry collection, screenplays and even becoming a gifted director. Unfortunately for Madoc, he is unaware that Calliope is also the former lover of one of the Endless...
This is an interesting story. The notion of 'the muse' is explored here, although the literal personification of Calliope can be substituted for whatever a writer uses for inspiration. The abuse and over-use of the muse resulting in a horrendous case of writer's block, perhaps permanantly, is an interesting idea to use for a story, but it works well. We also get some intriguing backstory for The Sandman overall, including the tantalising revelation that somewhere out there Morpheus has a son (although those who know their Greek mythology will be way ahead of the game here). For those interested in writing graphic novels and comics, the complete script for Calliope is included in the book as well.
The second story is much more straightforward and fun. The Dream of a Thousand Cats sees a cat travelling the world, preaching a message to all the other cats, and we see the impact of that message on a young kitten. This story has been called 'cute' but it really isn't. The dream the cat is trying to bring into reality really isn't very nice (especially for humans) and the final line and image are brilliantly contrasted with what is going on in the cat's mind. This is as self-contained as Sandman stories come, and shows Gaiman's wit and imagination in full flower.
The third story is the legendary A Midsummer Night's Dream. Back in Men of Good Fortune (included in The Doll's House), Dream and William Shakespeare made a deal whereby Dream would give Shakespeare access to a font of imagination in return for Shakespeare writing two plays for him. A Midsummer Night's Dream is the first, written for Dream to show as a piece of entertainment to the real faerie king and queen, Auberon and Titania, who return to the mortal plane with their retainers for the occasion.
This is a splendid, clever story which rightfully won the World Fantasy Award in 1991. As the play unfolds events offstage are illuminated by it: Titania's enchantment of Shakespeare's son (who died several years later), Robin Goodfellow (Puck)'s irritation at being portrayed by a mortal and the running commentary provided by several of the faerie court viewing the play, with some disagreement about whether they should congratulate the mortals for their art or eat them. There's also some more scene-setting for later stories (an invitation is extended to Dream who hasn't followed up on it by four centuries later). The highlight of the collection, this is an amusing story, although probably of most interest to established Shakespeare fans.
The final story is Facade, about an extremely obscure DC hero who finds herself lost and lonely, living in her apartment with a weekly conversation with the guy who signs her pension cheques as the highlight of her week. This is a somewhat bleak story about a hero with the power to save the world but who loses herself in the process, but it is given an uplifting ending by the arrival of Death, who is fleshed out a lot more here than in her previous brief appearances.
Dream Country (****) is an excellent addition to The Sandman mythos, although it can be criticised for being on the short side (collecting only four issues, compared to the previous two collections' eight apiece) and only padded out to a reasonable length by the Calliope script. But the quality of the actual stories more than makes up for it.
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