The Dream Hunters (The sandman) Hardcover – 1 Nov 1999
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Sandman fans should feel lucky that master fantasy writer Neil Gaiman discovered the mythical world of Japanese fables while researching his translation of Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke. At the same time, while preparing for the Sandman 10th anniversary, he met Yoshitaka Amano, his artist for the 11th Sandman book. Amano is the famed designer of the Final Fantasy game series. The product of Gaiman's immersion in Japanese art, culture and history, Sandman: Dream Hunters is a classic Japanese tale that he has subtly morphed into his Sandman universe.
Like most fables, the story begins with a wager between two jealous animals, a fox and a badger: which of them can drive a young monk from his solitary temple? The winner will make the temple into a new fox or badger home. But as the fox adopts the form of a woman to woo the monk from his hermitage, she falls in love with him. Meanwhile, in far away Kyoto, the wealthy Master of Yin-Yang, the onmyoji, is plagued by his fears and seeks tranquillity in his command of sorcery. He learns of the monk and his inner peace; he dispatches demons to plague the monk in his dreams and eventually kill him to bring his peace to the onmyoji. The fox overhears the demons on their way to the monk and begins her struggle to save the man whom at first she so envied.
Gaiman's narrative rings with a sense of timelessness and magic that gently sustains this adult fairy tale. The only disappointment here is that the book is so brief. One could imagine this creative team being even better suited to a longer story of more epic proportions. On the final page of Dream Hunters, in fact, Amano suggest that he will collaborate further with Mr Gaiman in the future. Readers of Dream Hunters will hope that Amano's dream comes true. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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It is inspired by Japanese folklore, though apparently Gaiman's claim in the Afterword that it is based on a real Japanese folklore was a ruse. In any case, as someone largely ignorant of Japanese folklore, it felt very authentic to me.
It's difficult to recommend the Dream Hunters, not because it isn't a great read, but because it is unusually distant from the rest of the Sandman story. There are several familiar characters that make an appearance, but even Morpheus plays a fairly small role in the story. It's not required reading for those who have read and enjoyed the main 10-volume series, nor is it a good entry point for newcomers, but it is absolutely worth reading.
Dream Hunters fits in with the Sandman series in that it features the King Of Dreams, but really it's a book that's more free-standing than any ofthe graphic novels. It isn't in comic strip format, and although some of the Sandman characters appear the book is about two separate characters.
The book is told in prose, with every page of prose countered by an illustration by Yoshitaka Amano - and it's the illustrations that make this book so wonderful. Gaiman's story telling is good - in thisparticular book he takes on a formal storytelling voice, which works pretty well - but the illustration are beautiful. Even the cover is something I'd happily hang on my wall, but there's a picture that good on nearly every page - and some are even better.
Fans of the Sandman will probably enjoy seeing a different side of the King of Dreams, and a different writing style from Gaiman, but people completely unfamiliar with the series aren't left out at all. The book is a complete story in itself, and a very good one.
Having run for seventy-five issues, The Sandman concluded in 1996 and is now available from Vertigo Comics in a series of ten trade paperbacks or four fabulous re-coloured slip-cased hardback Absolute editions. In 1999 Neil Gaiman returned to the world of The Sandman with The Dream Hunters, a novella illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano that told the tale of a love affair between a Buddhist monk and a fox spirit. The Dream Hunters was tangential to The Sandman comic book series and only featured a small role for Morpheus. Although Gaiman had originally claimed that the fable at the centre of The Dream Hunters was taken from Y.T. Ozaki's Old Japanese Fairy Tales, it has since been revealed to be an original work of fiction. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Sandman, P. Craig Russell adapted The Dream Hunters into a four issue miniseries for Vertigo which ran from November 2008 until February 2009 and which has now been collected into an excellent hardback graphic novel.
The Dream Hunters begins with a wager between a kitsune, a fox spirit, and a tanuki, a racoon spirit, that whichever of them can convince a pious young Buddhist monk to leave his temple may make that temple for their dwelling place. Both the kitsune and the tanuki fail to influence the monk and the tanuki flees in disgrace. The kitsune, however, has fallen in love with the monk and so, in the form of a beautiful woman, she appears to the monk and begs his forgiveness. The monk permits the kitsune to remain in the temple provided that she promises never to cause him any trouble.
Meanwhile, far away in Kyoto, a rich onmyoji (a civil servant responsible for magic and divination) is plagued by fear and so seeks the advice of three witches. The witches reveal that the onmyoji will only overcome his fear by stealing the strength of the young monk. In order to achieve this, the onmyoji must send the monk evil dreams over three consecutive nights until, on the third night, the monk dies. The onmyoji sends demons to the temple to work his evil but the kitsune overhears their plot and, in an attempt to save the monk, she travels to the Dreaming and seeks help from Morpheus. After talking to Morpheus, the kitsune formulates a plan to capture a baku (a supernatural being that devours dreams) and substitute it for the monk on the third night.
The Dream Hunters was an excellent novella but the faithful adaptation coupled with the beautiful art by P. Craig Russell has made it an exquisite graphic novel. Taking his cue from traditional Japanese artwork, Russell weaves the story of The Dream Hunters around elaborate panels full of soft, muted colours. His realistic recreation of feudal Japan is complemented by the supernatural wasteland inhabited by the witches and the ephemeral visage of Morpheus himself. Gaiman's delightful fable of impossible love is brought to breathtakingly beautiful life by Russell's stunning paintings. With its magical storyline and mesmeric artwork, The Dream Hunters is a visual treat, a true work of beauty, as well as joyous read.
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