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Fables of the Endless
on 22 February 2014
"The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections" is not quite as essential to the main storyline as the other Sandman short story collections.
But that doesn't mean it isn't a spellbinding, haunting series of stories, ranging from whimsical glimpses into the Dreaming to dark stories about the consequences of power. Neil Gaiman imbues every story with a sense of richness, mining mythology and history for the backdrops of his tales -- and every single one casts a powerful spell over the readers.
The stories include:
-A theatrical director whose fear is reflected in a nightmare of falling.
-The story of Joshua Abraham Norton, the first and only Emperor of the United States - and the center of a struggle between Morpheus and Desire.
-Lady Johanna Constantine sets out to post-Revolutionary France to retrieve a very unusual severed head for Morpheus, and must fight against the repressive, destructive regime.
-An old legend of a werewolf obsessed with the portrait of a lovely young lady, and the lengths he goes to to find her.
-A Roman Emperor who becomes a beggar for a day, reflecting on his horrendous past and Rome's bleak future.
-Marco Polo becomes lost in the desert, and stumbles into one of the places where the Dreaming overlaps with the waking world.
-The caliph of Baghdad realizes that for all the beauty and majesty of his city, it will eventually crumble like all other great things. So he seeks out the king of dreams to make a very unusual pact with him.
The two most intriguing stories are "The Song of Orpheus" and "The Parliament of Rooks." The former is a story of Dream's legendary son, who loses his true love right after their wedding. Grief-stricken, Orpheus feuds with his powerful father, and calls on his aunt Death to help him get his love back. And the latter is a charming little story about Daniel Hall, a toddler who slips into the Dreaming during his naptime. While there, he is told the story of Adam's three wives, the tale of Cain and Abel, and the parliament of rooks....
While few of the stories in "Fables and Reflections" are directly tied to the central Sandman storyline, this collection of shorts adds a lot of richness and texture to Morpheus' world. Witches, gods, emperors, werewolves, severed heads and artists all wend their way through these stories, in a world where magic -- often dark, twisted and strange -- lurks everywhere.
It also seems to have many meditations on the impermanence of things, and the need to remember the past -- "Thermidor" shows us a France where all of the past is repressed and obliterated, including the myths that shaped its culture. Baghdad's beauty and culture are threatened by time, and Rome begins to crumble out of one man's terrible secrets.
Morpheus wends through these tales like a dark silk ribbon, subtlely shaping the destinies of those he touches -- an emperor, a caliph, an explorer and a little baby boy. We see him sorrowful, majestic, cold-hearted and kind, particularly in the tales involving Orpheus, whom he loves but has still not forgiven. And we have more background on Eve, Cain and Abe, all dwelling in the world of the Dreaming.
"The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections" is a jigsaw puzzle of silken dreams and shadowy memories -- a beautiful experience, even in its darker moments.