The Short Version: Four short stories, essentially – all tangentially involving Morpheus and The Endless. Stories about writing and creation, about the faces we put on to face the world and synthesize our thoughts… stories about our dreams.
The Review: An interesting pause in the ongoing story (which seemed like it was just revving up) of Morpheus, the Dreamlord. We get some interesting background again here as well as another dalliance with the superhero canon – but the real coup of this volume is the Shakespeare story.
When the Bard popped up briefly during the interlude in the last novel, I was intrigued as to their deal – but also assumed that, well, okay, authors are entitled to their mysteries on that front and so I didn’t ever think I’d see the Bard again. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a showing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream… for the assembled court of the Fae. Oberon (here Auberon) and Titania and their entire retinue are brought through from the worlds of Faerie at Morpheus’ request to see the play’s premiere – and it is a wondrous thing. The Faerie King & Queen lament how the world is [was] changing, how there’s no place for their kind anymore… and immediately, my mind jumped to (of all things) Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. There aren’t many who hold onto the old ways but it’s hard not to believe (today, anyway) that there wasn’t once magic in the English hills. This moment, an invention of Mr. Gaiman’s bounteous imagination, struck a chord. And I loved the winking aside at the end to Puck still being at large in the world.
I should take a moment here to acknowledge the artistry of these books a little more than I have so far. Dave McKean is, of course, a master and his work throughout Gaiman’s ouvre is brilliant – but I only even really noticed the artist specifically this time because I caught Charles Vess’ name – and I know his work from Rose, the brilliant prologue to the Bone series. And it is, yes, entirely a failing of mine that I’ve not paid more attention to the brilliant artists who’ve drawn and inked the pages in front of me. And so I started to pay more attention, to really notice things. And to see that even with illustrators varied, the spirit of the thing shines through in each and every incarnation. Death, when she appears in the final story of this collection, is a saucy sexy woman – and before, she was a spunky younger girl. Yet she is the same and it’s not just Gaiman’s writing that does it: it’s the unifying theory behind all of the artwork.
Look, too, at the words themselves. The varied typography depending on who – or what – is speaking is a delight, adding shading to the words themselves. My favorite is undoubtedly Morpheus’ inverted color scheme: white words on a black background. There are reasons and metaphors and what-not that you could write college essays on – but there’s a simpler thing to it as well. It’s like when you read a Discworld book and someone shows up speaking in all caps and you say “well, hello, it’s Death!” It is singular and striking and a little funny, not in a ha-ha way but in a way that makes you smile because you like it so.
Speaking of Discworld (I keep referencing Mr. Pratchett this year, I suppose because he is on my mind), I loved the story about the cats. Even though I’m not much for cats. But with a Dream of Cats, much like the Death of Rats in Discworld, I saw the interesting universality of experience. The idea that we all interpret reality the way we want or need to, even if its subconsciously. What if we all woke up tomorrow and cats were the dominant species on the planet? I’m just saying, that’s not a totally out there thought; people have thought that, I’m sure, in the past.
Also, the Calliope story… for one thing, it ties in Greek myth (which I loved). But for another, that idea of having so many ideas that you can’t get them all out in time… I’m not saying I suffer so greatly but I think we can all perhaps associate with that problem, at one point or another. And who wouldn’t trade for terrible things in order to create amazing works? There’s a reason so many great artists are said to’ve (or rumored to be said to have) sold their souls to the devil for their talents. Because deep down, we know we all would be tempted. I know I would be, anyway.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Interesting stories and increasingly beautifully drawn. The high point, for me, was easily the Shakespeare story – but all of them are interesting in their own right. I like learning more about Morpheus and about the world/mythos that Gaiman is grafting onto our own. But I want more of the proper story now – and judging from the introduction to this volume (which had some amazing things to say about dreaming/reality), that’s coming next. But it’ll wait until tomorrow, I should think.