A Game of You (The Sandman, Vol. 5)

sandman5

The Short Version: Barbie, who we last saw waking up from an uncomfortable night’s dreaming next to Ken, has ended up in New York and hasn’t dreamed for two years.  But her dreams are about to come back to haunt her and she’ll have to become Princess Barbie again before the night is over.

The Review: This is a January novel.  it has that January feel to it, even if it doesn’t take place in that month.  It’s sad and cold and leaves you with an unescapable melancholy – the sort of melancholy that seems to surround Morpheus, in fact.

We’ve all had certain dreams as children – dream-dreams or imagined during-the-day dreams.  Dreams of… whatever you might imagine, really: being a princess, being a wizard, being a superhero, being an astronaut, etc. And there’s something sad about the fact that, as we get older, we let those dreams get colored by reality.  It’s not to say that we don’t still have them, but it is an unassailable fact that one’s imagination changes as one gets older.  We learn more about the world, we face death and other previously unimaginable facts of reality – and so our dreams are changing as we grow up, no matter how hard we might try.

This is what causes the melancholy of this volume of The Sandman.  Everyone involved in this novel has a dream that has altered because of growing up, altered because of the facts at large in the world versus what they want to believe to be true.  The most obvious of these is Wanda/Alvin.  She moved to New York to become her true self – and all around her, she was facing people who didn’t approve.  And Barbie, poor lost Barbie… seeing her friends call her back to the kingdom was all at once wonderful and tragic – much like Dorothy going back to Oz.  Because no matter what, things have changed when you go back to your dream and never, ever for the better.  The death of Martin Tenbones, for example, was perhaps the saddest moment of the series thus far – and also one of the most shocking on a different level.  Here is a creature of the Dreamworld, 110%… who has made it through into our world.  Physically.  Makes you wonder just how much is dream and how much is reality, doesn’t it?  Very The Matrix or Lewis Carroll.

The plot itself though is also perhaps the most straightforward (something, I think, Mr. Gaiman alludes to in his afterword).  It’s a quest, plain and simple – although the details are unclear throughout most of said quest.  The princess must be found and then she, with the help of her loyal companions who’ve searched for her, must defeat the evil enemy.  Friends will die, she will be captured, and all hope will be lost – until, from the jaws of defeat, victory is snatched.  Yet it is a victory that comes at a price – always at a price.

But for all that simplicity, there’s something deeply felt about this whole thing.  I think it’s Barbie.  Her reluctance to get a tattoo – something permanent – that transformed into the idea of painting her face differently… I loved that.  The idea of being able to change your identity, the way you present yourself to the world, based on how you’re feeling in that moment… it’s such a New York (and to a slightly lesser extent, a “big city”) thing.  Look at how the stalwart God-fearing Americans of Alvin’s family treat her towards the end, with her drawn-on veil.  Then look at how no one in New York bats an eye at her chessboard face or her pre-op friend.  Here, you can dream a little more realistically – that is, you can have a bit more freedom to dream here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.  Another strong entry in the series, this time a much more somber and emotionally charged one.  The depth of feeling that Gaiman has managed to create out of a graphic novel… well, I guess the time has come to officially put away such childish notions.  This is a novel, better writ than some that have no pictures, and it should be judged as such.  Whatever kind of novel it is, it was deeply felt – like the chill blast of a January wind on a gray day.

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