The Short Version: Another collection of tales from the universe of The Sandman – this time, showing how Dream and the rest of The Endless have impacted the history of this modern world, from kings to beggars and from the dawn of recorded time to the ruins of the present.
The Review: At first, I was a little irritated at the prospect of another short story collection. After all, there aren’t THAT many books in the series and I have grown to enjoy the unified narratives that make up the novel-volumes of the boxset. But then I realized that this is, perhaps, the most important of the series so far: it attempts to do the near-impossible by grounding the series in our reality. So far, it’s been pretty clearly not our reality but the one next door. The one with superheroes and gods and what-not. But now, we see how those dreams (of superheroes and gods and what-not) are all just another level of reality – in the same way that Morpheus bends the levels of dreaming in individual stories. It was reflecting on the early story of the gypsy Romanys as I finished the collection that led me to this conclusion – because the last story, too, ends with a young child being told a story by their elder and questioning the truth of it. “All stories are true and all stories are false” seems to me to be the statement, the thesis (if you’ll permit me to get all English major-y for a moment), of this collection and thus it becomes the pivotal moment in the series so far.
We see Dream’s… not interference but his dabblings in the doings of humanity. He has never directly interfered (well, that’s a lie but bear with me) but has just played the game, influencing things here and there. We finally meet his son, Orpheus – whose story I am altogether too familiar with, over the course of several tellings and retellings and reimaginings. We also finally meet his missing brother, whose name I must imagine to be “Destruction” – in keeping with the ‘D’ tradition. We see how Morpheus indirectly inspired Mark Twain, how he continues to enable the tradition of both secrets and stories, and how he placed gentle pressure in one way or another on human history – in Rome, in Arabia, in France, in America, and again and again throughout time. It’s fascinating.
Perhaps the most interesting story, though, is that of “The Parliament of Rooks”. We get some really heady stuff happening there – questions about the creation of the world / the truth of The Garden of Eden, sure… but also questions about the role of the storyteller. It’s fascinating to me, the story that Gaiman spins here. It’s not true, so far as I can tell – that the rooks will murder the apparent storyteller if they are not satisfied… but isn’t that exactly what we, as human beings, do when we aren’t satisfied by a story we’ve been told? Hell, I’ve done it on this very blog: I’ve said “no, your story was not worthy and thus I reserve the right to cast you down for bringing it to me.” We all love a good hatchet job whereas even the best raves are eventually shrugged off – just as the rooks show their approval by simply leaving the storyteller alive. Now if that’s not some powerful metaphorical stuff, I don’t know what is – and I love it.
The other stories are, for the most part, simply fine. I enjoyed the Orpheus tale (and the French Revolution tale that dealt amusingly with Orpheus’ severed head – and a predecessor of our friend, John Constantine), while I appreciated the beauty and uniqueness of “Ramadan”. But all in all, I found the stories to be more ethereal than anything else so far collected under The Sandman mythos. They are campfire stories, stories to be told and retold and changed in the telling – as the best stories often are (including, I should note, most of the stories within this collection. I think, if I’m not mistaken, every single one is being told not in the present tense but in a recollection of some sort, which means it has changed from the source). This is not a bad thing – it is simply an observation on the substance.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. In comparison to some of the more connected works, yes, this collection is a bit lacking. But in terms of the way it raises the intellectual standards of the series – influencing all that came before and that will come after – it’s absolutely on par with the rest of the series. This one, perhaps, above all the rest I’ve read so far will change the way (even slightly, but it will change it) you think about and perceive storytelling. I can think of no higher praise.