Worlds’ End (The Sandman, Vol. 8)

 

sandman8

The Short Version: As a massive reality storm crashes across the multiverse, lost travelers find their way to Worlds’ End – an inn at the end of all worlds.  There, they pass the time waiting for the storm to pass in the oldest of literary traditions: swapping stories.

The Review: I KNEW IT.  I FREAKING KNEW SOMETHING BIG WAS COMING.  I’m pretty sure I’m aware, now, of what’s going on – because I missed a particular figure in the sky procession at the end there and then I realized I didn’t miss him, exactly, he just wasn’t… walking…

But I suppose it’ll be the next volume that explains that.  In the meantime, we have this.  In the great vein of The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, we’ve got a bunch of travelers telling stories.   It should feel like an undue interruption in the course of the greater story, but, as Uncle Stevie points out in the introduction… it doesn’t.  These stories all serve a purpose and the overarching story serves a purpose too: the storm that was coming has arrived.  We know it’s bringing something bad – but it also allows Gaiman to take some time and continue ruminating on the nature of stories.  This is like a nesting doll of stories, going one further than you expected when you started the novel – and that, alone, is pretty cool.  The stories themselves branch off into other stories sometimes.  We miss stories but hear stories that no one else hears.  Of all the novels in The Sandman mythos thus far, this one provides the strongest evidence of a classical multiverse – bringing these stories back in line with the DC universe-at-large, too, I suppose (even though there were no classic comic characters in these tales – or at least none that I noticed).

But we also get to see some of our old friends again.  There’s Hob Gadling, throwing off one of his old lives for a new one after seeing a bloody great sea serpent – and there’s Cluracan, of the Faerie folk, drunk off his ass and making mischief.  And, of course, The Endless make appearances here and there.  The most interesting appearance was, perhaps, Death’s brief cameo in the “first” story, of the dreams of cities.  Why was she there?  What was she doing?  WAS it her (we’ve already seen faux-Deaths in the real world – they’re just Goth chicks)?  We don’t know and Gaiman doesn’t feel the need to tell us – so it remains another mysterious part of the universe because the story goes elsewhere and we must follow the story where it will.

That story was, actually, the most Gaiman-y of the short stories, I have to say.  It fit so well with the philosophy behind Neverwhere – that idea of there being more to cities than meets the eye.  The idea of the cities waking and rising… perhaps it was the way in which the story was told, but I found that to be the most spine-tingling moment in the whole collection.  All of the stories, as Charlene points out, are all archetypal – but none of them felt exactly that way to me.  And that’s, perhaps, the most intriguing aspect of Gaiman’s work: his ability to take something that stands up with Capital Letters of Archetype and turn it into something new and intriguing, even without changing anything per se.  He just simply tells the story – but he is such a powerful font of story that it becomes new in the telling.

Rating: 5 out of 5.  A solid collection of tales, short and sweet – but all of which have an undercurrent of tremulous worry about them.  The storm that rages outside is not a good one and these tales are told not just to pass the time but to try and take everyone’s minds off of the kind of really scary shit happening outside the window.  And then, of course, we realize that this sort of reality storm only comes about when something REALLY big happens – and I’m pretty sure we already know what that is…

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