Dream Country (1991)
In this volume, which is pretty short and only holds four short stories, Gaiman further embeds his Sandman character into classical and mythological literature. The first story brings in one of the muses from old Greek mythology, Calliope, who calls Sandman by his old name Oneiros, again showing us that this Sandman person is a universal personification and not just some local deity. Gaiman would make more work of that in future volumes. In typical Gaiman emo goth fashion, Sandman used to have some sort of relationship with Calliope but is now moping around and can’t forgive her for something, for leaving him perhaps. We saw something similar in the first volumes with another woman who Sandman can’t forgive. He’s a moody guy.
And there’s the story where he inspires Shakespeare to write A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then invites the lords of faerie to watch the show with him. It was alright but I am not familiar with the play, so I didn’t catch all the references. This won a World Fantasy Award at the time, the first and only comic to ever win it. Ever since, comics are no longer allowed in the short fiction category. It didn’t do much for me, but Gaiman handles Shakespeare with care. My favourite story of this collection was one that had only cats as the main characters. The Sandman himself doesn’t show up much in these stories; he’s a peripheral character at most, who jumps in at the last moment to bring stories to their conclusion. As such he is still a sort of moody power fantasy for Gaiman and he doesn’t have much character yet.
Season of Mists (1991)
Now this is interesting. Sandman’s sister Death calls him out for being a moody prick. Death has a lot more feeling for what it is to be human, and the Sandman doesn’t really get it yet. This brings a new perspective to the previous three volumes. It turns out that Gaiman was going for a certain type of godlike being who is standoffish and has things to learn, all the way from the start of the series, and a stronger focus on his character is starting now. This volume follows Sandman on a journey as he returns to Hell and has to confront Lucifer. He undertakes this journey voluntarily, to make amends for past errors in judgement.
The great thing about The Sandman as a series is that it doesn’t present any predictable standard fantasy plots. It constantly moves in directions that you don’t expect, and sometimes lands on something elegant or exciting. During Season of Mists as well, we get a great build-up of tension and I had no idea where the story was going. And indeed it continues in ways that totally blow open the entire Sandman universe and has funny moments and great unexpected conclusions. This is a fascinating volume, with a full story that is great and operatic in scope as it deals with Heaven, Hell, all sorts of mythological creatures and realms. His interactions with Lucifer are fascinating. And in the end, it is all brought back to the personal level where the Sandman is confronted with his past mistakes and learns a lesson about not being so proud.
This story enhances our conception of the Sandman and of the universe this is all playing out. Sandman has been rather merciless in his judgements so far, and looking back at the end of, say, The Doll’s House, he is awfully uncaring about consigning people or creatures to death if he sees that as his responsibility. As someone who moves among realms, it must not seem a great deal to him. His sister Death understands much better what it means for humans. Gaiman clearly deliberately wrote him that way. It will be interesting going forward if Sandman will receive more lessons.
followed by –> Vols 5 & 6, A Game of You & Fables & Reflections