Cue the lullabies, folks. I’m back with another Sandman review! Today, we take a break from the large story arcs that made Neil Gaiman a comic-book writer to be reckoned with. Sandman Volume Three: Dream Country regales us with four diminutive dreamy tales. These snappy interludes add new layers and depths to the world depicted in Sandman’s sprawling universe. Each one has its standout moments, and the collection is a worthwhile pit stop along the larger Sandman path we walk together.
Dream Country isn’t a typical Sandman collection, so this won’t be a typical Sandman review. Instead, I’ll briefly explore each of the four stories in the volume.
Struggling author Richard Madoc trades a Bezoar for a beautiful muse/hostage named Calliope, and all of his dreams come true. His works are lauded by critics and audiences alike. Film producers flock to him, hoping to hitch a ride on the back of his hard work and make a pretty penny in the process. He keeps Calliope locked up and does terrible things to her. To Richard, Calliope is an object of inspiration and a receptical for his sexual urges. We see firsthand the cost of his success: namely, the happiness and well-being of one mysterious woman. But then, Morpheus escapes his imprisonment, and he’s not happy with how Madoc has treated Calliope…
“Calliope” is dark and jarring, as many Sandman tales are. I love when writers look inward and explore the hidden costs of their success, even if they’re fictional in nature. Calliope unveils the dark side of one particular author, and every time he wins or accomplishes anything, we the reader understand it’s all thanks to the suffering of one tortured soul. There are hints of Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas here. The theme of one suffering for the good of others reveals the dark reality behind some great works of art.
Of the stories contained in Dream Country, “Calliope” takes the silver medal, second only to the next piece.
Bonus: Script For “Calliope”
The back third of this volume includes an annotated script for “Calliope” with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. It’s a unique and intriguing look into his process, especially considering every comic book writer does things differently. If you want a peek behind the curtain, Dream Country is perfect for you.
“A Dream Of A Thousand Cats”
Hell. Yes. Domestic and feral cats congregate in a graveyard to hear a Siamese cat tell her story and ignite the passion of dreams within the collective feline consciousness. The cat’s tale tells of a world inhabited by massive kitties and minuscule humans—essentially a role reversal, a world in which cats are the dominant species. She explains that humans reversed the arrangement through a powerful, collective dream. The ending of this story reads like a kitten’s “mew:” a dash of curiosity, a smidge of hope, and a helluva lot of cuteness overload.
I love cats. If you’re not a cat person, or at the very least inclined to fawn over cute feline faces, you probably won’t respond to this story as much as I did. But it’s good, and it will resonate with cat owners or enthusiasts. I applaud Gaiman for even including this tale. It’s out there. It’s a tad odd. It’s the perfect fit for a Sandman collection, but that revelation only comes once you’ve turned the final page. “A Dream Of A Thousand Cats” is pure, unfettered fun, though it has its moments of darkness. It’s another exquisite Sandman tale.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Would that I could enjoy this tale…but it’s obtuse and lost on me. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” sees William Shakespeare and his performing troupe putting on a production of the titular play for a fae audience. The show is interlaced with commentary from the mythical beings and a third storyline about Shakespear’s son Hamnet feeling abandoned by his father.
It’s all fine. There are probably Shakespeare diehards that adore this take on the Bard’s comedic masterpiece. I’ve always appreciated the playwright’s influence on storytelling, but I don’t care much for retellings or re-explorations of the material in such an overt package.
I probably glanced over some of the nuances of this story due to my own boredom. Don’t take anything I say about it too seriously though, as I lack the tools to give it a fair assessment.
I love when Sandman stories stand on their own without direct influence from Morpheus himself. “Facade” fills that role in this collection, featuring instead the obscure Element Girl and Dream’s sister, Death.
Element Girl is lonely. She rarely leaves the house, and when she does, she dons a silicate face she crafts using her elemental powers. One day, her false face falls off at lunch with an old friend, sending her into an emotional spiral. She wishes she could end herself and welcome the embrace of Death. When Death shows up, though, it’s not exactly what Element Girl expected.
“Facade” feels indulgent on the part of Gaiman, and that’s the reason it works. He clearly wanted to tell a story using a D-list character, and he does it to great effect, backed by the excellent illustration that pervades the entire Dream Country volume.
Sandman Volume Three: Dream Country is a worthwhile stop in the larger series. I connected most with the collection’s first two tales, but there’s something for every taste here. Even so, I’m excited to move on, returning to the long-form narrative arcs akin to The Doll’s House. I would never skip Dream Country, but I would characterize it as a stepping stone along your Sandman journey.
Rating: Sandman Volume Three: Dream Country – 7.5/10