Sandman Volume Six: Fables & Reflections – Mixed Bag

The Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series finally has a release date—August 5, 2022—and the announcement renewed my drive to finish the series. Thus my Sandman readthrough continues, this time taking me to Fables & Reflections, a mixed bag of tales. 

Fables & Reflections collects nine stories. Each narrative focuses on a figure touched by Morpheus and the Dreaming. In some cases, the individuals are real-life historical figures. In others, mythical heroes take center stage. It’s hard to summarize Fables & Reflections, considering the wide scope contained within these many stories. Some are standouts while others fall flat, and the result is an okay installment in the larger Sandman pantheon. 

Morpheus is an interesting character for how adjacent he is. Like the dreams he rules, he is a lurker, a shadowy figure peeking in on events from within our imaginations but just beyond our reach. In many cases, Sandman stories revolve not around the eponymous figure, but instead around people impacted by dreams. When we sleep, the fleeting dream world takes over, though we scantly remember our gallivanting through the whimsical slumbering land. Fables & Reflections explores this idea, giving us stories of people who learn from dreams, people who walk them and return changed, and people who experience a dream but cannot possibly fathom it on a conceptual level. Dreams are the fantasy lingering beyond the border between waking and slumber. We may catch glimpses of our dreams when we wake, just as the characters in Fables & Reflections carry faint memories of Morpheus. 

Because the Sandman format can so easily encompass quite literally everything, Neil Gaiman can play with…anything. And in Fables & Reflections, he goes for it. I won’t touch on every story within the volume. Rather, I’ll focus on the two that stuck out most to me. 

“The Song of Orpheus” was my standout favorite, a ballad in four parts and an epilogue following the journey of Morpheus’ son, Orpheus. If you’re familiar with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, you won’t be surprised much by the events of this retelling. Gaiman adds his Sandman flair to the mix, creating a brutal and intriguing version of a common legend. Painting Orpheus as the son of the Dream King brings new agency to a character usually relegated to myth, while Morpheus looks on as his son makes choices along his journey to the underworld and back. The tale of Orpheus feels dream-adjacent, even removed from the Sandman pantheon. His cautionary tale has been retold time and time again, taking on a dreamlike quality of his own. Who better to be the Dream King’s son than a man forced to remember his own foibles as though they were a recurring nightmare? 

“Ramadan” ends the collection, following Haroun Al Raschid, ruler of Baghdad. He ponders his city, reveling in its dreamlike wonder. But something nags at him, like an unscratchable itch, one that can’t be reached by his usual strolls through the market or trysts with his harem. Pursuing this nag, he summons Morpheus, who only comes when Haroun threatens to unleash thousands of demons and monsters unto the world. Haroun and Morpheus talk, while the former brings the latter on a tour of sorts through Baghdad. Haroun seeks to immortalize his city as it is, a dreamscape of wonderment and life. Morpheus, ever willing to consider the desires of dreamers, can accomplish the task, but not in the way Haroun desires. “Ramadan” captures the nature of dreams: when one can remember a dream, it’s never quite as sweet as the thing itself. A memory can only get you so far, like a glorious city confined to a bottle. Baghdad is the city of Haroun’s dreams, a wonderful place populated by beautiful people and locales. In a way, the story turns dark; Haroun preserves the city as he knows and loves it, but when a thing becomes a dream, what becomes of the thing’s waking reality?

Fables & Reflections contains many stories that ruminate on dreams and explore the real-world impact they have. Sandman fans will no doubt enjoy each small tale within the volume to different degrees, as I have. It’s hard to judge as a whole, other than recommending it as an interesting stop along your Sandman journey. 

Rating: Sandman Volume Six: Fables & Reflections – 7.5/10
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