“The Sandman: Fables & Reflections” by Neil Gaiman
[“Fables & Reflections is installment 6 of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series. It’s illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, and Kent Williams.]
What I’m most consistently impressed by and interested in within the whole Sandman series are the interconnecting of these practically American folklore story elements.
I mean, a series which can use both Biblical and Batman characters in such an intelligent way without ever feeling the need to stop and explain everything to the reader is incredibly refreshing. I’m a smart reader, and I often feel like shouting at writers “I get it, it’s cool, you don’t need to explain every detail, thanks!” Happily, I find myself never feeling that sensation within these stories.
Neil Gaiman is made of win. The end.
Installment #6, “Fables & Reflections” is a handful. Within the nine stories that take place within it, we travel from modern times to ancient Rome, to the underworld, and back again. It’s a wacky collection of tales, each more interesting than the last. It also ties in a lot of otherwise-existing stories, which I enjoyed tremendously.
In “Fear of Falling,” a playwright afraid of success backs out of a play he’s been working on. It takes an encounter with Morpheus to realize that sometimes it’s okay to fail. “In Three Septembers and a January,” The Endless siblings challenge each other for the soul of a sad man. Morpheus assists the old man in declaring himself Emperor of the United States. Desire, Despair, and even Delirium appear and get in on the action, before Death (as she often does) proves the winner at the end. In “Thermador,” Lady Johanna Constantine risks her life during the French Revolution to save the still-alive head of Orpheus (Morpheus’ estranged son.) A Grandfather tells his granddaughter the story of a young man who wandered the world to return a necklace with a picture of a beautiful young woman to the woman herself into a Granddaughter in “The Hunt.” Turns out, the young woman lives in the DreamCastle, and the two young people fell in love and were together for life. There’s also the tale of “August,” where a dwarf actor joins the Roman emperor Augustus in a charade – to sit in the town square and act like beggars. In “Soft Places,” Marco Polo is lost in a desert that is located at a place where the line between reality and dreaming is fuzzy. There, he encounters both Fiddler’s Green and Morpheus.
Probably the most interesting – and telling – piece of “Fables & Reflections” is “Orpheus.” Yes, we get the back story of the talking head/son thing. Orpheus, Morpheus’ son with Calliope (remember her?), was to be married to Eurydice in a massive ceremony (attended by all The Endless) when sadly the bride tragically died. Devastated, Orpheus severed his relationship with his father and begged Death to show him the way into the Underworld, then embarked on the journey to win back his love. Having touched the hearts of Hades and Persephone (the Underworld rulers) with his tale, they agree to let him have Eurydice back – but he must walk out of the Underworld and never look back. Sure enough, he looks back and Eurydice fades away. A lost, desperate man, Orpheus is torn to pieces by The Bacchante and his head survives and washes up on a beach.
In “The Parliament of Rooks,” we get a little insight into Morpheus’ baby son, Daniel. In modern reality, Daniel is being raised by his slightly frazzled mother. When she puts him down for a nap and takes a phone call, baby Daniel escapes his crib and crawls his way into DreamWorld, where he’s noticed by Matthew the raven. Matthew, Cain, Abel, and Lilith (first wife of The Bible’s Adam, FYI) sit around and tell Daniel stories, in which we get some backstory on Cain and Abel and how they came to live in the DreamWorld. At the end of the story, Daniel awakens from his nap back in the real world, but clutching a raven feather.
The final tale in the collection is called “Ramadan.” Hauron Al Rachid rules over the ancient and glorious city of Baghdad and has all the appliances of pleasure at his disposal. Yet, he is unhappy. As he gazes on his city, he knows its at its peak and can only fall. So, unwisely, he summons Morpheus and tries to get him to buy the city from him and to move into the DreamWorld. Morpheus agrees, and as Hauron wakes up in the middle of his city, Morpheus holds a glorious city in a big jar. Flash forward, and we have a modern child in Baghdad listening to this story. The city still exists, and will never be forgotten, and in that there is hope.
This collection is super-interesting (even if I could have lived without “Soft Places,” in all honesty.) The more I learn of each of The Endless, the more I want to know about their characters – especially this missing brother, Destruction, who I’m guessing has to make an appearance sometime… right?