As I Go Along: The Sandman #3 ‘Dream Country’

Note: “As I Go Along” is a weekly feature in which I review and discuss the best graphic novels and series that I haven’t yet had a chance to read. These are the titles your comic-loving friends have been trying to push into your hands for years, only now I’ll be doing the pushing (or telling you not to bother). The post will include spoilers for those who have not yet read the work.

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”

In more ways than a few, “Dream Country” differs from the two collections that preceded it. The four issues it contains are not “chapters” in a story line in the way those of “Preludes and Nocturnes” or “The Doll’s House” were, as they are independent of the overarching “Sandman” tale. “Dream Country” would be more aptly compared to a collection of short stories than a novel, but those of us who have read Gaiman’s short fiction know that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

However, just because these stories are unrelated to the overarching plot doesn’t mean they’re not self-referential and chock full of Gaiman’s trademark intersection.

Much like in “The Doll’s House,” the theoretical protagonist, Dream, took a backseat in “Dream Country.” In fact, Dream doesn’t even appear in the final issue, “Facade,” but that’s more than made up for when Death, his spunky older sister, shows up.

The first story, “Calliope,” centers around Richard Madoc, a novelist suffering from writer’s block. Madoc trades a trichonobezoar, a hairball found in the intestine of someone with Rapunzel Syndrome, for Calliope, the muse of epic poetry in Greek mythology. At its outset, this appears to be another “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale. But Gaiman being Gaiman, it’s turned into so much more.

More than anything else, “Calliope” is a story about human nature, and as a result, greed. In mythology, the best way to get a muse to grant an artist inspiration was to woo her; to be humble and gracious, thankful for any and everything she grants. Erasmus Fry, from whom Madoc gets Calliope, had no time for such things. “They say one ought to woo her kind, but I must say I found force most efficacious.” Like Fry, Madoc rapes his muse, justifying his actions because his second novel is nine months overdue. Neither writer had time for courtship. In effect they said, “give me inspiration, or else.”

Of course, as was the case with Fry, a second successful novel was not enough for Madoc. Nor was a third, or a poetry collection, play, or a deal to write and direct the film adaptation of one of his books. The film gets nominated for three Oscars, by the way. For Madoc, as with any human being given absolute power, inspiration, or anything else, it will never be enough.

Enter Dream, who puts an end to all that. He floods Madoc with so many story ideas that it drive the writer insane, compelling him to release Calliope. Similarly, Fry is found dead, supposedly poisoned, despite the fact that bezoars are meant to protect against any poison.

Dream’s actions display the way he changed and matured during his imprisonment, which occurred largely at the same time as Calliope’s. We learn that Dream and the muse once had a relationship which resulted in a son, the mythological figure Orpheus. Now, we know Dream can hold a real good grudge. After all, Nada, is still in hell. Both Calliope and Dream note his maturation, the former says, “You have changed Oneiros. In the old days, you would have left me to rot forever, without turning a hair,” before asking, “Do you still hate me? For what I did?” Dream responds, “No, I no longer hate you Calliope. I have learned much in recent times and… No matter. I do not hate you, child.”

It’s pretty incredible that there’s so much room for growth in the saga of one of the seven immortal beings in the universe. Remember, in this diegesis, even gods can die when the living stop believing in them. As Chuck Palahniuk put it in “Fight Club,” “On a long enough timeline, everyone’s survival rate drops to zero.” In “Facade,” Death explains this is true even of the seven Endless, saying “When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

It seems Dream’s development will continue in the next collection. The synopsis for “Seasons of Mist” indicates that Dream travels to Hell to free Nada after millennia of incarceration and torment. We’ll just have to wait and see whether or not that means he’s forgiven her. I know I’m excited.



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