I’ve only been a Neil Gaiman fan for a few years. Oddly enough, it was his middle grade novel, The Graveyard Book, that first caught my attention. (My husband is a 5th grade teacher and I am the unofficial classroom librarian. I read and recommend most of the books he buys for his students.) I knew about his Sandman series and kept checking it out from the library. I just couldn’t seem to get past the first few pages. I love dark and twisty stories but this was twisty in a different way. The story wasn’t told linearly. It jumped between time and place, point of view, and it was confusing. I can’t imagine what it was like when people had to wait weeks between books. (The series was first introduced as a monthly comic and the first volume collects the books 1-8.)
But the past few weeks, I felt like I really had to read this series. I had started reading Amanda Palmer’s (his wife) book The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help and I felt shaken. In a good way. (I’ll write about that in another post.) I had also read the intro to his new book Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. Again, I’ll write more about this later but he mentions Sandman and that it came with a warning “telling the world that it was not a children’s comic and it might contain images or ideas that could be troubling…” He said that as adults, we shouldn’t need warnings. “We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, an experience that is going to be unlike anyone else’s experience of the story.” I wholeheartedly agree.
This was just in the intro of his book of short stories that hadn’t even come out yet but it spoke to me and how I felt about books, stories, reading. I decided I would try to read as much as I could by him this year. (That cuts into my diverse reading plan but I guess I just have to read harder!)
So I picked it up again and kept reading even when I didn’t know what I was reading. I couldn’t read this book with any distractions or I was lost. The artwork is dense and so detailed, I often had to go back to see if I had missed anything because the story wasn’t just told in the dialogue but in the scenery and the shadows.
It’s about Dream, who is accidentally captured and imprisoned by some men who had no idea the havoc it would wreak in their world. When Dream finally breaks free, he goes on a journey to collect what was stolen from him. Along the way, he travels through Hell, he encounters some people from the Justice League, and there are other surprises that kept catching me off guard. I wouldn’t know how to explain it to someone who hasn’t read it. It’s unlike anything I have ever read so I have nothing to compare it to. Looking back, I almost think the individual stories would have worked better as standalones. But it must have had some cohesion because by the end of volume 1, I was completely sympathetic of Dream (and I kinda had a crush on his older sister Death).
In the Afterword, Neil Gaiman explains his exploration of different genres in this medium and it explained a lot of why I was often confused. He admits:
“Rereading these stories today I must confess I find many of them awkward and ungainly, although even the clumsiest of them has something – a phrase, perhaps, or an idea, or an image I’m still proud of. But they’re where the story starts, and the seeds of much that has come after – and much that is still to come – were sown in the tales in this book.”
This was his artist statement, explaining his vision. It made me step back and see the whole, in context, not just the one story arc here. It made me want to see and read more. I want to see what those planted seeds grew to be. I almost hate to sleep. Not because I worry about dreams or nightmares. I just want to keep reading.