“We don’t have a clue what’s really going down, we just kid ourselves that we’re in control of our lives while a paper’s thickness away things that would drive us mad if we thought about them for too long play with us, and move us around from room to room, and put us away at night when they’re tired, or bored.”
I decided to start rereading Sandman here, as I don’t really feel like reading vol. 1 again and this one stands alone pretty well. The first two volumes are more horror-centric than most of the later ones; after this, most of the stories are fantasy, with some occasional horror elements. It’s the kind of fantasy where, as one of the characters says, “the world’s about as solid and as reliable as a layer of scum on the top of a well of black water which goes down forever, and there are things in the depths that I don’t even want to think about.” My favorite parts are the two short stories.
This volume opens with a prologue, “Tales in the Sand,” that tells the story of Nada, last seen in Dream’s visit to Hell in vol. 1, and explains what happened between her and Dream. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the teller of this tale (in the frame story) is a man; it’s a nice contrast to the main arc, which is primarily a women’s story.
Dream observed in the previous volume that, although people don’t fear him the way they fear Death, he is actually more terrible than she is. This story is an example of that…
The main arc of this volume focuses on Rose Walker, granddaughter of Unity Kincaid, as she searches for her brother. Meanwhile, Dream searches for four missing inhabitants of his realm and keeps an eye on Rose, for his own reasons. I love the dream sequences in this volume; the unusual layout and lettering fits them well, and provide an effect you can’t get with text alone.
There is also another short story, “Men of Good Fortune” which tells the story of Hob Gadling, a man who refuses to die throughout different eras of history, starting in the year 1389. This is one of my favorite stories in Sandman. My favorite line is Hob’s admission that immortality hasn’t made him wiser: “I’ve learned from my mistakes, but I’ve had more time to commit more mistakes.” If you pay attention to the fragments of conversations in the pub going on in different eras, you’ll notice that they cover the same topics repeatedly (taxes, complaints about the breakdown of law and order, disease, and almost the same punchline from a joke) just slightly reworded. I like the description of Lady Johanna: “Her kind walk amid the flotsam of lives they have sacrificed for their own purposes, till friendless and alone they needs must make the final sacrifice.” There’s also an impressive bit of foreshadowing: In 1889, Dream tells Hob that he saw Lady Johanna again when she fulfilled a task for Dream. I remember that! But I didn’t remember any references to it this far in advance.
I was looking at the TV Tropes page for Sandman and came across something too good not to share here.
“There’s one particularly unsettling implication in ‘Men of Good Fortune’ that isn’t so much ‘horrific’ as ‘incredibly depressing.’ In the course of that story, we learn that Hob Gadling managed to get fabulously wealthy at two points in his life by getting involved in two historically important business ventures: the printing business in the 15th century, and the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century. Note that he predicts that printing will never be a truly profitable business (‘There’ll never be a real demand for it’), and only takes it up as a trade because he’s a professional soldier who needs a steady job in peacetime, and because it’s a relatively new business that doesn’t require guild membership. On the other hand, he’s absolutely certain that shipping slaves will net him a tidy profit, and (initially) considers it one of his best ideas. In other words, The Everyman Hob doesn’t recognize the true potential of spreading and preserving literature through the printing press, but he has no trouble seeing the potential of buying and selling Africans as property.”
The ending ties together the two different threads of the plot: Rose’s quest and Dream’s.