This volume is a collection of four short stories, one of which, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. This is where I started reading the series, and it stands alone pretty well. I think either this, or The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House are the best places to start – but everything ties together eventually, so once you have a good idea of what the series is capable of, it’s worth going back to the first one.
In “Calliope” a frustrated writer keeps the Greek muse Calliope captive as a source of inspiration. This story is the most violent in the collection, and the art is just a bit too graphic for my taste this time. “24 Hours” in The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes, was even more violent, but somehow, it seemed more like a necessary part of the psychological horror. Still, this story is an important part of the overall arc of Sandman, as it begins to examine how Dream has been changed by his captivity. **
“A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is about a cat’s quest to find Cat of Dreams, who tells her why cats live under human rule, and how they can restore their rightful place in the world. It’s a lighthearted story with a bit of a dark edge to it, as the cat speaks longingly of a world in which large cats could hunt tiny humans – not primarily for food or even revenge, but just as part of “the game of cat and man.” ***
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is, along with “Men of Good Fortune,” one of my favorite stories at this point in the series. This is a tale of the very first performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. This story follows up on the deal that William Shakespeare made with Dream (to write two plays), when they met in the earlier story “Men of Good Fortune.” Dream’s realm is associated with both dreams and stories, so in some sense he has an influence on all imaginative literature, but his influence is more direct here.
Gaiman switches between the performance of the play and the members of the audience, which includes the fairy court of Auberon and Titania, as well as Morpheus. One of my favorite things about this story is the way he shows the vast gulf between the mortal and immortal characters. Shakespeare’s reaction to the news of Christopher Marlowe’s death is a particularly striking example.
The most memorable part of the story, though, features Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who was a real person. He died at the age of eleven, three years after this story takes place. Scholars have speculated about how Shakespeare’s relationship with his son might have influenced plays”>his work. In this interpretation, Hamnet has a strained relationship with his father, who is consumed by his responsibilities to his profession. His presence in the story keeps it a bit more down to earth than it would be otherwise. For anyone who’s interested there’s an excellent analysis of this story on Stephen Frug’s blog. *****
Facade – This is the first issue of Sandman that doesn’t feature The Sandman. It seems a bit out of place at first, but Dream’s comment in the previous issue that “the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted” applies well to the protagonist of this story. Urania Blackwell, the Element Girl of DC Comics, no longer wants her undying, superhuman form, but can’t find a way to escape it. I don’t know anything about this character outside of her appearance here, but I think it’s an interesting parallel to “Calliope,” as a story about a character who has to let go of the past. (At the end of that story, Calliope said she would return to the minds of men – in other words, she’ll be in the “dream country” that’s referenced in this story.) ***
“A sestina about silence, using the words dark, ragged, never, screaming, fire, kiss.”
“A man who inherits a library card to the library in Alexandria.”
“Little one, I would like to see anyone – prophet, king, or god – persuade a thousand cats to do anything at the same time.”
“I am that merry wanderer of the night? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic menace to life and limb, more like it.” – the fairy Peaseblossom (the real one) watching Puck (played by an actor)
“Things need not to have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”
“The price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted.”
“You people always hold on to old identities, old faces and masks, long after they’ve served their purpose. But you’ve got to learn to throw things away eventually.”