american gods, book review, books, christianity, comic books, coraline, god of dreams, greek mythology, literature, mirrormask, moirai, morpheus, mythology, Neil Gaiman, ramadan, Reading, religion, stardust, the kindly ones, The Sandman, the three fates, Vertigo Jam
This year I managed to complete the Sandman Saga, which was a big one for me, because after reading a lot of Neil Gaiman, I was still undecided on how I felt about him and his writing.
He’s one of these authors who is gifted and has a prolific output of work – the man can turn his hand to anything literary and make a success of it. The Sandman comics have also long been touted as his magnum opus, but I just didn’t have the time to get through it due to work commitments.
But 2018 was the year for it, and I’m sooooo glad I got through this, because it was AMAZING! Neil Gaiman is everything they say he is – an absolute genius.
If like me, you weren’t that particularly impressed with Coraline, Mirrormask, Stardust or found American Gods to be too steep and cryptic in terms of plot and character development, then The Sandman Saga is definitely for you.
In my humble opinion, this has to be Gaiman’s biggest achievement. In it he display’s his amazing prowess and knowledge of world mythology; creates a world where all gods, of all races across all times exist in the here and now, some as faint echoes and others as living amongst us, unbeknownst to us. In a way, The Sandman is not just about the adventures of Morpheus the Dream-God (one of the Eternals); it is through his interactions with humans, his losses and gains, his victories and calamities that Gaiman puts together a meta-mythology, a place where all gods are a figment of human imagination and exist as long as we exist.
I love this idea – it’s fresh, new, and something that he goes into in great detail in American Gods where he explores how ancient gods gain new grounds through the diasporas of different peoples’ across the ages, and how genocides are enough to wipe out the existence of others. It is powerful in that it puts the existence of faith into the hands of story-telling. The gods travel and stay tethered to survival through our stories. According to Gaiman, without the tradition of oral story-telling, our gods would come to naught. Being a story-teller, I like this idea, a lot!
Thus I found Sandman to be a bibliophile’s delight, because Morpheus, the god of dreams is the ultimate storyteller. He controls the gateway to the subconscious, he is a merciful god to a certain extent, yet when the world of dreams is in flux (as it is when we are first introduced to him in Preludes and Nocturnes issue #1), it causes chaos in the human world.
The saga begins when a group of Occultists (among them, the infamous Aleister Crowley) gather to summon and entrap Death itself. Their little parlour game goes awry and instead of entrapping Death, they manage to snag Death’s twin brother, Dream. Morpheus, therefore begins his 70 year confinement at the hands of these occultists, which results in terrible consequences for people around the world. Some fall asleep never to wake up again, others die stark raving mad because of their inability to sleep, others are subjected to terrible nightmares that are endless. In short, the world is thrown into flux, but the Lord of Dreams finally finds a way to escape his fate as a ‘genie in the lamp’, and must begin a journey across space and time, and between worlds to claim back the power that was seized in his absence.
This is of course, just the beginning of the saga. So much more happens, and I can’t remember a time when I was so engrossed by mythology as I was with this series. It has made my understanding and appreciation of American Gods much more meaningful as I see now what Gaiman was trying to do.
The Sandman was him playing in the sand pit. He stated himself that the series made him grow as a writer as he became bolder with his world-building, and with those amazing connections he makes between character and the series.
My favourite issues comprise of the stand-alone Ramadan, which has a very 1001 nights flavour to it and the masterful way he put together The Kindly Ones, the penultimate volume to the saga, where he explores the potency of the female in mythology. The Kindly Ones as they are referred to, assume the avatar of the mother, the lover, the female scorned. The way he portrays the Three Fates and the alchemy of feminine ‘madness’ was especially breath-taking.
I’ve made up my mind: Neil Gaiman truly is one of a kind.
I can only hope to meet him in person one day and listen to his pearls of wisdom about writing.
NOTE: Special mention to the illustrator David McKean, whose illustrated the front covers for each volume. His style artfully illustrated the nightmare and the dreamscape of Morpheus’ world. But if you look carefully past the disturbing nature of his images, you will see a balance of symbolism, which like a dowling rod divines the very heart of each volume and issue. A wonderful collaboration.