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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 6: Fables and Reflections” by Neil Gaiman

In his introduction to this volume, Gene Wolfe beautifully sums up why reading Gaiman is so important.

What is important and central is that, time after time, the stories themselves are true. I don’t mean simply that Neil Gaiman’s history is good history and that his myth is good myth – although they are. I mean that you will understand yourself and the world better for having read them, and that you will have been both ennobled and troubled by the experience; that this is not just art – all sorts of ugly and foolish things are art – but great art.

I completely agree. The stories and myths that Gaiman presents in this book convey truths that can only be expressed through symbols and metaphors. And because Gaiman is such a master of his craft, the stories come to life in a way that feels authentic and personal. While I probably connected with the tale of Haroun al Raschid the most, I also found his interpretations of the Orpheus myth and the Adam and Eve myth to be powerful and inspiring.

Not surprising, but the importance of dreams and the subconscious is a theme that runs through all the tales in this volume, so rather than look at the specific tales, I figured I would share some of the dream-related quotes that particularly stood out for me.

Value’s in what people think. Not in what’s real. Value’s in dreams, boy.

While this statement seems paradoxical, the more you think about it, the more truthful it appears. So often, people place value on tangible things and material possessions. But these things are ephemeral. Eventually, all our material stuff turns to dust, or we die and then our material things are useless to us. But our dreams are internal. They make up who we are on a spiritual level. This is what matters in the end, whether we lived our lives in accordance with our dreams. Additionally, it is from dreams that our creativity grows. Without dreams, there can be no imagination.

Ah. Many dreams come through the Gates of Ivory, Lycius, and they lie. A few dreams come through the Gates of Horn, and they speak to us truly.

Have you ever woken from a dream and had the feeling that some deep truth was conveyed to you through the dream? I have. Usually, I wake up and even if I have had a vivid dream, I know it is just my subconscious processing thoughts. But on those rare occasions, the dreams do seem to come through the “Gates of Horn.” It’s like, while in the dream state, your psyche connects with some divine intelligence. I cannot think of any other way to describe it.

Let’s go and find somewhere comfortable to wait until we wake. It’s so rare to realize that you’re dreaming when you are.

I’ve experienced this phenomenon, also, where I was dreaming and somehow knew I was dreaming. It is a very strange feeling. It is almost like the threshold between the dreaming state and the waking state dissolves, and you are essentially embodying both states of consciousness simultaneously. I recall feeling disoriented after waking from this type of dream.

Time at the edge of dreaming is softer than elsewhere, and here in the soft places it loops and whorls on itself. In the soft places where the border between dreams and reality is eroded, or has not yet formed… Time. It’s like throwing a stone into a pool. It casts ripples. Hoom. That’s where we are. Here. In the soft places, where the geographies of dream intrude upon the real.

I am fascinated by the space between the conscious and the subconscious, between ordinary and non-ordinary realities, the threshold between what we assume is real and what we assume is illusion. How can we really know what is real? Our reality is a construct. And time? I think somewhere, deep inside, we all feel that time is an illusion, that there is a deeper reality which exists beyond time and space. Sometimes I think that during states of deep meditation, during profound mystical experiences, or in this case, during certain dream states, we enter the “soft spaces” where the world we perceive dissolves and the ripples of hidden realities flutter across our consciousness.

I am only halfway through this series of books (there are 12 volumes of Sandman, not including the Overture, which I read in serialized form), and already I feel like my life has changed as a result of reading these works. There are some books that you cannot read without having them affect you on a deep level, and I think the Sandman series falls into this category. I highly recommend that you read these books, and be prepared to have your beliefs challenged.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 5: A Game of You” by Neil Gaiman

This installment in the Sandman saga explores how consciousness creates reality, a topic that I personally find intriguing.

Past and future both cast their ripples into the dreaming, Matthew.

This one short line spoke volumes to me. The dreaming is symbolic of the collective consciousness, which manifests individually in the subconscious mind, which surfaces during the dream state. The collective consciousness is affected by events past and future, as well as by the potential of infinite possibility. The dreamscape is where human consciousness explores the myriad dimensions of reality and possibility. There is another symbol that Gaiman uses throughout this text—the skerry. Skerries are reefs or rocky islands, essentially solid matter jutting up out of the water. Gaiman uses skerries to symbolize individual realities in a vast ocean of consciousness. Each individual reality casts ripples throughout the entire sea of consciousness. All out realities, no matter how insignificant they may seem to us, affect all other realities: past, present, and future. Think butterfly effect.

They walked past me, the living and the dead, and one by one they vanished into the darkness of his cloak. Then there were others walking past. Different wonderful characters — soldiers and courtiers, youngest sons and cats-in-boots: these weren’t the inhabitants of my land. These were someone else’s people — some earlier princess’s escape from reality…

As I read this, I thought about how what we consider to be reality is actually nothing more than shared fantasies and imagination. We project onto the canvas of reality our hopes and dreams and fears, and these become the fabric of our collective existence. I often wonder what would happen if we changes our beliefs and our fantasies. Could we recreate reality into something better? The more I consider it, the less flakey it sounds.

Okay. Here goes. Barbie’s idea. It’s like, that people… Well, that everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe. Isn’t that a weird thought?

Our realities are as vast and myriad as our imaginations. To dream and to create worlds in our minds is human. It is this capacity that allows us to visualize a better world, to strive for new things, to explore and create. The only thing that holds us back is fear. If we could lose our fear, we’d be free to explore the hundreds and thousands of unimaginable worlds within each of us.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 4: Season of Mists” by Neil Gaiman

My friend Miriam told me this was her favorite book in the series, and I can see why. The story is excellent. Essentially, Lucifer decides to vacate Hell and gives Morpheus, the Dream Lord, the key to Hell. What ensues is a pantheon of various deities all trying to convince the Dream Lord that they should be given dominion over Hell, and making their various cases to support their claims. The result is a highly creative view into the personalities of various gods and goddesses across diverse religions.

The book opens in the Garden of Destiny. The opening passage explores the labyrinthine paths which symbolize a human life, the choices we make, and how upon later reflection, the realization that many of the choices that we make in life are not really choices at all.

Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times. The paths fork and divide. With each step you take through Destiny’s garden, you make a choice, and every choice determines future paths. However, at the end of a lifetime of walking you might look back, and see only one path stretching out behind you; or look ahead, and see only darkness. Sometimes you dream about the paths of Destiny, and speculate, to no purpose. Dream about the paths you took and the paths you didn’t take… The paths diverge and branch and reconnect; some say not even Destiny himself truly knows where any way will take you, where each twist and turn will lead. But even if Destiny could tell you, he will not. Destiny holds his secrets. The Garden of Destiny. You would know it if you saw it. After all, you will wander it until you die. Or beyond. For the paths are long, and even in death there is no ending to them.

When all the deities converge on the castle of Dream, Odin tasks Loki with observing and noting the activities of the other deities. Loki’s thoughts on the angels I found particularly interesting.

And above all, I watch the angels. They do not eat, or flirt, or converse. They observe. I watch them in awe, All-Father. They are so beautiful and distant. The feet of the angels never touch the base earth, not even in dreams. I can read nothing in their faces, much as I try. And what they are thinking, I cannot even imagine.

As I read this, it reminded me of the Wim Wenders film, “Wings of Desire.” If you’ve not seen it, it’s a classic and worth watching.

As many of you know, we are often burdened with things that we do not want, but letting go and getting rid of those burdens is not always easy. Art and literature abound with metaphors about people clinging to their unwanted baggage, dragging it painfully through life. Think of Sisyphus with his stone, or Jacob Marley dragging his chains. In this book, Dream echoes this sentiment.

They all want it, and I don’t. I never thought that disposing of the unwanted could be so hard.

Possibly my favorite passage in this book is where the angels tell the Dream Lord of God’s decree regarding the existence of Hell.

We… I will relay the message. It is from my Creator… There must be a Hell. There must be a place for the demons; a place for the damned. Hell is Heaven’s reflection. It is Heaven’s shadow. They define each other. Reward and punishment; hope and despair. There must be a Hell, for without Hell, Heaven has no meaning. And thus, Hell must be —

This is very Taoist, in my view. There must always be darkness to balance light, a yin to balance yang. It also makes me think of Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:

Carl Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, “The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

The concept of Heaven and Hell, as Gaiman expresses it, then becomes a metaphor for the our human consciousness. Our divine consciousness cannot exist without the shadow. There must always be a balance between the light and dark within the psyche.

Anyway, this series is amazing. The writing is brilliant and the artwork if outstanding. I highly recommend this to all you readers out there. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 3: Dream Country” by Neil Gaiman

This volume is shorter than the previous two, but the quality makes up for the quantity. It contains four tales:

  • Calliope—A fable about a muse enslaved by a writer needing inspiration.
  • Dream of a Thousand Cats—A story about the power of collective dreaming told from a feline perspective.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream—An exploration of Shakespeare’s classic work that blends the boundaries of imagination and reality, and how that affects the creative process.
  • Facade—A sad tale about the masks that we wear to hide our true selves from others.

The last section of this book includes something that, as a writer, I found very interesting. Gaiman pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse at the magic of his creative process. The last section is a script of “Calliope,” complete with marginalia that provides wonderful insight into the process of creative a graphic story, essentially the nuts and bolts and schema of how the piece is constructed. It is a treat for all you writers and artists out there.

One of the themes explored in “Dream of a Thousand Cats” is the power of dreams to create and shape our reality. In the beginning was the word, or more appropriately put, the thought, the idea, the dream. We cannot manifest anything unless we can first see it within our mind’s eye.

Dream! Dreams shape the world. Dreams create the world anew, every night.
. . .
I do not know how many of us it will take. But we must dream it, and if enough of us dream it, then it will happen. Dreams shape the world.

In “Facade,” there is a very moving section where Urania has a conversation with Death about the masks that we wear, and how we stubbornly cling to these old images of ourselves, even when we know they are no longer true or healthy.

Urania: But it’s also my face. You see. Sometimes I have to look normal, and then I grow faces. But they dry up, and fall off, but I couldn’t throw them away. They’re part of me. So I hang on to them. I . . . I’m probably not making much sense.

Death: No. You’re making sense. You people always hold onto your old identities, old faces and masks, long after they’ve served their purpose. But you’ve got to learn to throw things away eventually.

I know so many people like this, who desperately hold on to some image of who they once were. But I suspect it may even run deeper than just nostalgia for the glory days. I suspect that some people don a mask or a face, and after a while, that face that they put on, becomes who they are. Our faces and masks can change us, for better or for worse. If we keep putting on the cheerful face in spite of adversity, we eventually become a positive person. Conversely, if we wear the mask of gloom in spite of the positive things around us, eventually we become that dark, sad person which was initially just our mask.

Over the year, I’ve shed many faces and grown new ones. As I write this, I cannot help but wonder what my mask will be in my later years: the wise old man, the nurturing grandparent, or the curmudgeon throwing shoes at neighborhood dogs. I suppose we cannot predict the masks we will grow. The faces we develop stem from the situations we have to “face.” Anyway, time to bring myself back out of this rabbit hole.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you have a blessed day.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman

It was well over five years ago that I read the first volume in Gaiman’s classic graphic series, so I actually went back and reread Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes before reading this. I was glad I did. I would have missed a lot of the nuances had the beginning of the saga not been fresh in my mind.

In his introduction to this volume, Clive Barker describes what he calls “fantastic fiction” and explains why the graphic novel/comic genre is ideal for exploring this type of narrative.

The second kind of fantastique is far more delirious. In these narratives, the whole world is haunted and mysterious. There is no solid status quo, only a series or relative realities, personal to each of the characters, any or all of which are frail, and subject to eruptions from other states and conditions. One of the finest writers in this second mode is Edgar Allan Poe, in whose fevered stories landscape, character – even architecture – become a function of the tormented, sexual anxious psyche of the author; in which anything is possible because the tales occur within the teller’s skull.

Is it perhaps freedom from critical and academic scrutiny that has made the medium of the comic book so rich an earth in which to nurture this second kind of fiction?

Essentially, this volume is a dark exploration of the possibilities of what might happen if the boundaries of dreams were somehow dissolved, where the collective subconscious minds accessed by all dreamers were connected, and the effect that this might have on our notion of reality.

She can feel them: across the city, a paradise of sleeping minds. Each mind creates and inhabits it own world, and each world is but a tiny part of the totality that is the dreaming… and she can touch them. Touch all of them. She begins to free them, loosening them into the flux. Across the city dreams begin to join and integrate and, in so doing, they change the dreamers forever.

What we deem as reality is actually a shared perception, and the key word here is perception. How real is reality? We spend a third of our lives in a dream state, and how do we know that what we perceive while in this state is not as real or more real than what we accept as reality in the world around us? This is what one of the main characters, Rose, contemplates toward the end of the book.

If my dream was true, then everything we know, everything we think we know is a lie. It means 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. It means more than that. It means that we’re just dolls. 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 from room to room, and put us away at night when they’re tired, or bored.

This is an idea that I have always found unsettling. I have known people who for various reasons suffered a break with reality and ended up institutionalized. I could not help but wonder: Was it mental illness, schizophrenia, or a glimpse of something that mortals were not meant to know? When Dante is about to cross the threshold in the Inferno, he is warned: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Some things are too intense for the fragile human psyche.

I plan on continuing with this series (I already have the next volume ready to read). Expect to hear my thoughts on Volume 3: Dream Country in the near future.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 6” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_06

This is the final issue in this arc, and it is nothing short of amazing. Gaiman is such a gifted writer and the surreal artwork that accompanies his text draws you into a world of symbols that speaks directly to the subconscious.

In this final installment in the graphic novel, Dream struggles to save existence, entreating Hope to convince the souls on the mystic ship to use the creative power of their collective consciousness to recreate existence as it should be, as opposed to what it has become. At the end, the cycle is complete and everything begins again, renewed. This is only logical, since all existence is cyclical.

I feel that whatever I write about this will not do it justice. It would be like trying to describe and explain Mozart’s music to someone who was born deaf. All I can do is encourage you to experience this graphic novel for yourself.

I will finish with a quote, which really stood out for me. It expresses the power of art as a way to convey the ineffable through symbols and myth.

One day, perhaps, we will have become legends. We’ll pass this way outside of space and time, when what they’ll know of us will be just questions. They’ll carve our deeds in stone. Build us in rhyme. The things they’ll tell about us will be lies. But lies of such a kind as tell a truth perpetual. Our lives will be revised. Preserved, we’ll mouth the epics of our youth. Actors will play us, braver than we are, more funny, deeper, prettier by far. Their lines will be more resonant and wise than anything we said. Majestic lies. So wait. Some tales might be the truth one day. For now, alive, we huddle, ache and pray.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 5” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_05

It’s been six months since the last installment in this graphic novel arc. But, as is always the case with Sandman, it was well worth the wait. In this issue, Dream is trapped in a black hole and reunited with his mother, Night. Dream declines his mother’s offer to take a place in her realm and is returned to the black hole. He is then summoned by Destiny, his brother, to explain the existence of a mysterious ship that is not a part of the Book of Destiny. It is revealed that the ship is a haven for saved souls.

This is a graphic novel par excellence. Gaiman is a master wordsmith and his words, accompanied by the stunning artwork of JH Williams III, weave a tale that is inspiring, thought-provoking, surreal, and mystical. After finishing this issue, I feel like I was transported into another universe and have just returned with knowledge that is beyond my ability to express to another soul.

The only justice I can do as a review of this masterpiece is to just provide a snippet of text as an example of Gaiman’s incredible skill as a writer.

Destiny sees things as they are, not as we would wish them to be.

He knows there are no stories, only the illusion of stories: threads and patterns that seem to appear in the pages of existence, given meaning and significance by the observer.

Destiny observes worlds and molecules like motes of dust hanging in a sunbeam: every movement, every moment inevitable.

Destiny walks the paths of his garden, a place of forks and of paths which combine and part, seeing only what is.

He is surprised by nothing. There is nothing that can surprise him, nothing that was not already written in his book.

I am in awe of the concept of stories as a series of threads and patterns given form only through interpretation of the reader or listener. The telling a story has no meaning, unless there is someone there to hear the story. It’s almost like the Zen parable of the tree falling in the forest. It is also connected to quantum physics, in my opinion. We know that certain quantum particles only come into existence if there is a conscious being there to perceive them. Likewise, stories are only brought to life if someone is there to hear them.

I think I need to stop writing. I feel myself slipping down the proverbial rabbit hole. I will conclude by saying, if the past is any indicator of the future, we can expect the conclusion of this series in December. I suspect that when the final issue in the arc is released, I will reread all the previous issues and then the final installment. Look for my next Sandman post in about six months.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 4” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_04a

After months of patient waiting, issue #4 has finally arrived. It was definitely worth the wait.

The issue is a little bit confusing because it seems to be occurring at two dimensions in time and space simultaneously. In one dimension, Morpheus, the Dream Lord, is entering the City of the Stars with Hope and Cat (Cat being a manifestation of himself). Yet on a seemingly parallel plane, Dream is also meeting with his father, the masculine aspect of the Divine Dyad.

The Dream Lord entreats his father to help him prevent the undoing of all existence. His father is disinclined to assist him. In the end, though, the father concedes that he may be willing to help. The illustrations which accompany the sections relating to Dream’s encounter with his father are psychedelic and vividly colored. In fact, they reminded me a lot of Peter Max’s work.

SandmanOverture_04b

By contrast, the scenes that take place in the City of the Stars, while still surreal, are much more fluid and the colors border on the pastel.

SandmanOverture_04c

When Dream and Hope meet the insane star, the star destroys Hope. I found this to be symbolic of society’s loss of hope in the world. And the irony is that clinging to what little hope is left in the world will actually change nothing.

Hope: I… am Hope.

Star: Unfortunate last words, given the context. Three words that mean nothing. As if saying that might ever change something.

The issue concludes with Dream being imprisoned within a dark star. The colors turn ominous as deeper shades of purple, black, and grey swirl together into a dark vortex.

Star: So we will not kill you, Dream King. We will simply render you unavailable. Inside the event horizon of a dark star, nothing ever gets out. No light. No information. And definitely no dreams. Goodnight.

This was such an intense issue, I feel like I need to read it at least a couple more times to fully grok it. In fact, I will probably re-read the entire series so far. I’m sure I will catch things that I missed on my first reading.

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“The Sandman: Overture – 3” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_03

I have to say that I am extremely impressed with this series. It is by far the most interesting and thought-provoking comic I have ever read. In this installment, Morpheus the Dream Lord is traveling to the City of the Stars to address the issue of the star that has gone insane. He travels the surreal landscape with a cat that is a manifestation of himself, almost like a part of his psyche that is manifested in another form.

As they are traveling, they encounter three women who represent the triple goddess: maid, matron, and crone. They offer him knowledge in exchange for his cat, essentially wanting him to sacrifice a part of his being for a bit of knowledge. He turns the offer down, saying he has no need to barter for knowledge, since he knows the path he travels and his destination. The crone then warns him the path will lead to his death.

Crone: Morpheus. The path you are taking leads you, directly or indirectly, to your death.

Dream: I believe that the same can be said of all paths, Lady. Of every track and way that any of us have walked since the Universe was young.

After the encounter with the triple goddess, Dream meets a young girl named Hope and agrees to allow her to accompany them on the journey. I suspect that there is some symbolism here that will be revealed later, about the importance of hope. She questions how there can be a city of stars since stars are flaming balls. Dream explains that they possess consciousness. I found this intriguing, since I believe that consciousness is not limited to humans and animals, but that consciousness is a part of all existence.

Hope: How can there be a City of Stars? My pa said that stars are flaming balls of gas in space… long, long long ways away.

Dream: Your father was wise. Physically, a star is a ball of gas, burning and rolling in a series of continuous thermonuclear events, uninhabitable to creatures of the flesh. But stars are also alive. They have minds. And sometimes, their minds wander.

As they are ready to retire for the evening, Hope asks Dream to tell her a story. Dream agrees, and his introduction floored me.

They say every story must be told at least once, before the final nightfall. And we are nearing the end of the Bridge… Make yourself comfortable, Hope. Once, long ago, there were two gods who fled their homeland…

The issue concludes with Dream telling a story about his past that is nothing short of incredible, overflowing with vivid imagery and rich symbolism. I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but I strongly encourage you to read and explore it on your own.

I was told that the next issue will not be available for a while. I already feel impatient. Thankfully, I have plenty of other things to read. As soon as the fourth installment is published, I will be reading it and sharing my thoughts. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading!

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“The Sandman: Overture – 2” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_02

This installment continues with Dream interacting with a surreal host of entities. These entities turn out to be parallel incarnations of himself. I found this to be metaphorical for the collective or cosmic consciousness. The Universal Mind is created by a network of minds, or cells of consciousness.

The various aspects of Dream’s self concur that a part of their consciousness has ceased to exist, which puzzles them because their consciousness is eternal. Dream projects himself into another realm to consult with Glory about what has happened. Glory reveals that this is a manifestation of the impending death of the universe, of all existence. It begins with one cell and spreads like a cancer.

A star has gone mad, Lord Shaper. It is as simple as that.

There are about four hundred billion galaxies in the universe, Dream Lord.

A star has gone mad, and the madness is spreading like a cancer.

Armies are amassing from across the whole of creation, scenting battle.

From across the vastness of the cosmos, impelled by whatever senses drive them, singular creatures are gathering to feast on the coming massacre and the madness.

And the madness will spread. The galaxies themselves will shake and vanish. The other realms in their turn will fade and be destroyed.

Soon enough, the mind that is the universe will cease to think, and all things will cease to be.

This is truly a cerebral comic, one that draws on mystical symbolism, the occult, psychology, and metaphysics. I am a huge fan of Gaiman’s work and I have to say that this ranks among his best writing. I’ll be reading and commenting on issue #3 soon. Cheers!

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