Damien Filer is a freelance writer from Eugene, Oregon.
His recent publications include stories in VB Tech Journal and in the anthology
Buried Treasures. He has sold fiction to a broad range of publications, from Pulphouse
to Penthouse Special Publications to the anthology 365 Scary Stories.
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The Sandman: Book of Dreams
Edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer
HarperPrism. $22.00 hc. 293 pages.
Reviewed by Damien Filer
The sandman has been present for a very long time in folklore and fairy tales as the man who
puts sand in the eyes of children to make them sleep. DC Comics unveiled a sandman (millionaire
Wesley Dodds) replete with fedora, cape and gas mask in WWII; then Karen Berger brought in Neil
Gaiman in 1987 to revise and revitalize "The Sandman" to what we all know him to be today. In
seven years The Sandman sold over 12 million copies for DC Comics and was the winner of
the first World Fantasy Award ever given to a comic for "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The
Sandman has been called "The comic for people who don't read comics." While in Japan comics
(Manga) are amongst the most distributed of publications, read by a broad cross section of
the population, this has never been the case in the United States. Neil Gaiman's Sandman, however,
has pioneered a renaissance of the form with readers ranging from Harlan Ellison to Truman
Capote, from Stephen King to Norman Mailer and Samuel R. Delany who wrote the introduction for
A Game of You. Karen Berger says that Sandman is probably read by more women than any other
The Sandman is the story of a God confronted with his own mortality. It all starts with
a magician named Roderick Burgess, founder of The Order of Ancient Mysteries, based in "Fawney
Rig," a Sussex Manor House. Attempting to trap the (as Karen Berger describes her) "adorable
and ultimately pragmatic" Death, he catches instead her younger brother, and closest sibling,
Dream. After 75 years, Dream (also known as Morpheus, or the Shaper) finally escapes but finds
his realm, the Dreaming, in ruin. The Sandman is a family saga, chronicling Dream and
(described by Karen Berger as) "his dysfunctional and pantheonic family the Endless," including
siblings: Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium (who used to be called Delight), Destruction and
"The Sandman" will never be the same.
For followers of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman having co-edited this collection serves as a
kind of security net, an insurance policy, on the stories chosen; for who knows better what truly
represents the vision of The Sandman, and perhaps even a broadening of that vision, than
the creator himself? Further, The Sandman is an ideal theme for an anthology because it
necessitates much less falsity and superficial imposition into storylines than other, more specific
There is, I should point out, one down note for those exploring the dust jacket who are led
(understandably, as I was), to believe that they will be treated to a new piece of fiction by all who
are listed there. Instead, there is only a frontispiece entitled "Death" by Clive Barker, a sestina
by Lawrence Schimel, and finally, a brief afterword, also entitled "Death," by Tori Amos. There is
no fiction by Frank McConnell either, but his preface is, nevertheless, one of the strongest pieces
in the book. After I read it I knew for sure that I had in my hands a book I would long remember.
In just a few short pages McConnell addresses the duality of sleep and waking, of storytelling and
religion, the invention of God(s) -- in short, the history of The Sandman, right back to
DC's original WWII "golden age" comic, and how Neil Gaiman got involved with, and changed The
The first story, Colin Greenland's "Masquerade and High Water" instantly, effortlessly and
fluidly whisked me past any trepidation about the collection and set me sailing on a flowing river
of words, subtly reminding me of the reason I read in the first place. His is a lavish, and yet
subtle love story. There are characters so real you will surely think you know them, and
characters so fantastic you will only wish you did. His images cover broad canvases with
poetically economical strokes. It is the kind of writing that makes another writer envious, first
evoking a sense of futility in pursuing the act, and finally leaving them inspired and full of fever
for the hunt.
John M. Ford's "Chain Home, Low" (which refers to a British air-defense radar to detect
inland and low flying German planes during the second World War) is set in the first Sandman
episode, "Sleep of the Just." The writing is omniscient, yet precise in its description of historical
settings and events as well as the only peripherally present, Dream. The mood of The
Sandman underlies everything while the story itself is constantly averting your eyes from
what lies beneath. The story is scattered throughout with dry wit and cryptic but exceedingly well
rendered characterization. He creates the mirage of a novel's depth in a short story. "Chain Home,
Low" is a morality play, a dark story about hope set against a variety of backdrops from a castle to
a mental hospital to a war. At the end of the story one character notes: "The Lord does not jest; but
I wish I better took his meaning." It made me think and I can ask no more of a story.
"The Writer's Child" by Tad Williams fulfills every desire a reader can have for the elements
of a classical story, and yet is told in a way unlike any story you've read before. There are two
points of view. The first is young Jessica who tells a story about a Glass Castle and its inhabitants:
Princess Jessica, The Queen of Flowers and the King of Glass. The other point of view is derived
from a manuscript written by the King of Glass (which Jessica, who insists she is not the Jessica
the story she has written is about, finds in the garbage) and which tells its own fantastical story.
The King of Glass describes how he sees the writer as being in the masculine role, planting
the seed, and the reader in the feminine role, harvesting the crop, and how together they create the
writer's child. Though we never leave either of these fantasy worlds we leave the story with a
very definite and unforgettable picture of why Jessica is so unhappy in the Glass Castle.
This question of the two imaginations that merge to create a story becomes particularly
interesting when considered in the context of entering the world of The Sandman for the
first time without art. The contrast of reading these stories with only the assorted authors'
prompts and one's own imagination to paint the tapestries of The Sandman's domain is a
very different, and uniquely satisfying experience compared with the original comics which were,
or course, illustrated, each by a different artist. The haunting jacket design, however, is by Dave
McKean who will be familiar to readers of the original Sandman comics.
Will Shetterly's "Splatter" is set during Sandman # 14 (called "Collectors" in The
Doll's House collection) and it is another writer story. As is pointed out in the introduction to the
story, for anyone who has ever been to a signing or convention Shetterly nails the setting and
characters that inhabit them. The story is very readable, filled with dry, sometimes flat and often
black humor about the way the world looks to a writer. Unfortunately, for the writer, the world
begins looking a little too much like the world Stephen King's Paul Sheldon found himself trapped
in when he met his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, in Misery. "Splatter" ends up being too
predictable too soon, however, (or so we are at first led to believe.) It offers moments of great
insight, such as a look at the promises the world makes to us all, and the lifeline a television set
can be when we're otherwise cut off from the rest of the world. Perhaps the strongest single line
in the story deals with the recommitment a man would make to his family if he escapes the danger
he's presently in. "When this was over, he would go home, and though he would never tell anyone
what had happened this weekend, he would tell Jan that he would do anything for her and the girls,
even if that meant learning how he had failed them." I would like to have seen the story lean more
to the serious than the satirical. The ending, however, does provide an unexpected and unique, if
The year is 1108. Lisa Goldstein's "Stronger Than Desire" opens when a young lord named
Raimon is separated from his hunting party in pursuit of a deer. He ends up letting the deer escape
when he comes across the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Desire calls herself Alais and it
is much to the chagrin of the lord's men that this woman of questionable lineage and no intent to
marry should return to the lord's castle, and his bed. Raimon ends up making a wager with Desire.
He must pick two people whom Desire cannot pair. Only if he succeeds will Desire marry him.
Goldstein's story explores what one thing in the scope of human emotion could be stronger than
In "Each Damp Thing" Barbara Hambly ventures into the Dreaming. Eve's oldest son, Cain,
still harbors resentment toward his stuttering younger brother, Abel, and his mother, Eve.
"That's me, yer worship," (Cain says in 'Imperfect Hosts,' the second story in the Preludes and
Nocturnes collection), "Purveyor of penny dreadfuls, shilling shockers, blood and thunders and
fust-rate nightmares." His quest for some edge, some foothold in the world leads him into the
ruins of the palace of the Dreaming where he steals a mirror. Hambly's story becomes something
of a black comedy as Cain ambles back through the palace of the Dream King with the recently
re-murdered Abel in a wheelbarrow, along with the baby gargoyle, Goldie. Also in the
wheelbarrow is the mirror which is the story's centerpiece. Abel pleaded with his brother to take
the mirror back from the time Cain had stolen it, and finally he does. What they find upon their
return is a palace filled with frights and nightmares. "Each Damp Thing" is a parable about the
ironies of blind, and brotherly love. Hambly's often invisible prose shine periodically throughout
with turns of phrase like time release capsules that will make you stop a paragraph later to go
back and read them again.
George Alec Effinger's "Seven Nights in Slumberland" comes alive with rich, animated
settings and, at first, awkward dialog that quickly grows on you. It is 1905. His six-year-old
protagonist, Nemo, takes seven eventful trips to Slumberland. The first night he takes in a Giants
vs. Pirates baseball game at Slumberland Stadium. Soon, though, he meets up with the Spirit of
Heart's Desire who sends him on a quest to find her golden bottle filled with dream dust. On his
journeys he reads from the book of all that is known. At first he is perplexed by the logic of the
chapter describing how the world was made being a quarter of the way into the book. However, he
soon realizes that if the book truly contains everything that ever happened, and everything that
will ever happen, then surely it can tell him if he will ever find the golden bottle. And so his
Robert Rodi offers "An Extra Smidgen of Eternity." Wanda comes in to relieve Ray's watch
over their dying friend Darren in the hospital. Once Ray leaves Wanda proceeds to tell the
unconscious Darren a story about one Countess Protopsilka. There is a jarring, though
interesting, point of view shift as we go into Darren's head when a nurse comes in and tells Wanda
he probably can't hear her anyway. It is an understandably strange place to be, inside the head of
this dying man, but it is the wellspring of many interesting ideas. First of all, Darren finds the
reaper, when she comes, to be an altogether likable sort. When she tells him it's time to go, he
explains that he desperately needs to hear the end of the story, and of how important he considers
stories, describing them as spiritual currency. You'll have to read the story yourself to find out
just how the reaper goes about granting his wish.
"The Mender of Broken Dreams" by Nancy A. Collins takes place in the Restoration
Department where broken dreams are repaired, or at the least, retooled. The tools of the Mender's
trade include everything from a jeweler's eyepiece to a potting wheel to an electron microscope.
The story opens with wonderful writing and imagery but really picks up when the Mender begins
to question his own identity. The quest leads the Mender to Morpheus himself, who is so impressed
with the Mender's work he grants the request. Morpheus shows the Mender what he wants to see,
though he questions whether the Mender will really want to see it in the end. What Morpheus
shows him is something which can never be mended.
Other stories include: Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Escape Artist" which deal's with A Game of You,
the fourth Sandman story arc. The writing is poetic. It sweeps you up into a trance and then can
startle with its selective bluntness. B.W. Clough's "The Birth Day" is the story of a meeting on the
banks of the Euphrates, what Ikat, the story's protagonist, learns from the Shaper and what the
Shaper learns from her. Karen Haber's "A Bone Dry Place" is a story about a crisis line, crossed
connections and Armageddon. Delia Sherman's "The Witch's Heart" is filled with blood, love,
wolves, desire, and, of course, a witch's heart--literally. Steven Brust, who himself has
appeared in such Sandman locales as The Worlds' End pub in the Worlds' End collection and the
Renaissance Festival in the story "Sunday Mourning" from The Wake provides a "folk tale." Gene
Wolfe's "Ain't You 'Most Done" is about a man who has never dreamed. The story is filled with
nineteenth-century sea songs and other folk music. Finally, the last story in the collection,
"Stopp't-Clock Yard" is "about the Returns."
This book is for adults, but it is for adults precisely because of the child-like sense of wonder
it instantly evokes, a sense of wonder only an adult can recognize and appreciate. The Sandman:
Book of Dreams was delivered to me, out of the blue via UPS. When I opened up the package I
felt like a kid again, unwrapping that mail-order glow in the dark inflatable Frankenstein from
the back cover of a comic book. The only difference being that with this book, once I opened it and
delved into the mysteries it beheld that sense of wonder was not only sustained, but magnified.
The theme of The Sandman: Book of Dreams, both inherent and explicit throughout, is
the power of stories themselves -- what Paul Auster calls "something that belongs to you for the
rest of your life" (interview with Paul Auster conducted at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on
October 21, 1996), what Joseph Campbell calls, the power of myth, and what Darren, in Robert
Rodi's "An Extra Smidgen of Eternity," calls spiritual currency,
When discussing this book, and the feats attained by those who contributed to it, it must go
without saying, that all of the inspiration for the ink spilled in compiling this collection was first
conceived by the vision of the world's creator, Neil Gaiman, who turns the notion of dreams and
waking in fiction from cliches that cause editors to cringe, into, as Titania, Queen of Faerie (from
Neil Gaiman's graphic novel The Books of Magic) would say, "all that matters. Do you