The Sandman: Dream Country
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: DC Comics
Publication Date: 1990
Titles: The Sandman #17-20
This is the trade that first inspired me to pick up the Sandman series. Why? The story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which won Neil Gaiman a World Fantasy Award in 1991. I am a huge fan of the play, with it being one of my two favorite Shakespearean comedies. But I’ll explain my love for it in a moment.
Dream Country collects issues #17-20 of The Sandman comic. Since these stories stand alone more than the previous issues, I’ll talk about them individually. The first story, “Calliope,” is a hard read. It is the story of a muse who has been imprisoned by a writer. Not only does he keep her locked away, but he assaults her physically. Yes, friends, there is a rape scene in this story.
Fortunately, the story itself can be skipped without consequence. While it is a well-written story, I understand that it contains disturbing content, and some people may feel uncomfortable reading it. I felt uncomfortable reading it (that is the point of the story after all–it certainly isn’t glorified) but survivors of rape may find it to be triggering. I don’t know if Calliope comes back in a later issue, but from what I can tell, the story can be skipped.
Rape aside, I did enjoy the concept of the tale, especially Morpheus’s punishment to the writer. All writers have struggled with the blank page. This story is an interesting take on what lengths someone might go to for those precious ideas. I would like to see this story done from a different angle–what if, instead of abusing and capturing a muse, a writer courts her, relishes her, maybe giving her a taste of human life that she hasn’t experienced. Could they fall in love, or is a muse simply too fickle for such things?
The second story, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats,” makes me both glad I like cats, and a little terrified to own one again. It’s a short story, and I don’t want to give anything away. But trust me, you’ll never look at Fluffy the same way ever again.
Ah, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Okay, backstory time. I first encountered this play in 9th grade, when my best friend introduced me to Puck’s closing monologue. We both memorized it, and I went around reciting it for months. I read the play, and was hooked. In senior AP English, we studied the play, and a local theater happened to be doing a production of it that season. I saw it twice in one week. It was absolutely amazing, and was also the first Shakespeare I’d seen performed live. Puck was played by a female, which totally lined up with how I’d always seen the trickster. It solidified the play as a masterpiece in my mind.
I initially came across The Sandman comics in researching media that Puck had appeared in. A few panels from this issue were posted on a website detailing some of the history of Puck, and so I bookmarked it to look up at some point. I came across the trade in a bookstore, and read through the issue for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was interesting–but not interesting enough for me to spend $20 on a trade that I otherwise wasn’t very interested in.
Now, reading the story as a part of the larger collection, I notice several things that went over my head before. While the story can stand alone (like many of the stories in this trade) it works best as part of the collective. In Sandman #13, Morpheus meets Shakespeare in passing, and the story alludes to them making a deal (presumably to make Shakespeare’s writing better, since at the time, it’s not very good). #19 shows the first part of that deal, which was for Shakespeare to write two plays playing homage to dreams. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first of these two. Morpheus invites the Faerie Court to watch the play, and it is all around quite entertaining.
I truly love this story. The fey designs are brilliant (kudos to penciller/inker Charles Vess and colorist Steve Oliff) and the story introduces a truly terrifying and fascinating Puck. I absolutely love the design of the hobgoblin here, and the character is everything that Puck should be–scary yet mischievous. If you read nothing but this story, it will be well worth it.
The final issue is “Façade,” which tells a story of a character from the DC verse, Element Girl. I didn’t know who this character was, or who she was supposed to be, when I read the story, but it really didn’t detract from the story itself. It shows her meager life now that she’s retired, and the degeneration that has occurred to her body. It is a sad tale, about a woman whose life has become a trap for her. I especially loved that we got another appearance by goth girl Death, who is a surprisingly wonderful character.
All in all, this is a good trade. I enjoyed these stories, despite a decreased role by Morpheus. It gives us a look at the larger universe, and plants plenty of details that could come back in later issues.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (I detracted part of a point for the rape of Calliope–I really just felt it was unnecessary)
Trigger warnings: Rape, violence, gruesome imagery