During the tail-end of my Deeply Misunderstood Rebellious Adolescent Goth period, I read quite a few comic books. Not superheroes-and-Spandex titles, mind you, but dark, scary comic books, about magic and serial killers and…well, superheroes. But cool ones, who wouldn’t even think about wearing Spandex. It didn’t hurt that my then-boyfriend worked at a comics store within walking distance of my house; lacking a car, I spent hours at a time browsing through the titles and leafing through new issues, and one of my favorite titles was The Sandman. The series was ending just as I started reading, so I mostly read back issues, though I hear they’re continuing the legacy with another title called The Dreaming. Anyway, I somehow missed this book when it came out in 1996, but thought I’d enjoy the little trip down high-school memory lane.
Book of Dreams isn’t actually a comic book (or rather, “graphic novel,” I suppose); it’s an anthology of short stories set in the world of the Sandman, written by a variety of contributing authors. Several are based directly on the plot of a single issue of The Sandman, and I suspect that many of the authors were only passingly familiar with the comic book; it’s just speculation, but I’m imagining a scenario where the writers were given an issue or two and briefed on the main characters, and then turned loose to write what they pleased. The result, as you’d expect, is a rather confused hodge-podge that varies widely in quality.
For those who don’t know, The Sandman presupposes the existence of the Endless, mythical personifications of human emotions and drives. They are: Death, Destiny, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium (the entity formerly known as Delight). Death is a foxy goth chick who wears an ankh; Destiny is a faceless monk clutching a tome in which is writ the story of the universe. Destruction is a burly, jolly guy; Delirium is a shapeshifting punk-rock girl who leaves trails of tiny animals in her wake. Despair and Desire, sexless twins, are the two siblings who are closest to each other (the Endless aren’t very chummy; you wouldn’t want to see them around a Thanksgiving table). Dream is every misunderstood teen’s dark hero: bone-thin, with paper-white skin and a thatch of spiky black hair, he mopes around his dream-castle in a tight t-shirt and jeans, pining over ex-girlfriends. In fact, now that I think about it, Dream is pretty much the emo prototype (though you’d never catch him listening to Good Charlotte or Saves the Day, more’s the pity).
“Stronger than Desire” by Lisa Goldstein is a fun story attributing the rise of courtly love to Desire’s mischievous meddling. A lovesick king bets Desire that he can find two people beyond Desire’s control; if he wins, the king gets to marry Desire.
“The Birth Day” by B. W. Clough tells the story of one of mankind’s major cultural leaps – the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a farming society. It should come as no surprise at all that we didn’t do it on our own; Dream comes to a young priestess and, much to his eventual chagrin, whispers inspiration into her eager ears, changing the course of human history forever.
“The Witch’s Heart” by Delia Sherman is an interminable, bewildering fairy tale gone horribly wrong. It’s a muddled, confusing story of a heartless witch trapped in a memory loop, enslaving werewolf-girls as her lovers and valiant champions on a quest for her missing heart. Desire’s walk-on role doesn’t really justify the thirty pages of agonized chest-beating and limp sex scenes.
“Stoppt-Clock Yard” by Susanna Clarke is one of the most Sandman-esque of the bunch, a historical thriller about two magicians who find a way to call back the dead through dreams. Liberally sprinkled with archaic slang and syntax, it’s a pleasure to read, but the cast of thousands makes it somewhat difficult to figure out who’s doing what.
Of the seventeen stories (and one sestina) that make up Dreams, there are a good handful worth reading. But for every decent story, there are two more that are rambling, dull, or simply irrelevant. Even the most enjoyable of the stories don’t have a whole lot to do with the Endless, beyond roping one or another of them in as a pretext for mystical events. I suspect that only the most hardcore and completist of Sandman fans would get much out of this collection, and, in any case, the Endless don’t do much of anything interesting in these stories. I recognize a few of the authors, like Clive Barker and Tad Williams, but most of these names don’t ring any bells, and the quality of the stories reflects it. A disappointing substitute for the now-defunct comic book, Book of Dreams just makes my inner goth miss Sandman even more.