Monday, September 13, 2010

Preludes and Nocturnes: Imperfect Hosts

For those of you new to this, I am blogging my reread of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I explain why/ how I am doing this in the first half of this post.

Honestly, I thought I would be combining the rest of Preludes and Nocturnes (except for "The Sound of Her Wings") into one post. It's a plot coupon fantasy, after all - Dream goes and gets the Magic Things, and then he's all Dreamy again. There were a few things I wanted to mention - John Dee, the nature of stories, the idea of endings - but really, I could do it all in one post.

Except, "Imperfect Hosts" is all about the nature, the power of stories. It opens with Cain and Abel, and Dream - the Prince of Stories, as Abel stutteringly informs us - being dropped unceremoniously on their doorstep.

The theme of dream and waking is picked up in the top panel on the fourth page, as Dream "awake[s] in the darkness." It's a good description of his current state, so powerless, he doesn't even know where the symbols of his power are, so powerless, he relies on symbols, rather than on story.

It's Abel who introduces another of Sandman's major themes as he introduces himself: "From the, hm, first story. The, er, victim." The existence of Cain and Abel (and Abel's continuous resurrection) is testament to the power of story. Stories, true ones, are for always. Their characters live.

And really, are any of us surprised that living stories wind up in the Dreaming? Or that Dream is the Prince of Stories?

Then there is the character we meet on page 8. The lay out of this page is so well done, because even though we don't see Dream, we read his unmistakable dialogue: "I have been imprisoned." But we scan down, and realize we are looking at the outside of Arkham Asylum, and the person imprisoned is the mad John Dee.

John Dee.

Who is, of course, Doctor Destiny.

But who is also a sixteenth century mathematician, astrologer, occultist, advisor to Queen Elizabeth. And, oh, commonly said to be one of the models for the character of Prospero in The Tempest. So yes, I'll be paying attention to him.

"I have been imprisoned," Morpheus says. But what is the nature of his prison? Is it his powerlessness, or his power? We all have roles in our stories, but are those roles prisons as well?

Dream needs to find his missing objects of power, so he decides to consult the Three-in-One, the Triple Goddess, who is herselves an ongoing theme in Sandman. She's brilliantly introduced here, never appearing by the same name, and the names used come from stories everywhere. It is the role in the story that is important, not the person playing the character.

And because there are laws that the Three must follow, just as there are laws in Dream's realm, he gets answers to his questions (and there, of course, is the beginning of the crack across my heart, because of course there are laws, and in the end, Dream is as bound by them as everyone else is. Perhaps more so. And oh, sweetie, you don't ever thank the Fates.)

The issue closes with Abel telling a secret story, about a family. He weeps, and it's not tears, "only blood, little brother. Only blood."

Families, and blood. Isn't that always the story?

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