Friday, September 24, 2010

Preludes and Nocturnes: Passengers/ 24 Hours/ Sound and Fury

I am blogging my reread of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. Here's the first post, which explains some things.

The one object Dream still needs to reclaim is his ruby, which has been stolen by John Dee. These three issues tell that story. "Passengers" opens at Arkham Asylum, where the good doctor is imprisoned, on account of being murderously insane. Dee announces his plan to go get the ruby in order to rule the world, or destroy. Either way, he says, he's not coming back. I think maybe that's how all quests begin, with the knowledge that you're not coming back. 

Because of the power of the ruby, Dee functions as a slantwise Dream in these issues, a dark mirror to the Dreamlord. Dream, too, is on a quest which raises the question: when does he know he's not coming back?

The naked Dee escapes, and carjacks Rosemary (and manages to misquote Shakespeare in the introduction process. "Rosemary... that's for remembering.") Dee, he tells her is for lots of things, Death, with which he begins his list, is as we will discover, also one of the Endless, all of whom have names beginning with D. D is for lots of things, indeed. He also tells her what dreams are made of: "viewpoints, of image, of memories and puns and lost hopes..." In the course of Sandman's  run, we discover that he is right, that dreams are made of all these things, but that he is only partially correct. Dreams are also made of much more.

Dee's elucidation of the contents of dreams also raises one of the ongoing questions of the story: What is Dream made of? What are his contents?

Then, in a sequence done in saturated reds and purples, ruby colors, Dream finds the ruby, and is overwhelmed by it. It is no longer his. Dee finds it as well, and things are about to get very bad.

"24 Hours" opens at an all-nite diner, with a waitress named Bette, who knows she is secretly a writer. She quite happily rewrites the stories of everyone in the diner in her head as she works.

One of the things I wonder, every time I read Sandman (and it's a question I don't actually want to know the answer to because 1. I like some things to remain secret, and 2. I suspect the answer may cause me to drop dead of jealousy) is when Neil knew how the story had to end. I wonder if it's this issue, as the narration tells us "All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories -- if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death."

In Hour 2, Dee begins to use the power of the ruby to not only rewrite the stories of everyone in the diner, but to rewrite reality and dream in increasingly horrific ways. In a fabulous series of panels on page 16, the three women in the diner appear in a set pattern that echoes the Three-in-One, the Fates, and he asks them for prophecy. They offer three oracles, the first, with its mention of dust, echoing both the words of funerals, and the Ash Wednesday service "Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return" and Eliot's "The Waste Land": "I will show you fear in a hand full of dust," the quotation used on the early advertising for the comic.

In Hour 19, captioned "He lies to them," Dee tells his assembled captive a fairy tale, that of Snow White. It's another perversion of Dream's aegis, his role as Prince of Stories.

Finally, in Hour 24, Dream shows up.

"Sound and Fury" has a Shakespearean reference as its title, of course. The Triple Goddess shows up again, on page 9, once Dee has followed Dream into the realm of dreams. Dee appears as Caesar, and the three women interpret his dream for him. On page 10, one of them quotes the full line from Macbeth and Dream shows up to warn "Caesar" to "Beware the ideas of March!" (The Shakespearean references are perhaps not surprising, considering Dream's relationship with Will of Stratford.)

Eventually, in an attempt to kill Dream, Dee crushes the ruby, releasing Dream's power, and returning Dream to himself. Instead of punishing Dee, Dream takes him home to the asylum, and gifts him, and all its residents, with a night of peaceful sleep.

I leave the question of whether brain fever is the true curse of academia as an exercise for the reader.

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