Book: “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones (Ill.), Charles Vell (Ill.), Colleen Doran (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1991
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: The third volume of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus’s son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The latter won a World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time a comic book was given that honor. collecting The Sandman #17–20.
Review: One of the things that I need to get used to when going back and re-reading “Sandman” is that Gaiman sometimes like to meander and experiment with stories in their tone and mythologies. So while “Sandman” does have an overarching plot line, on occasion you will find tales that don’t fit in. Sometimes I really love this, as in both of our previous collections I’ve highlighted these standalone stories. So theoretically I should have been totally game with “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country”, as it has four stand alone tales that don’t really focus on Dream and his journey. I’m all for experimentation, just like on my first read through, “Dream Country” didn’t live up to the books before.
Our first standalone story, “Calliope”, is one of the ones that most fascinates me, but also has some really problematic elements to it. In concerns the Muse Calliope, Morpheus’s former lover and mother of their late son Orpheus, who has been imprisoned by an author so that her influence will make him write amazing works. While in captivity Calliope is isolated and raped repeatedly, and she calls upon Morpheus for help in escaping. I greatly enjoy the concept of a person using the means of a Muse for ill will, and I liked the harkening back to the Greek Mythology that Morpheus has some part in, but I really had a hard time with the way that Calliope is abused by one man, and is basically damsel in distressed until another man saves her. The concept was my favorite of the four, but the execution was very upsetting and felt a bit tone deaf by today’s standards.
The second is “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, a fun and kind of sad story about house cats and how they went from ruling the wild to being subjugated by human kind. Given my love for cats, the idea of cats wanting to rise up and free themselves from their human ‘captors’ is very fun, if only because it has been said that if house cats were much larger they would absolutely try to kill their owners. Morpheus is here (in the form of a cat, no less!), but it really could have been anyone waylaying this information to our feline protagonists. This probably could have worked as a short story out of the “Sandman” universe, and I wonder if Gaiman had the idea for this kind of story outside of this narrative, as it felt a bit forced into the box of the Sandman world.
The third story is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a World Fantasy Award winning tale (the first comic to win this award even!) in which Morpheus brings people of the faerie realm to come watch Shakespeare’s traveling troupe put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Basically Morpheus and Shakespeare cut a deal and this is the first of two plays that Shakespeare has written for him. We get a lighthearted version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and get to see their ‘real world’ counter parts react to the way that they are portrayed within the play. Cute to be sure. I think that were I a bigger fan of the play itself I’d have enjoyed this more, but “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” isn’t a fave of mine, Shakespeare wise.
It’s the fourth story that I really, really liked, and kind of saved this whole collection for me. “Facade” is the saddest tale within this collection, and it doesn’t even have Morpheus in it! Instead we get to see my girl Death shine, though she, too, plays a smaller role in lieu of a new original character. Raine is a woman who, when on an archaeological dig in Egypt, was cursed with immortality. Though she is going to live possibly forever, her body is slowly deteriorating, rendering her isolated and scared and desperate to die. She puts on fake faces to go into public, but it’s by no means a long term solution, and after a particularly bad day Death hears her begging, and decides to talk to her. Looking at the consequences of what immortality would actually be is always sobering, and Raine is such a sad character that you ache for as the story goes on. And while it was kind of surprising to see that Morpheus wasn’t in this one, I think that Death was really the character to use given her empathetic nature (unlike Dream, who is prickly at best), and it was really nice seeing her getting a little more spotlight. She is such an intriguing character on her own, after all. I also really liked the artwork for this one. It’s a lovely design for Death.
“The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” is a fine detour from the main storyline, but I’m eager to get back to see what Morpheus is up to. I definitely encourage you to read these if you are taking on the series, but if you have to go to Volume 4 before this one, that’s probably going to be fine.
Rating 7: These standalone stories are enjoyable for the most part, but they don’t really progress the plot, and feel a bit dated in some of their themes.