The Sandman – a primer for Doctor Who bloggers
After Nightmare in Silver, you’ll have noticed a few of us discussing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. Even drawing a few parallels. So who is this Sandman, you may ask. Is a comic really worthy of discussing in relation to Who? Can supposedly sane people really regard a comic as high literature? Well, let me tell you a few things. Pull up a chair. Ignore the banging. That’s just the Unspeakable Thing in the Cellar. It’ll be fine as long as you don’t talk to it or feed it any fish.
We first encounter the Sandman -Morpheus, Oneiros, Kai’chul, the Lord of the Dreaming, Dream itself given form of its own – battle scarred and weary after returning from some great conflict at the outskirts of space (sound familiar?). I don’t intend to get into some spoilerific examination of the plot. There’s too much good stuff in there for you to discover on your own without me giving the game away. However, a few broad brush strokes won’t hurt.
Morpheus is one of the seven Endless. Anthropomorphic personifications of the great influences on life itself. Destiny, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Death. And, perhaps mirroring those lowly life forms over which they hold sway, and yet are also so closely tied to and which give them form, one of the most dysfunctional families you’ll ever encounter.
Over ten magnificent volumes, Gaiman tells us the Shakespearean, almost Borgiaesque, tale of this family, Dream often (but not always) at the centre of the tale. The saga encompasses high fantasy, dark horror, historical saga and old folklore. Sometimes in the same issue. The parallels with Doctor Who will not be lost on bloggers. This tale is about a Lord of Dreams who can lift us to the heights of elation or into sheer, hiding behind the sofa terror. In one memorable issue, he berates a truly chilling nightmare for not being all it could have become, dismissively banishing him for being just something else for people to be afraid of, rather than a dark mirror to hold up to the souls of us poor mortals.
There are more parallels with the Doctor. Dream is a being who finds it difficult to relate to the beings in his charge. While he takes on some companions, he finds it difficult to truly relate to them, even to his own family. He is distracted, aloof, sometimes even mystified by human (or other races’) behaviour. His sister, Death, on the other hand, proves to be possibly the most human character in the entire run.
The Sandman is, in many ways, the tale of an all powerful entity’s journey to discover the meaning in his existence. And the limits he finds when he embarks on that journey. The Sandman is also a story about stories. About the power of stories. About the stories we tell ourselves to get through the day. About the grand stories we tell each other to make sense of our lives. We range in the saga from the dreams of a small, ill treated cat to the dreams of entire cities themselves. And where do stories exert more power than in the realm of dreams?
If you only read one comic in your life, I would urge you to read this one. Gaiman elevates the art to true literature. I wonder, knowing now of Gaiman’s interest in Doctor Who, whether the Doctor had some influence in his portrait of Dream. I think it might have. I’d love other bloggers to read Sandman and let me know what they think. Thanks for sticking with me. Sorry about the banging. I’ll go and feed the Unspeakable Thing in the Cellar now. Someone has to. But that’s another story.