on August 13, 1999
"Dream Country" contains 4 unrelated stories about Dream and Death. The first story, "Dream of a Thousand Cats" is an amusing tale, but it does not deserve an entire issue to tell. It could have easily been one of the stories told to Rose by the old women in "Kindly Ones" and taken up only a few pages.
The second tale "Calliope" is much better, but is still missing that Gaiman magic. It does however, introduce us to one of Sandman's great loves and mother of his only child. It's a good story, but it's unoriginal.
The third tale is the real treat. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" takes off from a chapter in "Doll's House" where Dream tells William Shakespeare to write 2 plays for him. Shakespeare and his troop of actors perform Midsummer Night's Dream on a grassy hill in the English Countryside for the actual fairies that are represented in the play. It's a wonderful story and the art is just breathtaking.
The last one, "Facade", doesn't include Dream. Instead it focuses on an obscure super-heroine of the 60's and how she longs for a normal life which is granted by Death. It's a moving story, the kind of super-hero tale that only Neil could write. Super powers may be great, but being a normal person would be much more appealing sometimes.
All in all, Dream Country is not the best collection of Sandman stories, but "Midsummer Night's Dream" is the single best Sandman issue and actually won a slew of awards. It's worth checking out for that tale alone.
on July 2, 2002
Yeah, I know it's not the first volume in the series. But I don't think Neil Gaiman really hit his stride until Dream Country. As this collection is a bunch of stand alone short stories, I think it makes an excellent book get people hooked on the Sandman.
There's Calliope, a one-hit novelist's muse really is one of the muses. He rapes and abuses his muse -- bad news when her ex comes to the rescue. Creepy, creepy story. Best of all, the collection includes the script to this story.
A Dream of A Thousand Cats... A charming tale that shows what cats dream of, and why those dreams will never be reality.
A Midsummer Night's Dream .. The real Oberon, Titania and Puck (and other fairies) attend the first performance of Shakespeare's classic play. Simply magical with superb art by Charles Vess.
Facades ... The life of a has-been superheroine. It takes a silly and forgotten character and makes her painfully human.
All of these stories are must-reads -- each told with different styles. What a wonderful way to sample what comics can be.
on October 4, 1996
This collection contains two of Gaiman's best short stories. "Dream of a Thousand Cats," with its gorgeous artwork by Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, is one of the great ironic cat stories. And "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which actually won a World Fantasy Award. The Award committee was so chagrined by the notion of a comic book winning the prize that they changed the rules to prevent such an abomination from ever happening again. Ah, what fools these mortals be. The collection also includes, as a bonus, a copy of Gaiman's script for another story, "Calliope," in which the magician shows us how the illusion is created. In one of his panel descriptions we see the key to his method: "NOW I WANT TO GET ACROSS THE RAPE, AND THE HORROR AND THE DOMINANCE, FAIRLY SUBTLY, DOING ALL THE WORK IN THE READER'S HEAD." Yes, indeed. That's where Gaiman always does his best work. In the reader's head
on March 29, 2003
"Mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all of you."
- Death of the Endless, in "Facade", herein
"Calliope" in some ways is the most interesting entry; Gaiman has also included his script for Calliope, as annotated during his conversations with the artist. Gaiman emphasizes that this isn't the One True Way of scriptwriting - but a student would have to look long and hard to find a better published example. The script supplies both dialogue and detailed descriptions of the accompanying visual images the artist should capture, also documenting their origins. (Failing author Rick Madoc's workspace, for instance, is based on Gaiman's own, without the Groucho Marx statue.)
Calliope and Dream were once lovers, but the fate of their son (one of the key elements of the Sandman mosaic, in FABLES AND REFLECTIONS) caused a rift between them that never healed. Like Dream, Calliope has spent much of the 20th century as a mortal's prisoner - in her case, Erasmus Fry captured her as she made a nostalgic visit to Greece in 1927, and rather than wooing her, forced her to provide inspiration. Now an old man, Erasmus as the story opens has sold her to Rick Madoc, who wants to break his writer's block before the deadline of his second novel falls due. (Forced inspiration involves Madoc raping Calliope, telling himself she's not really human.) Tasting success, Madoc gets greedy, and continues to exploit Calliope as he rises to fame and fortune - and enough time passes for Dream, an ultimate source of inspiration with a gift for epic vengeance, to escape his *own* unfortunate incarceration.
"A Dream of a Thousand Cats" is the message preached by a mother who learned the true depths of the falsehood of feline independence, when her humans drowned the litter sired by her first lover, a stray tom whose bloodline wasn't 'good enough' for a purebred Siamese. In her grief, she sought the heart of the dreaming for justice, revelation, and wisdom. A dead crow there, denying first justice and then wisdom, directed her to the king of dreams - another aspect of Dream, just as Nada and the last Martian saw him differently than the usual artist's portrayal. The truth the nameless mother brought back from the dreamworld - of how humans came to dominate cats, and what it *really* takes to change the world - is very powerful, despite the savage irony of the long odds against her.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (by Neil Gaiman and William Shakespeare) picks up the thread of Dream's working relationship with Will Shakespeare, begun in "Men of Good Fortune" in THE DOLL'S HOUSE. (The bargain is concluded in the last story of THE WAKE.) The artist, Charles Vess, later collaborated with Gaiman on his full-length novel of Faerie, STARDUST.
Lord Strange's Men - the acting company in which Shakespeare worked as both actor and playwright before joining the Lord Chamberlain's Men - have left London to tour the provinces after their patron's death (historical fact; Gaiman cannot typically be caught out in any continuity error). Here at Wendel's Mound in Sussex, Dream has called in one of the chips owed him by Shakespeare in exchange for inspiration. (Dream sees nothing unusual in the choice of stage, as this was a theatre long before the coming of Shakespeare's people to the island. "The Normans?" "The humans.")
A performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' for the *real* Auberon and Titania, whose people have long since left the mortal plane, but who have accepted Dream's invitation to a single night's entertainment, in thanks for the diversion their people have provided for Dream in his eternal existence. This story marks the first overlap between Faerie and the Sandman storyline, introducing not only the royals, but the shadowy figure (noted, with a most-wanted flavor, as being still at large) of the Puck. [As the real Peaseblossom says, "'I am that merry wanderer of the night'? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to-life-and-limb, more like it.'" "Shh, Peaseblossom. The Puck might *hear* you!" The by-play in the audience is well written.]
The characters of Lord Strange's Men are dead-on accurate, with Richard Burbage (technically the best actor) taking Oberon's part, Shakespeare as Duke Theseus, and Will Kemp (the strongest comedian, whose insistence on ad-libbing eventually caused his break with the company, as Shakespeare preferred people to stick with his scripts) as Bottom the weaver. The *real* price Shakespeare has paid for his inspiration, though, can be seen in his relationship with his young son Hamnet, experiencing a rare few weeks of his father's company - in the silent part of the boy servant over whom Oberon and Titania quarrel in the play, an irony that deepens as we see the reaction of the real Fair Folk to him. The Puck can't resist the temptation of playing himself on stage...
"Facade" Urania Blackwell was once the superhero Element Girl, long forgotten by the intelligence agency that persuaded her to use the Orb of Ra to trade her humanity for superpowers, then shelved her. The one shape she can't take for long is that of an ordinary human; 'putting on her face' involves forming short-lived clay masks from her own substance, to be able to pass. She has lost the will to live, existing as a shut-in on a "company" pension, and has only 2 kinds of dreams - bad and terrible. (Ordinary nightmares are only bad dreams; the *terrible* dreams are those in which she lives a normal life, then wakes to find that she's still a metamorph.) Death, not Dream, appears in this one, but not to end Urania's life - she heard Urania crying while collecting a neighbour woman who'd fallen from a ladder. After all, as Death points out, she just has a job to do; people make their own fates, and put their own interpretation on her job, whether as gift or punishment.
on April 25, 2014
First up, all of the 10 volumes of The Sandman novels deserve 5 stars. They are a phenomenal acheivement in not only graphic novels but in storytelling itself. The story is complex and cerebral and the characters so well developed that Sandman is one of my favorite stories period. The novels are intensely violent and often disturbing but everything that happens serves a purpose, and nothing happens by chance or just for the sake of things happening. Something that happens in one volume may become vitally important 3 or 4 volumes later. By the end of the 10th volume everything has come full circle with an appropriate and satisfying end.
With regards to Volume 3 itself it is exceptionally good, with some clever takes on historical events. This volume consists of 4 different, unrelated short stories. While Morpheus plays a role in 3 of the 4 he is more of a minor character than the primary focus. The first story focuses on Calliope, a former lover of Morpheus, who has been imprisoned by a writer to be used for inspiration. The second story concerns a cat whose kittens were killed by humans. She seeks out Morpheus who shows her an alternate reality where cats are the dominant lifeform. The third story concerns Morpheus' involvement in Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream. This story won a World Fantasy Award, the first comic to do so. The final story is about a minor DC superhero, Element Girl, who is retired and ashamed of her appearance. She wants to die but cannot because she is invulnerable. She meets Death and asks her to speak to the sun god Ra and allow her to die.
As far as the volume's content on the Kindle Fire - I was hesitant to abandon the volumes in print worried that the Kindle Fire might provide a more difficult viewing experience. That hasn't turned out the be the case. The novel is easy to read, you can scan in to specific boxes, and the colors are vibrant.
I’ve been re-reading a lot of books that I enjoyed years ago recently and it’s been very rewarding for the most part, rediscovering books I loved all over again. Unfortunately Sandman - a series I really liked the first time round - is not among them and it’s so disappointing! What I remember of Sandman was that the first two volumes weren’t that great (and that checks out) but that the series starts to take off in this third volume, Dream Country, and… it doesn’t. It’s basically stuck in the mud for the third time.
Unlike the last two books which were lengthy narratives, Dream Country is a series of four thematically linked short stories with Dream and Death making cameos but not taking centre stage. I almost gave up this re-read after the first few pages where we see a woman getting raped. Wow, this was darker than I remembered! If I never see another rape in a comic, it’ll be too soon.
That story is Calliope where a desperate author attempts to overcome writer’s block by taking the physical manifestation of Homer’s muse back to his house, locking her in a room, and raping her for years. Turns out rape is just what he needs because he becomes a terrific success - except he doesn’t realise that Calliope is Morpheus’ ex. And the Dream King has very recent unpleasant memories of being held against his will…
I suppose it’s a noteworthy story for giving the reader more of Morpheus’ life story - he has a son, he had a partner - and it sets up one of the book’s two main themes: disguise/deception. But I felt the writer’s success was contrived and unconvincing and the story overall deeply repulsive. Not a good start at all and it may have coloured my overall perception of the book for the worse.
The second story is a whimsical fable of talking cats, one of whom recounts the story of how they once ruled the world until the humans dreamed that they were the rulers and reversed the roles. It’s cute and underlines the series theme of the power of dreams, and this volume’s other major theme of power displacement, but it’s kinda forgettable. It’s also the first time we see Morpheus live up to his name, shape-shifting from his human-ish form into a Dream cat, showing that he is Dream for all beings, not just humans.
The World Fantasy Award-winning A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the third and best story of the book. It’s 1593 and Will Shakespeare and his troupe of actors, Lord Strange’s Men, are in the provinces, about to perform Shakespeare’s Dream for the first time - and in front of a unique audience of faerie folk, guests of the Dream King himself.
I’m quite surprised that this is the second story in the book where a writer has had their abilities gifted to them by an ethereal presence. It annoys me a bit that Neil Gaiman is, in a way, undercutting humanity’s achievements by saying this - it’s just so reductive! And, though I can appreciate the clever way that Gaiman basically retells the Dream during the performance of the Dream (with Dream in the audience), it still felt like a pretty flat story.
But I am a huge fan of Charles Vess’ art and his Robin Goodfellow was wonderfully creepy (think a smaller Grinch-esque figure with a twisted mindset). And that scene between the Lady Titania (the real Faerie Queene) and Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, was especially chilling, as she hints of a plan to abduct him to her realm. In real life, Hamnet would die three years later aged 11 and a few years after that Shakespeare would write Hamlet, but the suggestion that Titania stole him away to live amongst the faeriefolk is both charming and horrifying at once - a brilliant writerly flourish from Gaiman.
The fourth and final story closes out the volume on the same miserable tone it opened with as Urania Blackwell aka DC superhero and Metamorpho-lookalike Element Girl sits alone in a flat, depressed and suicidal. Yup, this is the sad death of a minor superhero! Yeesh…
Goth chick Death makes a cameo that lightens the mood a bit but otherwise this wasn’t that great a story either. Again it hits the themes of power transference and deception (she can change her appearance using different elements), but that unshakeable gloomy tone is hard to like. This came out in the early 90s and it’s clear we’re still feeling the after effects of Alan Moore’s Watchmen where all superheroes must be dark and gritty beyond belief. I’m just not into that.
On the whole I wasn’t that impressed with Gaiman’s work in this book. Midsummer is the only story worth reading while the others range from horrible to miserable to lightweight. Charles Vess’ artwork is great and, though I didn’t love it, there’s nothing wrong with Kelley Jones, Colleen Doran and Malcolm Jones III’s work here. I almost want to stop re-reading the series now and preserve my fond memories of the later books - what if the rest of Sandman is as average as the first three volumes are? Eh, in this instance I’ll take reality over dreams - onwards!
(By the way, if you like Vess’ art and faerie stories, check out Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, illustrated by Vess with a corking collection of tales by Clarke!)
on March 15, 2001
I just want to offset these other reviews a little and point something out about them: Even though they all say that it's the worst of the series, or at any rate, not the best, and they use some pretty disappointed language to speak of it, the lowest anyone gave it was three out of five stars. That's still pretty high, and I don't think that all the reviews remembered to point out that even a low-quality Sandman collection is still an amazing work of fiction. Put simply, the Sandman is one of the most amazing stories I've ever read. I would argue that someone who wants to read the entire Sandman story should read the collections of shorts in addition to the stories which directly serve the greater plot. Dream Country and Fables and Reflections help create atmosphere, and they reveal things about Dream's past and personality. Also, it must be noted that "The Kindly Ones," in wrapping up the story line, uses at least one element from every single one of the eight collections before it, including this one-- Puck's in it, remember? So this does serve the greater plot. I thought that "Midsummer Night's Dream" was a brilliant story, and I say poo to all the reviewers who weren't as impressed by it. The idea is brilliant, the writing is fantastic, that final scene is incredible... and the story contains arguably the best quote in the entire Sandman series: "Something need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow truths that will endure long after mere fact is but dust and ashes, and forgot." Dream Country is worth buying for that story alone, and the others are also strong, particularly "Dream of a Thousand Cats." It's worth buying so that you understand Puck's involvement in "The Kindly Ones." Plus, wouldn't you want to own the whole collection?
on March 29, 2002
By this point in Sandman, Neil Gaiman had hit his stride as a writer and was doing some high quality stories, including, notably for this volume, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the first comic to win the World Fantasy Award.
As a run-down, "Calliope" delves into Dream's past and present, allowing him to encounter a former lover, the muse Calliope, who like him is being imprisoned by a greedy mortal. This issue more than the others offers some insight into future Sandman stories, as Calliope and Dream's coupling led to the birth of Orpheus.
"Facade" may have been the weakest entry, though any chance to see Death shine and offer advise is generally worth the price of admission as Gaiman uses the opportunity to dig up a long-forgotten minor superheroine and her horrifying loneliness.
"Night of a Thousand Cats" is a charming little tale, not unlike a lot of Gaiman's single issue stories, like those seen in the "Fables and Reflections" volume of this series.
And finally, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a real charmer, where Gaiman works historical figures in with mythological ones. Anyone familiar with either the play or English folklore will probably get a stupendous kick out of this. And even if you aren't, there's enough charm in the tale, and the full ramifications of Shakespeare's deal with Dream become apparent.
The only real complaint I had about this one was that it was too short. For the price I paid, and given the length of other volumes, I think I was expected more than four stories.
on January 2, 2014
In volume three of the Sandman series, Neil Gaiman takes a break from serialized storytelling to give us four one-off tales about the central character and the world that he inhabits. I feel that these stories don't quite measure up to what's come before in the series, but they are still pretty good. Since their are so few stories, I think I'll look at each and explain what I liked/didn't like.
The first story in Dream Country is Calliope, introducing some Greek mythology into the series. The story serves as a good foil for Morpheus's imprisonment and shows how he has developed as a character, but I feel like the artwork wasn't up to par. Calliope's facial expressions weren't selling her pain half of the time.
The second story, a dream of a thousand cats, is my least favorite of the four. This story abandons humans in favor of telling a story from the perspective of - you guessed it - cats! The artwork returned back to form, and some of the story was interesting, but it mostly seemed like an elaborate set-up for one joke at the end. It just didn't click with me.
The third story was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. This is the story that Sandman fans drool over, and I did like it, but not as much as the fourth story. Fortunately, I have read Shakespeare's play in college, which does help you enjoy the story. What impressed me most about this story was that it managed to be both the most dialogue heavy I have scene a Sandman comic and have some of the greatest artwork I've seen in comics. It has plenty of great jokes and character development. If I had to explain why it isn't my favorite story, I guess I would have to say it felt too cluttered. This story tried to do a lot and succeeds at most of it, but it just needed some more room to breathe, if that makes sense.
So finally, we have facade, my favorite story in Dream Country. Weirdly, this story disregards Morpheus in favor of his sister Death and an old DC character, element girl. One great thing about this series is that even if you're not familiar with the DC universe and don't recognize people, Gaiman does such a good job developing them it doesn't matter. This story is a very moving, emotional story in a way the others aren't, and features a great speech by Death near the end. I can't really say more without spoiling what happens.
It is annoying that I have to pay the same price as other volumes for less story, and I'll carry on.
on March 18, 2015
Excellent Story. Highly recommended for a reason.
As a comic book fan I know most people probably imagine the world of comics as being about super heroes or Sunday Funnies. But, the comic medium is worthy of so much more.
Sandman is that "much more". The story is excellent, and is wonderfully executed. You're going to want to get all of these at once, because they can't be put down.
If you're already a comic book fan, you've likely heard of Sandman. So what are you waiting for? Read this already!
If you aren't already a comic book fan, maybe it's time to give it a chance. If any story is going to change your mind about the possibilities of this art form, this is the one.