Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

“If this is your first encounter with the world of the Sandman, it is worth bearing in mind that the Endless are not gods, for when people cease to believe in gods, they cease to exist. But as long as there are people to live and dream and destroy, to desire, to despair, to delight or go mad, to live lives and affect each other, then the Endless will be there, performing their functions. They do not care a jot whether or not you believe in them.”
From the Introduction

Endless Nights is a collection of seven stories, each about one of the Endless, and each illustrated by a different artist: Glenn Fabry, Milo Manara, Miguelanxo Padro, Frank Quitely, P. Craig Russell, Bill Sienkiewicz and Barron Storey. Of the seven stories, only two – Delirium’s and Destruction’s – are set after the events at the end of the Sandman series. But the references to what happened are subtle enough to make the stories spoiler-free for anyone new to the Sandman. And I actually think that this book would be a very good introduction to the series – better than the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes.
I kind of knew from the start that I would find this book perfect. How could I not? My favourite author, what is probably my favourite of the things he’s created, and wonderful artwork. And yet I avoided it for five years, the reason being that it was comforting to know that there were Sandman stories out there that I hadn’t yet read. That there were some corners of that universe left for me to explore. That it wasn’t over yet. And you know what’s funny? Now that I’ve read the book, I still haven’t lost that feeling. I still don’t feel that it’s over. I think of the world of the Sandman and I get the same old feeling of elation and longing. It feels like those stories exist, and it doesn’t matter if they ever get written or not. I guess that’s what happens with the best of fictional worlds. They gain a life of their own. They become a part of our own personal mythologies.

I think my favourite stories are Dream’s, Death’s and Desire’s, but there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t like. In Dream’s story, “The Heart of a Star”, Lord Morpheus first learns that love and vulnerability cannot be disentangled. “The Heart of a Star” sheds light on the enmity between Dream and Desire, and it also gives us a glimpse of Delight. This story also has my absolute favourite artwork in the book. Miguelanxo Prado did a splendid job, creating soft-coloured and dreamlike imagines that suit the story perfectly.

In “Death in Venice”, we are told of an island whose inhabitants sought to deter the course of time – and thus to stop Death. Desire’s story, “What I’ve Tasted of Desire”, is about the life of a woman whose desire “burned like a forest fire”. “Fifteen Portraits of Despair” is gut-wrenching, especially the fourth portrait, which involves terrible things happening to cats. I read it at my own peril, really. I had been warned back in 2003, when Neil said,
“If it's any consolation (and I'm sure it won't be), the story of the cats is one of those things that really happened; I ran into in a local newspaper, and I couldn't get it out of my head, so I wrote it as fiction, to see if that made it any better, and it didn't really."
I think knowing that it really happened only makes it worse (but then again, I think I'd have known it has happened in reality even if he hadn't said it. I have heard of similar things happening to dogs). This is a story that will haunt me for a very, very long time, and part of me really wants to erase it from my mind. But I don’t regret having read it, because terrible though it is, it’s a very powerful story that conveys despair perfectly. And what would fifteen portraits of Despair be, if not gut-wrenching?

I could go on and on about the other stories on Endless Nights, but I think I’ll stop now. I’ll just add that this book perfectly illustrates the reasons why I love The Sandman so much. These stories are intelligent, powerful, and relevant. It’s what Neil said in the introduction – they are stories about people who dream and desire and destroy and despair and all the rest. They are stories about what it means to be human.


Heather Johnson said...

I've been hearing lots about this author but I haven't read any of his work yet. I'm guessing this might be a good place to start ...

Nymeth said...

Yup, it would be a good place to start :) I hope you enjoy his work!

gautami tripathy said...

I suppose I better rob my nephew of his Sandman series. He barely lets me touch those!

tanabata said...

I picked this up when we were in England but haven't read it since I knew it was technically last in the Sandman series and I usually like to read in order. I flipped through it last night though and the art is fantastic. And since you say it might be a good introduction, I think I might try to read it soon. Thanks. :)