Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Books Of Magic, Book Four

The individual title of each volume of Neil Gaiman's The Books Of Magic is given on the title page but not on the front cover so they come as a surprise. Book Four is The Road To Nowhere (New York, 1991). Mr E and Timothy Hunter, like HG Wells' Time Traveler, visit the near, then the far, future.

When asked whether he can travel into the future, John Constantine replies:

"Only like everyone else, boss. You know. One minute at a time." (p. 4)

One minute per minute is enduring, not traveling. Travel requires two kinds of units, eg, one mile per minute. One objective century per one subjective minute would be time dilation, not time travel, although, in certain circumstances, this is called "time travel." I discuss this on the Logic of Time Travel Blog.

I think that E contradicts himself. He insists that they are truly in the future, but then unhelpfully adds "...or futures" (p. 5), but then says that what they are seeing is only a possibility that may never happen (p. 7). He describes the future as many possibilities, none of them definite, and explains that time travelers visit only the most probable. It follows that time travelers setting off from different times will travel through different futures. This contradicts Merlin in Book One definitely stating that his future was single, known by him and unalterable. I know that Merlin was in our past but he was talking about his future.

There will obviously be a lot more to post on this topic.

The Books Of Magic, Book Three

In Neil Gaiman's The Books Of Magic: The Land Of Summer's Twilight (New York, 1991), the fantasy character, Doctor Occult, guides Timothy Hunter through Faerie and they meet various characters from Gaiman's The Sandman:

Baba Yaga;
a talking hedgehog;
Titania;
Morpheus;
Cain;
Abel;
Hamnet, ie, Hamnet Shakespeare, son of William.

In this volume, Doctor Occult is mysteriously addressed as "Melchior" and also metamorphoses into "Rose Spiritus" who tells Tim that, after entering the service of the Seven, she journeyed to the Mansions of Madness where she learned nine songs, eighteen charms and nine times nine names. The attached image shows Occult mentioning the Seven but I do not know whether Gaiman invented the nine songs, eighteen charms and eighty one names to give the character extra depth.

From Faerie, Tim and Occult visit other DC Comics venues:

Skartaris - like ER Burroughs' Pellucidar, a place with dinosaurs inside the Earth;
the world of Jim Rook, Nightmaster;
Gemworld;
Hell, where we glimpse Etrigan the Demon;
the Dreaming.

Titania has said that these places do not exist. The Dreaming is dreamed. In addition, Occult tells Tim that the damned create Hell and are freed when they realize this.

Fiction On Fiction

Neil Gaiman writes fictitious characters who speak about fiction:

Arion of Atlantis to Tim Hunter:

"...where humanity gets it wrong, by your time, is in imagining Atlantis as having any kind of quantifiable existence.
"Which of course it hasn't; not in the way they imagine, anyway.
"There have been an awful lot of Atlantises, will be quite a few more.
"It's just a symbol. A symbol of the art.
"The true Atlantis is inside you, just as it's inside all of us. The sunken land is lost beneath the dark sea, lost beneath the waves of wet, black stories and myths that break upon the shores of our minds.
"Atlantis is the shadow-land, the birth-place of civilization. The fair land in the West that is forever lost to us, but remains forever, true birth-place and true goal.
"It is Lyonesse, and Avalon, and Hy-Brasail."
- Neil Gaiman, The Invisible Labyrinth (New York, 1990), p. 27

There have been many Atlantises because every author imagines the lost island differently. Arion inhabits one DC Comics Atlantis but other versions have been visited, for example, by Doctor Who and a companion and by time travelers in Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis.

Titania to Tim Hunter:

"You wish to see the distant realms? Very well.
"But know this first: the places you will visit, the places that you will see, do not exist.
 "For there are only two worlds...your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy.
"Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there.
"These worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power, provide refuge, and pain.
"They give your world meaning.
"They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters. Do you understand?"

Tim: "No."

- Neil Gaiman, The Land Of Summer's Twilight (New York, 1991), p. 34.

It is harder for Tim to understand because, although Titania says that his world is the real world, he also is a fictitious character visiting fictitious realms - so how is he to see the difference? Titania spells out that our real world would be meaningless if it contained no non-existent fictions.

The Books Of Magic, Book Two

The DC Comics character, Deadman, is a ghost who acts in the world by temporarily possessing living bodies. During Neil Gaiman's The Books Of Magic, Book Two, Deadman addresses Tim Hunter several times from different bodies, under his original name of Boston Brand.

John Constantine to Tim:

"I said I'd be introducing you to a few people, didn't I? Well, most of them live in America, so that's where we're going."
- Neil Gaiman, The Shadow World (New York, 1990), p. 2.

In other words, DC Comics are published in the US so most of their characters live there! British writers, Moore and Gaiman, created the British characters, Constantine and Hunter.

Constantine elaborates:

"...when I was a kid, I thought America was a magic land...They had all this incredible stuff, you know, pizzas, and fire hydrants, and Hollywood, and the Empire State Building. And they had superheroes, and magic, and aliens, and, I dunno, all we had was Supercar." (p. 4)

"Supercar" was before Tim's time. Constantine must be referring to the TV series, produced in the UK, not to any real Supercar, because the series was set in the US.

In Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion, Neil Gaiman says:

"...there was a generation in the UK who'd grown up reading DC Comics from a bizarre perspective...The idea of a place that looked like New York, the idea of fire hydrants and pizzerias, was as strange to us as the idea that anyone would wear a cape and fly over them."
-The Sandman Companion (New York, 1999), p. 20.

Reality, Gaiman's experience, and fiction, Constantine's experience, overlap.

The two Brits visit the stage magician, Zatanna, daughter of Zatarra, seen in Book One. Tim had seen Zatanna on Jonathan Ross, "...that guy who does Letterman in England."  (The Shadow World, p. 34) Ross reads comics, knows Gaiman and would certainly interview Zatanna if she visited the UK so that, here again, reality and fiction come very close.

Describing the DC character, the Spectre, Constantine tells Tim:

"...sometimes it's practically the most powerful thing in the universe. Sometimes it's little more than a bloke in white tights and a green hood. It's been up and down the occult league tables faster than a whore's drawers." (p. 11)

Please, Constantine, this is a comic book about magic and Tim is twelve. What he is describing here is the ways that different writers have treated the Spectre.

In the US, they meet or at least see:

Boston Brand;
Madame Xanadu;
the Spectre;
Doctor Fate;
Baron Winter (in fact, they visit Winter's house where Zatarra and Sargon died in a seance);
Jason Blood (Constantine had consulted Blood about the Lupus affair which, according to The Sandman, took him to Alaska for six months);
Doctor Thirteen, the debunker;
Zatanna;
Tala, a queen of evil working as a waitress between engagements;
Tannarak, owner of the Bewitched Club where Tim suddenly realizes that even the animal-headed people are not wearing masks;
the Wizard, Zatarra's former opponent;
Felix Faust, a Justice League of America villain;
Hyacinth and Leander, a two-headed guy who may or may not have appeared before.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Books Of Magic, Book One

Warner Brothers publishes Harry Potter films and Tim Hunter comics. Potter and Hunter are British schoolboys with glasses and powerful magicians with owls. Neil Gaiman created Hunter for a four issue Prestige Format mini-series, The Books Of Magic, to define the place of magic in the DC Universe under the categories of past, present, future and the far lands, although this excludes extraterrestrial magic which had existed in the earlier, pre-Crisis, DC multiverse.

Hunter's mentors are the Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult, John Constantine and Mister E, three well-established characters and one who, at about the same time, appeared in his own miniseries. Constantine tells Tim:

"...don't try to bite me. There are things in my blood stream you really don't want in your mouth."
- Neil Gaiman, The Invisible Labyrinth (New York, 1990), p. 10.

In his own title, John Constantine: Hellblazer, Constantine received a blood transfusion from the demon Nergal and prevented a cult's divine incarnation by contaminating their Mary.

Tim tells the four-man "Trenchcoat Brigade" (p. 5) that he believed in magic when he was a kid and sometimes wishes "...there was magic..." (p. 11). Gaiman tells us elsewhere that he believed in the Sandman when he was a child and swore that he would always remember.

The Stranger shows Tim the past by time traveling invisibly, mostly without interacting. They see:

the void;
the beginning;
the silver city, which the Stranger cannot approach (in Alan Moore's Secret Origins story, the Stranger was a neutral angel, cast out by both sides after the War in Heaven);
Lucifer falling;
six archangels;
the molten Earth;
demons;
dinosaurs;
Arion of Atlantis, who addresses Tim without seeing or hearing him because he knows by spells that he is there;
cave magic;
the Nile;
the Yellow River;
a werewolf;
Pan;
the witch-queen;
Merlin, canny enough to see them;
Jason Blood;
medieval witchcraft;
the old religion in the forests and high places and beside the great stones;
Faerie leaving as science rises - a parallel with Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children;
Doctor Fate;
Zatara, who first appeared in Action Comics no 1, the same issue as Superman, and died at a seance led by Constantine in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing no 50;
Sargon the Sorcerer, who died at the same seance.

Listing the contents shows me that there is more in this one Book than I had realized.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is a DC Comics super-villain attracted to the Batman. She also fought Thorn and Wonder Woman and joined the Secret Society of Super-Villains in various periodicals.

Secret Origins was a monthly comic book retelling the origins of DC characters. Very often the "retelling" was simply a present day story during which the origin was recalled or recounted. Neil Gaiman wrote the Poison Ivy origin, making it consistent with concurrent events in the DC Universe.

In another monthly title, Suicide Squad, imprisoned super-criminals like the Penguin and Captain Boomerang were given the opportunity to redeem themselves by accepting a mission for the US government. Thus, in Gaiman's story, an intelligence agent arrives to interview the imprisoned Pamela Isley, and of course learns her origin, without, at this preliminary stage, mentioning the Suicide Squad.

We are led to believe that Pamela will seduce the agent into helping her to escape whereas, instead, he recommends her transfer to Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Gotham City, where, shortly afterwards, she is due to be visited by Gaiman's own revised version of another plant-related feminine character, Black Orchid, in the three issue Prestige Format Black Orchid.

Thus, Gaiman's Secret Origins story fits between Suicide Squad and Black Orchid and is one part of his DC Universe canon which also features Alan Moore's plant elemental but, principally, Gaiman's own version of the Lord of Dreams in The Sandman.

Smallville: Vortex

"Vortex" is the first episode of the second season of the Smallville TV series. Many personal relationships remain unresolved: too many to list here. Lex has the opportunity to turn evil but doesn't, yet.

How will Nixon, the journalist who knows too much about Clark, be disposed of? Will he be killed by the tornado, as I expected? Too easy. Will Jonathan kill him? Too out of character. Will he sympathize with the Kents after being incarcerated with Jonathan? Too implausible. Will he try to kill Jonathan but be shot just in time by Lex Luthor? Yes. So Lex carries a gun - and has now killed a man. We ought to see more of how he and, presumably, Jonathan square this
with the police.

The underlying tragedy continues to be the Kent's dishonesty. Nixon tells Jonathan that Lex paid him. Lex tells Clark that he did not. Jonathan points out to Clark that one of them must be lying. But Jonathan himself is lying and pressurizing Clark to lie continually to everybody, including Lana, Chloe, Pete and Lex.

Will Clark fly to rescue Lana in the tornado? We do not
see him do it. Even he is confused about what happened. But he felt as if he was flying. Lana, like us, remembers seeing him in her truck but he denies that he was there. Lana as ever senses that Clark is holding something back. Neither she nor Chloe is satisfied with the outcome.

But this is DC Comics fiction. We are free to imagine an "imaginary story" or Elseworld in which Clark, defying Jonathan, confides in the four named friends and they become a team, a superman with backup. Lex would be able to organize secret scientific investigation of Clark's powers and might later become President while still working with the now flying and costumed Clark.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Eyes And Mouths

I stopped reading Poul Anderson's prose fiction so that I could reread and post about Neil Gaiman's graphic fiction. However, my daughter has just given me Iain M Banks' first three Culture novels so I have started to read those. They are fitting subject matter for the Science Fiction blog.

However, comics fans will be interested to learn that the central character of the first Culture novel has a nightmare that is already well known to readers of Gaiman's The Sandman series:

"He slept fitfully; his dreams woke him.
"Ghosts chased him in echoing docks and silent, deserted ships and, when he turned to face them, their eyes were always waiting, like targets, like mouths; and the mouths swallowed him, so that he fell into the eye's black mouth..."
- Banks, Consider Philebas (London, 2013), p. 327.

Presents also included Smallville, Season 2, which will provide subject matter for Comics Appreciation.

And Death Says...

In the previous post, I quoted one goddess, Ishtar, and two of the Endless, Dream and Destiny, on what happens to gods. Dream mentions dying and Destiny mentions Death but I forgot to quote the remaining member of the elder three, Death herself. In Volume 3 of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Death illuminates the stage between a deity's return to the Dreaming and his or her death there:

"Rainie, mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all of you."
- Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 109.

Thus, Ra can keep creating metamorphae like the suicidal super-heroine, Rainie, aka Element Girl, and Rainie can address Ra by looking at the Sun.

There is also a stage between losing full divine power and returning to the Dreaming:

Ishtar and Pharamond have diversified;
Bast is old and impoverished but still receives a few prayers;
for the Aesir, it seems to be business as usual with Odin in Asgard, Loki bound and the Ragnarok anticipated.

Do all these mythologies fit into a single, consistent framework? Well, they never really did so Gaiman addresses them appropriately by leaving their boundaries vague.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Where Do Gods Go?

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, this question is answered in three stages.

In Volume 7, Ishtar, a retired goddess, tells Roger, the manager of Suffragette City, that gods:

begin in the Dreaming;
walk into the Land, where they are worshiped;
return to the Dreaming when they are no longer worshiped;
do not know what happens to them after that.

But the Endless know. In Volume 6, Dream tells Augustus that gods die in the Dreaming. This means that they pass from Dream's realm to that of his older sister, Death.

In Volume 2, Dream's and Death's older brother, Destiny, tells us the readers that gods pass from Death into non-existence although the Endless endure. Thus, we know what Ishtar and Augustus do not.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

What Destiny Says To The Churches

Well, Destiny does not address only the churches but I thought that it was appropriate to echo the Apocalypse where "...the Spirit says to the churches..." John Milton invoked that Spirit when writing Paradise Lost. In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, we see not only Lucifer fallen and Eve in a cave but also Destiny and Homer's muse, Calliope.

CS Lewis argued that:

Homer wrote primary epics about life in the heroic age;
Virgil wrote a secondary epic about a historical turning point - Rome;
Milton, applying Classical form to Biblical content, wrote an ultimate epic about the history of everything from before Genesis to after the Apocalypse.

The Sandman, combining words with pictures, mythologies with cosmology and the historical with the contemporary, presents a vaster perspective than Milton's: a billion years have passed; we see Loki, Kali and Bast.

Destiny addresses the reader in the Introduction to The Sandman: The Doll's House (New York, 1995). Summarizing the story so far, he adds some new information:

Burgess was able to capture Morpheus only because the latter had already been "...tried almost beyond endurance." (p. 8);
the scandal that hit the OAM was caused by legal action brought by children of an elderly woman who had left her money to the Order;
Morpheus created his Ruby when the Earth was still cooling but was dreaming.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Order Of Ancient Mysteries

In "In the beginning...", the Introduction to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Doll's House (New York, 1995), pp. 8-11, Destiny of the Endless informs us that:

"...the Order of Ancient Mysteries...was in no wise Ancient, having been founded only sixteen years earlier..." (p. 8)

I think that Destiny of all beings ought to know better. This organization is called not the Ancient Order of Mysteries but the Order of Ancient Mysteries. It is not possible to found an Ancient Order now but it is certainly possible to found a new Order for the purpose of investigating and studying whatever Ancient Mysteries there may be.

But does Burgess conceal or deny the fact that he has founded the Order and pretend that this organization is as Ancient as the Mysteries that it studies? That would indeed be dishonesty of high degree. I think that Sandman Midnight Theatre, which I must reread, hints at this.

I met a biographer of the founder of Wicca who said, "Gardner was adept at saying things that were true but misleading." When I requested an example, I was told that Gardner asked someone to write a ritual for him, then wrote in one of his books, "Another ritual that I have heard is...," not stating but nevertheless making his readers believe that this was an ancient ritual. I think that deliberately making someone believe an untruth is lying.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Story Lengths

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic book series, three stories have eight episodes:

Preludes And Nocturnes;
The Doll's House;
Season Of Mists -

- and three have six: 

A Game Of You;
Worlds' End;
The Wake -

- although the story of Rose Walker comprises only six episodes of The Doll's House so that, in this case, there is a six-episode story within an eight-episode story. Before I understood what Neil Gaiman was doing with this series, I thought that The Doll's House should be reduced to the six Rose Walker episodes and that the other two episodes ought to be collected in other volumes.

There are three groups of short stories:

Dream Country (4 stories);
Distant Mirrors (3+1);
Convergence (3).

Distant Mirrors is "3+1" because it was published in issues no 29, 30, 31 and 50.

Two longer story lines, Brief Lives with 9 episodes and The Kindly Ones with 13, complete the 75 issue monthly comic book series. 

Iambic Pentameter

Marlowe: I'll stick with boys...my horned "actresses."
Shakespeare: More wine! More ale! And buss me quick, my sweet!
Sweet Kit. The play I gave you. Did you read...?
Marlowe: I must confess I have. I thought it, well...
You act well, Will, but...listen, let me read...
"Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
"Comets importing change of times and states,
"Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
"And with them scourge the bad, revolting stars."
At least it scans. But "bad revolting stars"?
Shakespeare: It's my first play.
Marlowe:                                And it should be your last.
Shakespeare: God's wounds! If only I could write like you!
In Faustus, where you wrote...
"To God! He loves thee not! 
"The God thou servest is thine own appetite, 
"Wherein is fixed the love of Beelzebub.
"To him I'll build an altar and a church,
"And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes."
It chills my blood!
Marlowe:             And so it should, good Will!
Shakespeare: I would give anything to have your gifts.
Or more than anything to give men dreams,
That would live on long after I am dead.
I'd bargain, like your Faustus, for that boon.
Dream: Are you Will Shaxberd?
Shakespeare:                            Aye, sir. Have we met?
Dream: We have. But men forget, in waking hours.
I heard your talk, Will. Would you write great plays?
Create new dreams to spur the minds of men?
Is that your will?
Shakespeare:   It is.
Dream:                    Then let us talk.

Neil Gaiman says on p. 56 of Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion (London, 1999) that he wrote this dialogue (The Sandman: The Doll's House, New York, 1995, pp. 125-127) in iambic pentameter so I have tried to transcribe it accordingly but am not sure whether I have laid out the first three lines of the quotation from Faustus correctly.

This is another parallel with Poul Anderson. Anderson's Shakespearean novel, A Midsummer Tempest, is presented as prose although much of its text is blank verse, one passage is a Shakespearean sonnet and several chapters end in rhyming couplets.                    

Worlds Within Worlds

I discussed this in "Getting Superman Right" but it is worth repeating here. I understand that a "metafiction"is a fictional text that somehow acknowledges its own fictional status.

There is a simple example of metafiction in the concluding James Bond novel. By the end of that series, Bond has gained some notoriety through newspaper reports and popular novels. After disappearing for a year, he returns and recontacts the Ministry of Defense where the telephone receptionist initially dismisses him as just another nut who thinks he is James Bond. That phrase, "...thinks he is James Bond...," used in the fictional world where Bond is a real person, could equally have been used in the real world where he is a fictitious person. Both worlds have in common nuts who think they are James Bond.

There is a powerful use of metafiction in Alan Moore's Marvelman. Michael Moran assures his wife, Elizabeth, that, even if his newly recalled adventures as Marvelman sound like a joke, what happened in 1963 certainly was not. In 1963, the original Marvelman ceased publication... In 1963, the Marvelman family was hit by an A-bomb... Thus, even the cancellation of a comic book can be reinterpreted to dramatic effect in a revived version.

The attached image is panel 1 of p. 62 of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Wake (New York, 1997). I trust that the dialogue is legible on screen. The first speaker is the Clark Kent of Earth DC. We know that he has two other identities but, when he is dressed like that, we call him Clark Kent. This Kent does not dream that he is the Superman either of the original The Adventures Of Superman TV series or of the later Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman TV series. Instead, he dreams that he is a non-super powered inhabitant of Earth Real, specifically either George Reeves or Dean Cain. The Batman (we call him this because he is in costume) dreams of being Adam West. The Martian Manhunter, of course, never dreams about being a human inhabitant of any Earth.

Thus, Earth Real is a dream on Earth DC which is a fiction on Earth Real. Here we have not only a world within a world but also a world within itself.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Omnia Mutantur

Any ancient civilized people used to regard the rest of the world as uncivilized or barbaric whereas now we know that there was more than one ancient civilization.

When the Chinese scholar, Master Li, meets Dream in a "Soft Place" in the Desert of Lop, riders pass and one asks, "Omnia mutantur, nihil interit...?" (Neil Gaiman, The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 140) "All things change; nothing is lost?"

Master Li asks Dream what the barbarian had said. This is ironic because the rider spoke Latin and the English word "barbarian" is derived from the Latin barbarus, meaning "primitive," "uncivilized" or "from outside the Empire." Derivation: those who do not speak Latin sound as if they are saying, "Bah, bah, bah...," or, to put it another way, babbling.

Dream, no doubt, understands all languages because everyone dreams in their own language. There is something in Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion about Dream speaking the language that we hear in the back of our heads...

Addendum: In The Sandman Companion (London, 1999), p. 52, Gaiman says that the language spoken in the Dreaming is "...the language that you hear in the back of your head."

The Wake II

As I said before, many beings speak at Dream's memorial but we read the words spoken only by:

Destiny, Desire, Despair and Delirium of the Endless;
the original comic book Sandman;
the goddess, Bast;
Dream's raven.

However, five female beings had spoken of Dream during the wake the night before:

Homer's muse, Calliope, disliked how Dream treated their son, Orpheus;

the two hundred and fifty year old Mad Hettie thought that Dream was "Never quite as hoity-toity as 'e made 'imself art to be, if you arsk me," and has never tried to spend even one of the rare coins that he gave her (Neil Gaiman, The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 50);

the fairy, Nuala, says, "If I had not loved him, he would not have died" (p. 51);

the fairy queen, Titania, will not share her memories of Dream;

an old witch says, "I swore I would never shed another tear for him," but the image contradicts her words (p. 61).

Quite a testimonial.

Death And Forgetting

The dead drink the water of Lethe which makes them forget.

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic book series, Hob Gadling, the immortal Englishman, advises anyone who asks him that the way to avoid death is simply not to die. Of course, we cannot physically do this and Hob would not have been able to do it either if Death and Dream, walking the waking world, had not overheard and intervened.

In the chronologically last episode of the entire series, Hob's new black girlfriend, Gwen, unwittingly parodies Hob's advice. When, apologizing for the slave trade, in which he had in fact participated, Hob adds, "...you can't just forget about it...", Gwen replies, "Sure you can, Robbie. You know how? You just forget about it." (The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 99)

Gwen's advice sounds easier to follow than Hob's/Robbie's. However, most of us cannot just switch off unwelcome memories by an act of will, especially not when the memories are associated with overwhelming guilt. In fact, is this mental act of just forgetting really any easier than that impossible physical act of just not dying?

In Zen meditation, we cannot prevent the memory of wrong actions from arising but we can:

make reparation, if possible;
but, otherwise, practice non-attachment to the memory;
i.e., neither suppress it nor think about it but accept that it arises and passes. 

Zen connects with certain of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:

Yoga is control of thoughts.
Then, man abides in his real nature.
Otherwise, he remains identified with thoughts.
They are controlled by practice and non-attachment.

Endlessness

Are the Endless literally endless? I find it difficult to come to an end of things to say about the ancient Seven although I will not be able to continue indefinitely. A comprehensive treatment would fill many volumes and would have to be written by a committee of experts in the Bible, several mythologies and much literature, particularly Shakespeare but also including his contemporaries as well as Homer and Virgil.

An adequate commentary would have to elucidate:

Adam and Eve;
Cain and Abel;
Lilith and the Lilim;
Lucifer Morningstar;
Suleiman ben Daod;
the Caliph Raschid;
African mythology;
Orpheus;
the Gates of Horn and Ivory in Homer and Virgil;
the Greek underworld;
the women of the frenzy;
the Fates and the Furies;
the Roman Empire;
Odin, Thor and Loki;
Asgard;
the Nine Worlds;
the Ragnarok;
the Egyptian pantheon;
the folklore of fairies;
Chaucer;
Shakespeare;
Christopher Marlowe;
Ben Johnson;
the Gunpowder Plot;
the King James Bible and how Shakespeare, supposedly, hid his name in it;
English history;
sailing ships;
the slave trade;
sea serpents in fact and legend;
the Thermidorian reaction in the French Revolution;
Tom Paine;
world-wide funerary customs;
the US Presidency;
Freudian and Jungian psychology of dreams;
comic book superheroes.

Effects Of The Endless

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series, "Three Septembers And A January" is the only occasion on which Despair of the Endless initiates anything. She challenges Dream on behalf of the youngest three of the Endless. Dream's response causes the historical phenomenon of Norton I, Emperor of the United States.

Later, Dream's seventy two year imprisonment causes:

the "sleepy sickness," beginning in 1916;
serial killers, inspired by an escaped nightmare;
maybe some other forms of social madness - dreams that should have been resolved in the Dreaming but instead are acted out in the waking world?

Despair is my least favorite of the Endless.
I like Death most, of course.
I envy Destiny his Doctor Manhattan-like cosmic perspective.
I share several characteristics with Dream:

conscientiousness about duties to be performed;
incompetence in personal relationships;
blindness to anything not perceived as interesting -

- but I would not condemn anyone, let alone a former lover, to Hell. (On the other hand, I am not a mythical being and they tend to act like that.)

Destruction is likeable.
Desire is not.
Delirium would soon become tiresome.

Dream has powerful enemies:

John "Doctor Destiny" Dee usurps the power of dreams;
Desire and the Devil both threaten to destroy Dream;
but he is eventually destroyed by his number one enemy.

How are the Endless a family? They have no parents, unless we say that the universe is their common single parent? Desire and Despair are "twins" because they originated together but, otherwise, the Endless might have regarded themselves as unrelated independent powers?

The Wake

Many wise things can and should be said at funerals. When Neil Gaiman writes his own characters remembering Dream of the Endless, this will certainly happen.

Destiny speaks first because he is the oldest and is able to read his address from his book. He notes that Dream had done his job as well as he could but that he, Destiny, sees what is whereas Dream, his brother, had been the lord of what is not. Desire quietly mimics Destiny and Delirium tells him/her to "...stoppit talking..." (The Wake, New York, 1997, p. 71)

Bast regrests, "...things left unsaid..." (p. 73), while Rose and Jed sit between Jack Kirby's Darkseid the Destroyer and a quietly weeping Emperor Norton.

Desire comments that family is both a support and a bond and does not conceal his/her conflict with Dream. Despair contrasts Dream's certainty and hope with her own doubt and despair.

Wesley Dodds quotes Dian, "'It's a long, long trail that has no turning.' And how right she was." (p. 77) What exactly does that mean?

The angel Duma sheds a tear in which the onlookers see that the purpose of all things includes each of them.

Delirium used to be scared of Dream but is now "...a bit sad of him..." (p. 78)

Matthew the Raven says that you can't kill dreams, as Lucifer and Mazikeen sit and listen.

Others speak but we do not hear them. (Gaiman had a finite number of pages to work with.) Lastly, Death speaks to everyone, makes sense of everything and gives peace and meaning.

There is nothing more to be said.

The Last Sandman Story

"Don't judge a book by its cover."

My copy of Dave McKean's Dust Covers (New York, 1997) has a copy of Dust Covers on its cover.

Although a good cover draws us into a book, we soon learn that the interior art of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic book series is not by the cover artist, McKean, but by diverse other excellent comic book artists. However, Dust Covers not only collects all of McKean's Sandman covers but also begins with "The Last Sandman Story," a new eight page comic strip written by Gaiman and drawn by McKean. Thus, in this case at least, the cover artist's recognizable style does continue beyond the cover and indeed throughout the volume.

Gaiman and McKean had agreed that this story should be "Something that had the kind of look that was of a piece with the covers." (p. 6) So, for once, we stay with the style of the cover art instead of leaving it behind as soon as we open the book.

They had also agreed to have "More prose than comics - one or two illustrations to a page." (ibid.)

pp. 6-8 and 12-13 each have two large non-sequential illustrations accompanied by substantial prose by Gaiman, not relating a new Sandman story but recounting childhood and adult experiences that had influenced the writing of The Sandman.The strip is "...anecdotal...," not "...something that extends any part of the story..." (ibid.)

I love the dust on the empty wine bottles in panel 2 of p. 6.

p. 9 shows a folded over page of an imaginary comic book with nine panels in which Gaiman, during a Hallowe'en parade in the Village, New York, converses with a man claiming to be the demon Choronzon. This is the only page with speech balloons. The meeting with Choronzon was one of the times, during the writing of The Sandman, "...when reality frayed and thinned." (p. 8)

Make of that what you can. 

A Finite Series

Standard practice with a comic that sells well is to continue selling it indefinitely through multiple changes both of creative team and of plot direction, thus generating, over time, thousands of pages of ephemeral quantity at the expense of enduring quality. When Swamp Thing  was scheduled for cancellation, Alan Moore took over the writing, reinterpreted the title character from mud monster to plant elemental and transformed the series into a top-selling title.

When Moore had finished the story that he had to tell, he gave the characters a happy ending and it is easy to stop reading at that point. His entire run has been collected and thus saved from transience. Rick Veitch continued the series well but differently. However, it had its ups and downs after that, ending on a high point with Mark Millar but revived a few times since then.

Neil Gaiman initiated a new Sandman series and insisted on it ending when he had finished the story that he had to tell. However, it has had several off-shoots, notably Mike Carey's Lucifer, also collected in its entirety, and, in any case, continues to sell better as collected editions. Because Sandman is a lengthy but finite series, it has a comprehensible structure that can be mentally mapped:

Preludes And Nocturnes (8 issues) + The Doll's House (8) + Dream Country (4) = 20 issues;
Season Of Mists (8) + (Distant Mirrors - "Ramadan" (3)) + A Game Of You (6) + Convergence (3) = 20;
Brief Lives (9) + "Ramadan" = 10;
Worlds' End (6) + The Kindly Ones (13) + The Wake (6) = 25;
Total = 75.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Other Kinds Of Visual Creativity

I already know what Neil Gaiman wrote after The Sandman. Dust Covers (London, 1997) mentions some of Dave McKean's work other than illustrating Sandman covers:

other comics - collaborations with Gaiman, Arkham Asylum and Cages;
CD and personal projects influenced by the photographic experiments of the A Game Of You covers;
record covers;
launch images;
exhibitions;
recording music;
directing films.

Every artifact that we see, use and take for granted has had to be designed. Someone has had to think not only about what it does but also about how it looks. When we read a book, not only has someone written it but someone else has designed the cover. Even if it is merely a plain cover displaying nothing but the title and the author's name, someone has had to decide that it should be like that, what color it should be and what kind of font should be used.

Although most comic book covers directly display the kind of representational art to be found within, McKean continually sought new and different ways for his covers to express the contents of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic. The two-level A Game Of You covers, with a photo of New York above and a surrealistic picture below, "...obviously reflected the two worlds running parallel throughout the story." (p. 90) Because "The chapter titles of Brief Lives were tiny, dislocated phrases...," these were reflected in "...bitty..." covers (p. 112), also suggesting "...the detritus that might be picked up along the way, during this Sandman/Delirium road-story." (p. 110)

My primary interest was in reading the stories but, because the covers have taken on a life of their own, my attention has been drawn first to their striking imagery and secondly to the fact that the artist applies the same skills and techniques to CD and record covers for an audience primarily interested in hearing the music.

The D Family

(i) Neil Gaiman was to write a Sandman series for DC Comics but with a new character of that name.
(ii) His initial notes indicated three brothers: Death, Sleep and ?
(iii) Death became a sister.
(iv) Sleep and ? became Dream and Destiny.
(v) Destiny already existed as a DC character, created by Marv Wolfman.
(vi) By coincidence, the names of these characters begin with "D," so Gaiman decided to continue this with the rest of the Endless family.
(vii) The three already named are the elder three because:
       events involve destiny;
       life involves death;
       consciousness involves dreams.
(viii) Thinking about the processes that follow from life and consciousness, Gaiman then created Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium.
(ix) A friend suggested Delight so Gaiman made her the original form of Delirium.

If you look in Swamp Thing, Volume 6, Reunion (New York, 2003), by Alan Moore and Rick Veitch, then in panel 15 on p. 16 of Chapter 6, written by Veitch, you will see Jed dreaming of the Sandman, Brute and Glob.     

Sandman: The Series

75 Monthly issues + 1 Special
nos 1-8, Preludes And Nocturnes, a single serialized story + sequel, collected as Volume 1.
nos 9-16, The Doll's House, a second serialized story, collected as Volume 2.
nos 17-20, Dream Country, four short stories, collected as Volume 3.
nos 21-28, Season Of Mists, a third serial, collected as Volume 4.
nos 29-31, Distant Mirrors, three short stories, collected in Volume 6, Fables And Reflections.
nos 32-37, A Game Of You, a fourth serial, collected as Volume 5.
nos 38-40, Convergence, three short stories, collected in Volume 6.
nos 41-49, Brief Lives, a fifth serial, collected as Volume 7.
no 50, Ramadan, the fourth Distant Mirrors story, collected in Volume 6.
nos 51-56, Worlds' End, six short stories with long framing sequences, collected as Volume 8.
nos 57-69, The Kindly Ones, a sixth serial, collected as Volume 9.
nos 70-75, The Wake, a serial + sequel and two short stories, collected as Volume 10.
Special, The Song Of Orpheus, one longer story, collected in Volume 6.
"Fear of Falling", short story in Vertigo Preview 1, collected in Volume 6.
"The Castle", short story in Vertigo Jam 1, collected in Volume 9.

Dust Covers IV

The ten volumes of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman tell a long story in sequential graphic art. The one volume of Dust Covers by Dave McKean tells the parallel story of how McKean created fine art covers for all seventy five monthly issues of The Sandman and one Special. Each cover is displayed, often with comments by McKean, Gaiman or both. The book also includes other art, including covers of some of the ten collections.

With all this art plus the comments and the introductory comic strip written by Gaiman and drawn by McKean, Dust Covers is a substantial volume, guiding its readers through the history of a creative process.

A comic book cover usually shows the hero in action in the same kind of graphic art that is to be found within the book whereas McKean quickly dispensed with images of the central character and even with merely representational art. Not really reflecting on the covers, I had not realized that some of them had had to be constructed physically before being reproduced as cover illustrations. On the sides of the cover of no 1, ten shelves hold miscellaneous items, including a book entitled The Gates of Dawn, which is both an evocative verbal image and appropriate for a beginning. However, we could not have known, until Gaiman tells us in his first note for Dust Covers, that McKean had scrupulously erased the name of the publisher, Mills and Boon, in case it was taken to imply that The Sandman was a romance.

I took for granted that the figure on the cover of no 3 was the guest star of that issue, John Constantine, but had not known that it was also McKean's friend, Neil Jones, who had already modelled for McKean's Hellblazer covers. It is obvious that nos 14 and 16 show the Corinthian and Morpheus respectively but not, until McKean tells us, that both were modelled by Gaiman.

Scripts And Strips

Comic book scripts, or excerpts from them, make for fascinating reading on the rare occasions when they are published. The script and the strip are two material stages in the transmission of images from the writer's mind to the readers' minds. The other stages are the writer's preliminary notes and sketched mini-comic, if any, then the penciled, inked, lettered and colored art. Maybe to appreciate the creative process fully, we should sometimes see all these stages. The words for captions and speech balloons are identical between script and strip whereas the visuals can differ in detail.

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Dream Country (New York, 1995) collects four stories and the script for the first, "Calliope". Page 1, panel 2, shows Richard Madoc's study which, according to the script, contains bookshelves, desk, word processor, encyclopedias, maybe paintings, occasional small statues, an exterior door and "...a slim telephone on a table in one corner..." (p. 119 of the book; p. 2 of the script).

Since a comics script is also a letter of instruction to the artist, in this case Kelley Jones, Gaiman adds that all these details need not appear in this one panel:

"...DROP IT IN AS WE MOVE AROUND THE ROOM, LOOKING AT THESE PEOPLE." (ibid.)

Thus, here is an imaginary space, Madoc's study, initially existing only in Gaiman's mind. Gaiman not only describes this space to Jones but also advises him how to introduce it to Sandman readers. This introductory panel shows bookshelves, desk and word processor. The door and the telephone, not particularly "slim," appear in panel 4 of page 2. The study location is in several panels but many of these are close-ups on the characters not showing any background details.

A single comparatively minor space requires this amount of attention to detail although, of course, it is just one of many imaginary spaces, also including the interiors of Morpheus' castle, the Inn of the Worlds' End and a sailing ship.

The first exterior shot in "Calliope" is page 3, panel 4. Gaiman describes a London street, says that he will send photoreference and adds:

"I DOUBT THAT WE CAN SILHOUETTE HIM AGAINST THE SKYLINE, UNLESS HE'S ACTUALLY WALKING BESIDE THE THAMES HERE..." (p. 122/5)

In the comic, he is walking beside the Thames. It is extremely instructive to look back and forth between script and strip, checking for differences, but we would not be able to do this or to benefit from it on every occasion of reading a comic.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

More Real People And Some Quiet Moments In The Sandman Comic

Here are two more real people in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman that I did not list earlier. First, I simply forgot that Augustus' wife, Livia, appears in two panels of "August."

Secondly, Gaiman informs us on p. 146 of Hy Bender's The Sandman Companion (London, 1999) that the dwarf Lycius is historical - and he definitely comes across as an authentic figure although, of course, his memoirs, as quoted by Gaiman, have to be fictitious.

Gaiman also says, on pp. 256-257 of the Companion, that the quiet moments, not the dramatic climaxes, are the high points of The Sandman and cites as one example the day long conversation between Augustus and Lycius in "August." I could not possibly agree more. I have reread "August" more often than any other single episode.

For me, other high points among these quiet moments are:

the whole of "Sunday Mourning";
the scenes between the stories in Worlds' End;
conversations on the ship in "Hob's Leviathan."

Dust Covers III

The Mystery of the Missing Dust Covers has been solved. My granddaughter who lives in our attic and is a keen artist and interested in Dave McKean's work had borrowed it ages ago. But now where is Black Orchid, Volume 3? There is always one book missing.

I had correctly remembered the incidents recorded in the Dust Covers comic strip: encounters with Constantine, Choronzon, Death and Dream. One detail that I had not remembered was that Dream's cloak was the reflection of the room in the window.

It is interesting to learn that Gaiman was told about the Sandman by his mother and that he relayed the story to his daughter. Thus, this story was in the family before it was in the comic.

Gaiman swore as a child that he would remember what it was like to be a child and he vividly presents children's points of view in his fiction. It is a point of view that I am glad to have got away from. I would wish for early maturity or "great wisdom from birth" in any future rebirth. Maybe I would feel differently if I had had a childhood in which we were helped to mature instead of condemned for immaturity. But the point here is that Gaiman displays enormous insight and empathy when he successfully writes childrens' povs.

"...And There Is Death"

Superman began in 1938, Sandman in 1939, both during the Golden Age of Comics. That original Sandman was a vigilante like the Batman but was also part of the new superheroes genre initiated by Superman. Over that many decades, comic book characters appear in several versions.

Superman's comic book versions have been those associated with, in this order:

Earth 2;
Earth 1;
Earth DC/ "Man of Steel" miniseries;
"Birthright" miniseries;
the 52 multiverse;
the New 52 multiverse.

I think. I may have got it slightly wrong towards the end but you might detect my lack of interest in too many continuity changes happening too quickly for any sort of narrative continuity or plausibility.

The Sandman versions have been:

the Golden Age version;
Jack Kirby's different version of the 1970's;
Neil Gaiman's re-creation of the Kirby version in which the title, The Sandman, and the central character's names, Morpheus, Dream etc, diverge.

The Superman of Earth DC indirectly influenced Morpheus because that Superman's powers had been scaled down for plausibility whereas Gaiman, disagreeing with this, decided to make his Endless, including Dream, virtually omnipotent. I agree with DC that it was inappropriate that Superman, a physical being, had become infinitely fast, strong etc but I also fully accept Gaiman's different treatment of his metaphysical Endless.

A fact of life is that we all die permanently. A fact of comic book life is that central characters die temporarily. Monthly comic books overdo and cheapen everything, even the death and resurrection myth. In one Green Arrow comic, the regular return of the deceased had become such a routine occurrence that they even asked the embarrassing question, "How many of you were at my funeral?"

The Superman of the DC universe died in 1993 and Neil Gaiman's Morpheus/Dream died in 1995 but what a difference! Superman stayed dead or, later, presumed dead for most of '94 but then was back to normal with a complete loss of story direction whereas Morpheus stayed dead and his series ended but is permanently in print in collected editions. Thus, he is of much more enduring significance than any character who merely recurs in different versions in ephemeral monthly periodicals. There was a new Dream at the end of The Sandman but this was a new aspect, a different personality, with no memory of having been Morpheus who had permanently and irrevocably entered his sister's realm.

Imagine a version of Superman treated as seriously as Gaiman treated Morpheus. See my earlier post "Getting Superman Right."

Dust Covers II

In the comic strip by Gaiman and McKean in Dave McKean's Dust Covers, the demon Choronzon, a character, tells Gaiman, his author, that he, Gaiman, does not understand - but this seems to happen in real life. Choronzon, on a Hallowe'en parade, seeks reassurance that he will return in the story so the author obliges.

In The Sandman: Brief Lives (New York, 1994), Destruction asks:

"Why does it seem like none of us ...Endless or mortal, ghost or god...knows what we're doing?" (Chapter 8, p. 15)

Death's answer is that everyone knows everything but pretends they don't. My answer would be that literal omniscience is impossible. (I have read that Godel proved this. Hence, "Godel deleted God.")

Can we say that every animal and human being is the cosmic totality conscious of itself at a particular place and time? Thus the totality is both subject and object but the object is necessarily at a particular place and time, spatio-temporally limited. First, knowledge necessarily involves memory. Someone who, at any time, was not able to remember any previous time would not be conscious. A perception that began and ended simultaneously would lack not only duration but also existence. It would be the temporal equivalent of a mathematically flat plane with zero depth, an abstract concept, not a concrete reality.

But a growing memory implies an empirical realm divided into known and unknown, some of its parts existing now to be known later.

If everything were known, then nothing would be unknown.
If nothing were unknown, then nothing would be future.
If nothing were future, then everything would be past or present.
If everything were past or present, then, in the following moment, everything would be past.
If everything were past, then we would be dead.
If we were dead, then nothing would be known.
Thus, if everything were known, then nothing would be known.
Reductio ad absurdum.
Therefore, it is impossible that everything be known.

Dust Covers

I have mislaid my copy of Dave McKean's Dust Covers, the annotated Sandman covers with a new comic strip by Gaiman and McKean. I have come to accept that not being able to find a book when I want to refer to it is a regular part of the deal with books and has to be accepted as such. Longer term, if it never turns up, I can buy another copy.

(Over a very long period, I visited friends regularly, left all my Sandmans to reread, and for them to read, at their place and wound up buying new copies to have at home - but they had been reread so often that I felt that the author deserved a second set of royalties.)

We make literary references by citing author, title, place and year of publication and page number as if every published text was eternally present in a universally accessible Platonic realm whereas, in reality, the ability to make or check the reference is entirely dependent on access to a physical copy of the book.

From memory, then, I think that the comic strip in Dust Covers covers:

the author seeing the Sandman - in reality the Moon and a tree with an outstretched branch - pouring dust onto his daughter's face as she lay in bed;
the Death girl seen by McKean on a plane where a passanger died;
Alan Moore seeing John Constantine in a London sandwich bar;
Death serving in a New York cafe - as opposed to Death serving in a London restaurant;
Choronzon the demon telling Gaiman that he does not understand any of this.

Choronzon is right to the extent that writers and artists do not fully understand the creative process.

(Interrupted by the obligation to deliver Christmas presents to children. To be continued later.)

Friday, 20 December 2013

Seventy Two Years

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, how long was Morpheus imprisoned? Gaiman gives a precise answer:

"...seventy-two years - ending in late 1988, when the series debuted."

- Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion (London, 1999), p. 235.

There is a hint of meta-fiction here. December 1988 is both when Gaiman's monthly Sandman comic book began publication and also when Morpheus resumed his activity in the world after a long, enforced absence. That absence is said to have begun in 1916 because Gaiman had decided that it was Morpheus' imprisonment that had caused the otherwise unexplained "sleepy sickness" that began in that year. It is strange, when reading about the unquestionably fantasy event of Morpheus' imprisonment, to be told that it is having observable effects in the public world of the Great War but it turns out that these "effects" are real, recorded events.

Morpheus' long absence explains why readers of DC universe continuity stories, which began to be recounted in 1935, have not heard of him before although they have encountered those inhabitants of his realm who previously hosted various horror titles. Thus, Gaiman retroactively makes his new series compatible with all the others, importantly including Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, which had recently revived Cain and Abel of the Houses of Mystery and Secrets.

Cain and Abel had hosted their Houses;
the Three Witches had hosted The Witching Hour;
Lucien had hosted Tales Of Ghost Castle;
a woman with a raven hosted Dark Mansion Of Forbidden Love;
Eve with a raven had appeared in Secrets Of Sinister House and Secrets Of Haunted House.

Thus, there were altogether four Houses (Mystery, Secrets, Sinister and Haunted, the latter two also with Secrets), one Castle (Ghost) and one Mansion (Dark). The Castle became Morpheus' while the women with ravens merged and retired to a cave. The Mystery and Secrets Houses remained in the Dreaming as way stations to Nightmare.

Having just reread the entire series, I am sure, without looking them all up, that I came across dialogue references to Morpheus having been imprisoned for sixty, seventy and eighty years, but this makes sense. People in conversation do not remember precise details and think in terms of round numbers. It would be very inauthentic dialogue in which every single person who referred to the lengthy imprisonment exactly remembered the precise figure of "seventy two years."

Probably many apparent inconsistencies in works of fiction can be ironed out if it is remembered that, even when they are not placed between inverted commas or inside speech balloons, most statements express a single character's point of view which is bound to differ from other povs. Thus, a medieval character in a historical novel by James Blish is said to "know" that comets are phenomena in the upper atmosphere. However, a contemporary novel and a futuristic sf novel complete the trilogy but their characters would not be said to "know" that about comets.

I am confident that Gaiman would deliberately write inconsistencies in his dialogues. In Worlds' End, he has the handsome cabin boy misquote a poem.

Personal Observations III

Page views on this blog have rocketed this month while I have focused on Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. In particular, for the last week, I have been lying in bed with a cold, Sandman volumes and a laptop so my output has considerably increased, which causes an increase in page views.

However:

I am back out of bed;
I have now reread the entire series;
Christmas preparations are upon us.

Tomorrow, I expect to shop during the day, in Lancaster (see image, although we do not currently have snow), and to attend a Yule party in Morecambe in the evening so I do not expect to post. However, I would welcome comments. I have learned a lot by carefully rereading while posting but there is always more to be learned from other people's readings and there are also other Gaiman works that can be discussed.

Personal Observations II

More autobiography, which will again be relevant.

In 1988, I had academic qualifications in Philosophy and Religious Studies but not yet any professional training. The headmaster of an independent school mistook Religious Studies (study of religions) for Theology (knowledge of the Bible) and did not ask the right questions in my job interview so I became Master in Charge of Religious Education, fortunately a part-time post, and had to work full time reading Biblical texts and commentaries. (I learned a lot; no one else did.)

I would not have lied in the interview and should not have been appointed. I also lacked a teacher training qualification but the school, wrongly, did not require that. When I met the man whom I was to succeed, a vicar, he mentioned the Good News Bible, adding "...with which, of course, you are familiar." I had to say, "Yes." By that stage, it had become my responsibility to learn about the Good News Bible, and indeed the Bible, as quickly as possible.

A year later, I had been laid off. The stated reason and a real reason was the school's financial difficulties. Religious Education had to be shared among the other staff. Deciding to build on that year's experience by gaining a teaching qualification, I attended a postgraduate course where a fellow student said, "I've heard that, although the Good News is not an accurate translation, it is good if you just want the story," to which I replied, on the basis of a year's experience of working with that text, "Yes, the Good News is very readable!" So, by then, I had justified my saying "Yes" to the vicar.

Relevance to Neil Gaiman: to gain work as a journalist, Gaiman phoned magazine editors and claimed to have worked for Time Out, City Limits, The Observer and The Sunday Times of London Magazine.

"NG: ...over the next five years, I  actually did write for every magazine I'd mentioned during that first week of cold calls. So I wasn't really lying, I was merely being anachronistic. [Laughter.]"

- Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion (London, 1999), p. 14.

Gaiman knew that, by pitching good ideas, then writing well, he was making it very unlikely that any editor would ever check up. Good for him. I would not have imagined that it would be possible to get away with that and, in any case, would not have felt right about doing it. But my writing style is not journalistic so I would not have been looking for that kind of work in the first place. I felt that the lie to the vicar was forced upon me and did my best to be, as Gaiman puts it, "...anachronistic."

In a later job, a new Human Resources Manager pressurized me to resign, then got me charged with serious misconduct. With support from colleagues and trade union members, I withstood this attack and remained in the job. After the HR man had dissatisfied his superior a few times, he was asked to produce the management qualification that he had claimed in his application and was summarily dismissed when he was unable to comply. Extraordinary.

Personal Observations I

Please bear with some autobiography. I will explain its relevance.

In 1988-'89, I retrained as a Careers Officer, then worked continuously from 1989 until retirement in 2012, although job title, job description and nature of employing organization changed more than once as governments responded to rapid socioeconomic changes.

One of our trainers told us a true story and cautionary tale. A client had said, "I want to start a pop group and make a record and I want it to go to No 1 in the charts." Her Careers Officer replied, "You have no chance." She did it. One of my fellow trainees recognized the name of the group. That Careers Officer then told that story as a warning to others. Never let it be said that we do not learn.

I never told anyone that they could not do anything. When a guy said that he wanted to be a musician, I:

asked him about his existing involvement with music, if any;
provided printed careers information on "Musician";
highlighted the requirements of the job;
pointed out that music can remain a leisure interest and activity even if it never becomes a source of income;
strongly advised the formulation of a Career Plan B and discussed what that might be (all advice was written and recorded; I could never be accused later of telling someone that he could (or could not) be a musician).

Despite this, I discovered that, without my knowledge at the time, I had been criticized for not telling a pupil that he could not be a musician, even though this was in a school where a teacher had been told by one of her teachers that she could not teach because she was Dyslexic and had set out, successfully, to prove him wrong.

The relevance of this to Neil Gaiman:

"'When the [careers] advisor asked me what I wanted to do, I didn't hesitate, because I'd been waiting to tell the appropriate person for years,' says Gaiman. 'So I answered, "I want to write American comic books." And what I wanted him to say was, "Okay, that is a commendable ambition. You should go to the School of Visual Arts in New York, and you should work on your craft, and these are the people with whom you should talk to get you on your way."
"'Instead, he just replied, "Oh, you can't do that. Have you ever considered accountancy?"'"

- Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion (London, 1999), p. 13.

I could not believe that! That advisor needed to:

ask Gaiman about his writing abilities;
advise him to try every kind of fiction publishing;
ask him how much he already knew about American comics publishers;
promise to get him more information about them;
not mention accountancy.

One of my clients said that he wanted to draw American comics. I asked, "Will you be the next John Byrne?" He was puzzled, not because he did not know the name "John Byrne" but because he did not expect it in that context. We soon established that I had Byrne's Man Of Steel miniseries in the monthly comics whereas he had had to buy the collected edition. When I met him in a comics shop a few years later, he was by then attending Art College.

Be Seeing You...

In Neil Gaiman's "Facade," Mulligan returns Rainie's call just as Rainie dies so Death, who is present, answers the phone but says only that:

Rainie has gone away;
she wouldn't like to say where she is;
she is no longer living here;
she can't get a message to her;
"Be seeing you..." - Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 112.

Gone away? She has died. Death knows that the dead go somewhere but never divulges where anyone else has gone.

No longer living here? She is no longer living.

"Be seeing you"? The Prisoner catch phrase. It sounds inappropriate when said to a stranger on the phone but this is Death speaking.

Before that, Death tells Rainie that, "You make your own Hell..." (p. 109) and that her life and her death are her own. Morpheus says that about life and death to his son, Orpheus. Lucifer says, of the human souls who thought that they were his, that they belong to themselves but do not like to face the fact. Personal responsibility is a major message of the series.

Collections

Dream Country
"Calliope"
"The Dream of a Thousand Cats"
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
"Facade"

Distant Mirrors
"Thermidor"
"August"
"Three Septembers and a January"
"Ramadan"

Convergence
"The Hunt"
"Soft Places"
"The Parliament of Rooks"

I get this now - more than I did before. These are three groups of single issue short stories. Thus, "Calliope" was originally published as no 17 of Neil Gaiman's monthly comic book, The Sandman, but also as the first of four issues sub-titled Dream Country, and so on. These four stories were collected under their collective title as what became Volume 3 of a series of Sandman graphic books as opposed to monthly periodicals. Thus, the title Dream Country had pre-existed the volume of that title.

Distant Mirrors and Convergence could each likewise have been collected as a single volume of the same title but instead these seven stories were incorporated into Volume 6, Fables And Reflections, together with a Sandman Special and a shorter story from an anthology, thus making Volume 6 considerably more voluminous than Volume 3.

Of the Dream Country stories, two feature the word "Dream" in their titles and the fourth discloses that:

"...mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all [human beings]." - Neil Gaiman, Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 109.

The Distant Mirrors stories are overtly connected by their titles and, when read, by the kind of historical figures on which they focus. Set in the past, they are relevant to the present, hence their collective title. Another Sandman story about a ruler is "The Golden Boy" in Volume 8, Worlds' End, but its US President is fictitional, not historical.

In the Convergence sequence, characters come together to tell stories although in very different settings. The second and third of the stories reveal that Morpheus has a new girl friend in the Dreaming and thus prepare the reader for the beginning of Volume 7, Brief Lives.

No Good Guys Bad Guys Routine

The Golden Age Sandman was a masked vigilante who apprehended criminals;

Jack Kirby's Sandman was a supernatural or super-powered being who fought nightmare monsters in a dream realm (I think - I am less familiar with that version);

the central character of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is called Dream, Morpheus, Oneiros, the Shaper etc, not "the Sandman", and rules dreams without being dedicated to combating crime or evil.

Dream was obliged to overthrow a few opponents at the beginning of his series, a magician, a demon and a super-villain, but, having regained his full power, he needs only to locate escaped nightmares in order to neutralize them. Thereafter, his main problems are with himself and with his personal relationships, to family members and to former lovers.

To rescue a former lover condemned by himself, he invades Hell only to find that Lucifer has retired and that a different kind of problem, of supernatural diplomacy, awaits him. The Lords of Chaos threaten to hound him forever but theirs is an empty threat. When the Furies attack the Dreaming, Dream's response is not to fight them but to make alternative arrangements.

Dream coexists with all myths and with all DC Comics characters. Thus, endless conflicts between good and evil are regular business but occur elsewhere. The Egyptian sun-god, Ra, still recruits metamorphae for his never-ending battle against Apep, the serpent that never dies, although Death tells him that she took Apep three thousand years ago.

A CIA agent's controller tells her:

"Rainie, in that tomb's the doohickey that turned Rex Mason into a super-man. You're going in there a top company officer. But you're going to come out an American super-woman. For Uncle Sam." (Dream Country, New York, 1995, p. 94)

But, when we see Rainie, all that she wants to do is to end her indestructible "Element Girl" body. Gaiman shows us the other side of a super-hero universe.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Sandman Mega-Series

10 vol original series
  2 Death series
  2 collections:
     Endless Nights
     Midnight Days
  2 versions of The Dream Hunters
  4 related works:
     Black Orchid
     The Books Of Magic
     The Children's Crusade
     Stardust
20 vols total

(Stardust mentions Death once. She should have appeared in the film.)

The main narrative of Dream, beginning with his imprisonment and ending with his death, is recounted in six volumes, divided into three pairs:

Preludes And Nocturnes
The Doll's House

Season Of Mists
The Game Of You

Brief Lives
The Kindly Ones

The remaining four volumes of the original series, divided into two pairs:

Dream Country
Fables And Reflections

Worlds' End
The Wake

move the characters in many different directions, which is what Gaiman wanted to do with the series.

Fairy Gold

Yet another parallel between Neil Gaiman and Poul Anderson is fairy gold. In Anderson's short story, "Fairy Gold", fairy money is used in several transactions during a single night but, in the morning:

"In her left hand, behind his shoulder, she gripped the fairy gold. The sun came over a roof-top, and smote. Suddenly she held nothing. A few dead leaves blew away upon the dawn breeze, with a sound like dry laughter."
- The Armies Of Elfland (New York, 1992), p. 141.

In Gaiman's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream is to Auberon's court. When, during the interval, Richard Burbage mentions payment, Auberon is surprised:

"Gold. You ask Auberon of the Fay for gold...? Then you must have your gold, actor."
- Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 77.

And a bag full of coins changes hands but, in the morning:

Shakespeare: A pouch of yellow leaves.
Burbage: But...we were cheated!
Shakespeare: No, for we were paid full well. Which other troupe has played to such an audience? (p. 86)

A Dream Of A Thousand Cats

Why was the cat-goddess, Bast, who appears later in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, not involved in "A Dream Of A Thousand Cats"?

In a single short story, Gaiman envisages an entire alternative history in which cats were large and human beings were small. I do not think that this history has ever been imagined before or will be again. There is a cosmic conflict between cats and humanity although most members of both species remain unaware of it.

The cat universe exists not in our past but, I would say, in the past of a second temporal dimension, borrowing an idea from time travel fiction. But there are different ways of conceptualizing what Gaiman is trying to say and it is difficult to make any of them internally consistent.

When "...things changed..." and "Humans were huge..." (Dream Country, New York, 1995, p. 54), we see a cat between walking human legs on a pavement beside a parked car, as if a human-dominated world has just begun to exist full of fallacious memories and records of a human-dominated history. This is not quite what the characters say has happened but it is what is suggested by this panel. Is it possible?

Is it possible that you have just been created and that all your memories, created with you, are false and do not give you any knowledge of past events? Our experience of remembering is not like our experience of consulting a currently existing record of past events. Memory feels like direct acquaintance with past events but is it? Our brains could be manipulated to make us seem to remember something different.

Truths, Lies And Fictions

We learn the distinction between true statements, lies and fictions - and I wonder whether there is a fourth category: entertaining yarns that may be believed but that do no harm? In Voice Of The Fire, Alan Moore creates a prehistoric moronic boy who does not understand lies. He "...is not glean that one can say of thing when thing is not." Also, he does not differentiate appearance from reality. He tells us not that a tree resembled a man until he got nearer to it but that a man became a tree.

I was concerned when a teacher denounced a comic that I was reading as "lies." Lies were sinful. Was fiction not a valid alternative category after all?

Could there be rational beings with no concept of fiction? When Shakespeare's company plays A Midsummer Night's Dream for Auberon's court, the Puck says:

"This is magnificent...and it is true! It never happened; yet it is still true. What magic art is this?"
- Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Dream Country (New York, 1995), p. 75.

It is magic. The actors create something from nothing. The superficial Puck lacks evaluative terms like "valid" and "authentic." A member of CS Lewis' family said that, in a TV drama of his life, the actors did not resemble the real people, events were simplified and the conversations were, of necessity, made up but it was all true.

Calliope

Five human characters in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman become creative successes:

Orpheus, singer/song-writer, is the son of Dream and Calliope;
William Shakespeare, playwright, makes a deal with Dream;
Ric Madoc, novelist, imprisons Calliope;
Hal Carter, comedian, was affected by a dream;
Foxglove, singer/song-writer, met Dream - and stops performing after meeting Death.

And maybe there is another somewhere? But five is a big number. As usual, the list grew in being written. I wasn't counting Orpheus but, despite his immortal parentage, he is described as human and mortal. Of course, like Hob Gadling, he loses his mortality through making a deal but that is another matter.