Sandman, 10 (and maybe 5) years later

“Change, change, change: Sandman and the ’90s”

I’ve had this link in my bookmarks-to-follow-up-on forever, but didn’t get around to checking it out till now, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s an essay about Neil Gaiman‘s The Sandman by the (unnamed?) blogger of Grand Hotel Abyss, and it does a number of wonderful things. One, it elegantly examines the series’ central conflict – how to cope with change – and the ways in which the series’ characters choose to meet that conflict. I’ve always had trouble taking a step back from works and simply synthesizing like this, especially when the work in question is as sprawling, loopy, and multi-layered as Sandman, so I love finding lucidly written essays like this one that help give me a better vantage point.

Two, it considers the series’ characters in light of the particular tensions and concerns of the 90’s, of which it’s often considered an emblematic work. Of course this is only one reference frame within which to examine the series, but as someone whose knowledge of Culture stalled somewhere in the middle of 19th-century France, I found it a very useful and approachable introduction to the series’ immediate literary relevance. (I am yearning to say something about zeitgeist here, but I’m trying to establish an academic buzzword limit, especially since the essay itself segues into some discussion of pre- and postmodernism – though gracefully, I think.)

Three, it considers the series from the perspective of someone who first read the series at 16, and probes the question of why, like so many 16-year-olds at the time, she found the series so relevant – and how that same reader, 10 years older and wiser, feels about it now.

I was a pretty unsophisticated reader at the time that I read The Sandman – which was also about when I was 16, actually, or maybe 14 – and although it delighted and moved me, in retrospect I know that I didn’t really get most of it, and in consequence, it didn’t root itself very deeply into my ways of thinking, or my fiction-fueled internal universe. It’s one of the many phenomena that I can’t help wishing I had been around (or literate, rather) for the beginning of, but at the same time I question whether I would have even engaged with it in the important ways, the ways that made it a monument of the teens-to-twenties experience of so many of the Gothically-mythologically inclined. (Not that I’m trying to use that as a yardstick, but… well, okay, sometimes you just can’t help doing so, when you find yourself asking, “Why? What did they get out of it that I didn’t?”)

Rather it’s been something that keeps percolating and re-percolating through my mind, and slowly, slowly acquiring depth and meaning – particularly so lately, since this summer I got my roommate to read the series, and relived the whole thing vicariously through her questions and exclamations. I’ve been feeling in need of a re-read ever since, and Grand Hotel Abyss’ essay has me itching to go forth and do just that, to rummage through all those stacked, looping, interwoven stories again, and ask myself what questions they’re asking, and how I’ve been unconsciously answering them in the ways that I’ve chosen to live my life.

5 (or maybe 7) years seems as good an interval as 10 to observe, right?

To close, one of my favorite observations from the essay, just for fun:

…generically Sandman is a taut Shakespearean tragedy attenuated within a cantering, leisurely magic-realist novel, as if Macbeth were pieced out like breadcrumbs through a Rushdie tale.


Go to:
Neil Gaiman

2 thoughts on “Sandman, 10 (and maybe 5) years later”

  1. I was so thrilled last year when I picked up Sandman Vols. 3 and 4 in like-new condition, for £2 each. I want the whole thing, obviously, but it’s so expensive! As soon as I get the whole thing assembled I’m doing a nice long re-read, because reading it in snatches due to the vagaries of the library system (as I had to the first time around) really does it a disservice.

  2. Damn, what a steal! Yeah, it’s unfortunate that graphic novels are such a pricy habit.
    And yes, Sandman is definitely a series that deserves to be read back-to-back. I also read it through the public library the first time, and though the individual chapters work perfectly on their own, you lose the momentum of the overall arc, and end up forgetting so many of the little plot details that add up to the ultimate payoff.

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