By Doug Levy
Arizona Daily Wildcat May 1, 1997
Death, desire and delirium
The Sandman Book of Dreams
Edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer (Harper Prism)
In case you didn't already know, Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" is one of the most complex, intricate, absorbing and thought-provoking comic books ever written. In fact, many credit Gaiman with changing the face of comics forever. With "The Sandman," he created an entire new mythology, populated not only by a cast of godlike beings known as the Endless, but by almost every previously existent mythological figure as well. Gearing the book toward a more mature audience, Gaiman worked with a series of artists to bring us a mind-boggling story that ran for 75 issues and then sadly ended.
However, all of the "Sandman" story arcs, including the two mini-series featuring the oldest of the Endless, Death, are available in collected editions that are readily available for new readers to discover, and DC Comics is in the process of reprinting the entire series in single-issue format as well. "The Sandman" has been praised by everyone from Norman Mailer to Stephen King, so even though Gaiman has moved on to other projects now, it's not surprising that the fascination with the fantastic world he created continues. Unable to let that world go, a host of writers have picked up the reins where Gaiman left off, both in a new series from DC Comics, "The Dreaming," and in a release from HarperPrism Books, "The Sandman: Book of Dreams."
"Book of Dreams" is notable for a number of reasons. For one thing, it features the first stories based on Gaiman's characters to be told in traditional prose form. For another, the writers who contributed to this anthology are among some of the best writers of fantasy and science fiction working today. The stories in this book examine not only the characters and situations set up by Gaiman in his original series, but the very nature of dreams as well. Of course, the central figure in many of these tales is Dream, also known as Morpheus, the Sandman himself. And many writers chose to focus on others of the Endless as well € most commonly Death, Desire and Delirium. But don't worry if you're not familiar with this particular mythos yet € while a background knowledge of the cast and crew of "The Sandman" certainly adds to the flavor of the stories here, it is not at all necessary to enjoy them.
"The attraction for me of working on this anthology, fraught with strange and unexpected vexations though it has proved," says Gaiman in the introduction to one of the stories, "was really the selfish desire to read a Sandman story; something that I have not been able to do until now." Indeed, the stories that make up this collection represent the first time anyone was given permission to use Gaiman's ideas other than Gaiman himself. He personally introduces each piece with a note on its genesis, acting as tour guide through 17 stories, a fairy tale, a sestina, and even an afterward by none other than Gaiman-devotee Tori Amos.
Longtime fans of the series will recognize Amos' afterward as the same piece of lyrical prose that graced the collected "Death: The High Cost of Living," but all the other contributions appear here for the first time. Among the best are Barbara Hambly's "Each Damp Thing," a story about Dreaming residents Cain and Abel and why some nightmares are too dangerous to run free, and Will Shetterly's "Splatter," the terrifying tale of a horror writer who finds himself in the middle of a convention of serial killers.
Other writers of note included here are John M. Ford, Tad Williams, Nancy A. Collins, and Gene Wolfe, who Gaiman refers to as "one of our finest living authors." There's even an artistic contribution from Clive Barker, with a drawing of the unflattering side of Death, and a beautifully rendered cover by Dave McKean, who also created the covers for the entire run of the "Sandman" series.
Of course, the book serves best as a companion to the original work by Gaiman, and the best place to really start is with the first Sandman collection "Preludes and Nocturnes." However, if you're one of those people who just can't bring themselves to read anything with pictures, you can begin with "The Sandman: Book of Dreams," which should provide you with sufficient incentive to break that nasty habit by the time you're through.