Volume 8: Worlds’ End
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by by Michael Allred, Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha, Vince Locke, Shea Anton Pensa, Alec Stevens, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss, Michael Zulli and Danny Vozzo
Where we seek shelter from the storm and attempt to keep the darkness at bay by swapping tales and pondering all sorts of deep questions such as: What’s the best way to represent a dream in a story? Whatever happened to Neil Gaiman? And what’s the best way to have a sword-fight?
“Everything was dreamlike. Everything felt unreal.”
Ok then. Let’s talk about dreams.
Reading the first erm chapter? issue? (whatever) of the Worlds’ End and yeah ok – Neil Gaiman is firing on all cylinders. His slightly mushy, slightly mawkish, slightly well – Gaimanesqke (is that how you spell that?) stylings have been replaced with – well: how do I say this? It’s like before he tended towards the slightly soft and slightly cuddly: but now he’s banishing a finely honed blade: now everything is sharp and directly to the point.
It’s good is what I’m saying.
And for my money at least: a big part of that (what makes Worlds’ End so good and so much fun to read) is that – of all the Sandman books out there (and hell: maybe of all the comics out there? I mean – what’s the competition? Daniel Clowes’ David Boring? Charles Burns’ X’ed Out / The Hive / Sugar Skull trilogy maybe (although I’ll admit that I’ve only read the first one)?) is that it’s really really good at capturing and recreating the feeling of being in a dream. And yeah – ok: that’s something that I find really really interesting for a few different reasons:
The first is that – as I’m guessing is already pretty clear – is that I’m a big fan of stories and I really like stuff that’s nicely put together and make sense (summing up: I’m not really a big fan of crazy abstract narratives or whatever). So yeah: there’s kinda a conflict there between stories on the one hand (which I feel work best when they’re nicely structured and well put together with bits connecting to other bits and whatever) and dreams (which are basically just crazy free-for-alls – right? You know: the opposite of things making sense etc). So yeah – the question is: is it possible to combine the two? Order and chaos in one delicious concoction?
Taking a brief detour into the world of films: I mean – the person who most obviously springs to mind when people start talking about making dream-states that you can watch is David Lynch: and altho I have a lot more time for him now than I did have when I was younger (when I just thought that he was a phony and that everyone who professed their like for him was a phony too) and yeah – his films are interesting: the whole “wow – it feels like I’m watching a dream” thing isn’t really one that I get that much enjoyment out of because – well: like I said – I prefer the experience of being told and lead through a story and everything that comes out of that… So.
But if David Lynch is like pure-cut undiluted dream state narrative then what’s the alternative? Well: this is where we get closer to what I think makes Worlds’ End so much fun to read: and that’s the type of thing where it’s not about making the whole thing into a dream which yeah – mostly I feel amounts to (to be totally harsh) like little more than random stuff pilled on top of other random things (but yeah yeah – I know that David Lynch is a little more complicated than that) – but whatever. What I find cooler are stories which manage to capture the feeling of what it’s like to dream whilst still managing to make – how do I say this – sense as a story?
Best example that comes to mind: I mean – when people talk about the ending of Inception they’re normally talking about the spinning top (spoiler: it’s supposed to be ambiguous: that’s the point innit?) but for me: the cooler thing is the bit before when Leonardo DiCaprio wakes up on the airplane because YES it totally nails that feeling of waking up back into normal life after hallucinating vividly: you know? That whole kind – oh yeah: all those collapsing buildings and lifts and hotel rooms: that was all a dream. (and ok yeah yeah: for those pedants out there: I know technically that what I’m describing isn’t so much the feeling of dream and more a feeling of just waking up after a dream: but still…).
(And oh yeah: just to say yeah – talking of Inception and Worlds’ End: it’s cool how Worlds’ End just kinda starts. What’s the line from Inception?” You never really remember the beginning of a dream do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what’s going on” Plus also: stories within stories within stories: but then I guess we’ll get to that in a bit…).
But ok yeah: what did everyone else think? I mean – of the Sandman short story trilogy (Dream Country, Fables and Reflections, Worlds’ End) this is the best one – right? Plus: well yeah: what’s your favourite story? I mean it’s pretty much a tie between A Tale of Two Cities and A Golden Boy – right?
It might be low on the Gaimanesque, but man I hadn’t read the Stephen King intro before and it’s certainly him at his most Kingly. It’s like Stephen King bingo. Does he chew on an ear of corn on a gothic turnstile while wearing a baseball cap when he writes that shit? And, considering the late Arch Fabulist teller of tales bullshit that Gaiman has gotten into now, it feels like he got some of that hype from SK. Probably not a wise idea to do so, when such a man’s intro sign off sounds so much like Garth Marenghi.
Is Tale of Two Cities the ‘widescreen’ one, right? I probably should re-read them but I remember feeling World’s End starting okayish, with widescreen and fairies, then the cool seasnake thing, and then peaking at Prez Rickard. (Fun fact: the first time I heard of Obama someone posted a Prez Rickard picture, which, in retrospect, melancholy LOL). On first reading the ‘another story within a story?!’ impressed me in an woah like dreams? Inception way, and so that felt like the natural climax to the lot, but second reading the content itself left me cold, apart from its linking back into the final sequence and the funeral march of Dream.
I don’t think dreams, or their telling, are crazy free-for-alls, least not in my experience. I think the ‘it’s so random!’ portrayal is the weakest way of doing dreams in art. I think contra the ‘tell a dream, lose a reader’ advice, there should be more dreams in stories or art or whatever, and Sandman was a good start, but even Sandman suffers from the sophomore tack of ‘and there was a fish, made of glass from Mars, a fish but with a thousand eyes!’ – which, how did you know it was a thousand. why is excess always the mark of surreality? The reason dreams were so isolating and off-puttingly fanciful is that people didn’t sift for the commonalities, the, phenomenology of dreams. And I think for something to capture the ‘dreamlike’ takes real skill one, and, two, is, when it’s done right, really compelling and interesting and entrancing and cool and blah blah blah.
One of the running themes of Sandman is the relationship, similarities and differences between stories and dreams, but Gaiman is definitely on the side of similar: dreams are kinda wobbly stories. The meaning that gets strained out of them, first it happens in the act of dreaming itself – like say if you were trying to interpret a vision or hallucination, because your dulled conscious mind is trying to make sense of stuff, and usually failing (like jokes in dreams which are not funny on waking, like when you try to read or write in a dream and it’s gibberish after all). And then, upon waking, it comes in the act of remembrance: that’s where you organise it and read into it and make it a story. Recall how when you tell someone your dream, you’re never giving it its weird due, you always simplify it, storify it (in the non-twitter sense). And that’s when it’s not the dream, but how you choose to interpret it that is the real Rorschach ‘in’ to your psyche.
Dreams are not so unique and personal as they seem then, they definitely have features and characteristics, even if content itself might vary. DFW gets dreams right, the nightmare at the start of the Exorcist does too, all of Inland Empire (tho, I accept with the latter you might have a ‘cool but then now what?’ reaction at pulling off such a recreation). And you can have a story that’s driven by a really well done dream sequence, say certain seasons of The Sopranos, or Anna Karenina. And in World’s End, the dreams-within-dreams story does at least get the time dilation knotted almost-frustrating pointless complexity of dreams right. The hypnagogic hallucination (? i think they’re called) of the six-legged goat is also cool and spot-on. I guess it’s definitely the part of Sandman where the dreams=stories/hopes/ideals/fears axis is most well done.
Although I do really like the framing device of the shelter from the reality storm, I wonder if it’ll become ultimately one of those self-referring literary devices which is nothing but trope. Not saying it’s bad because it’s anachronistic. I dunno – it just seems cut from that Gaiman ‘come traveller! tell us of places far and near’ cloth. I think there should have been someone who tells a really shit tale and they cool-stoy-bro’d him.
Gonna actually re-read it now, see if I remember how it fares against the other anthology sandmans. What do you all think?
Jeez, Mazin, it’s almost like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King have created highly marketable personas, and now endlessly sell access to those personas to their legions of fans…
P.S. I typed this on my Victorian typewriter on the back of a fae penny dreadful while quietly going insane at a Maine writers retreat.
“P.S. I typed this on my Victorian typewriter on the back of a fae penny dreadful while quietly going insane at a Maine writers retreat.” – A verse epic, by A D Jameson
I would write mine using my phone voice recorder while walking around Chicago.
I loathe Neil Gaiman, but mainly for what he became / is now. I do think he was an innovative and ambitious artist early in his career. Among other things, looking back now, I see Sandman as a version of the phenomenon I’m trying to describe in my geek cinema book: collecting all myths and archetypes under one roof. He was building his own take on 1960s Marvel, where Thor could meet Gilgamesh and Puck, e.g., but they could retain their traditional characteristics, and not just be transformed into generic heroes who had to punch one another.
But eventually he turned into a panderer who tells their fans exactly what they want to hear–that steampunk faerie cosplay dreams are magickal, etc. Bleagh. Also, get a few drinks in me, and I might argue that Gargoyles did Sandman better (though was probably indebted to Gaiman for the concept?).
The TV show?
Oh Adam – you’re so contrary!
Or maybe you’ve just been taken in by the wikipedia summary: (?)
(Altho I would not be at all surprised to discover that you’re the one that wrote that).
Also: isn’t everything basically a Shakespearean theme?
1. Macbeth. ambition, evil, order and disorder, appearance and reality, violence and tyranny, guilt and conscience, witchcraft and magic
2. Romeo and Juliet. love and hate, fate and free will, life and death, youth against age, fortune.
3. The Tempest. nature V nurture, imprisonment and freedom, colonialism, illusion and magic, forgiveness and reconciliation, sleep and dreams, transformation
4. Hamlet. procrastination, madness, revenge, sin and salvation, poison, theatre and acting, corruption
5. King Lear. justice, nature, sight and blindness, the tortured and broken body
6. Othello. jealously, racism, self-deception
I’m pretty sure that I outed myself a while back as one of those people that feels let down by what Neil Gaiman has “become” (his public persona and all the rest) and yeah – reading Worlds’ End I was struck by the thought that if he had done a Salinger and disappeared from the writing world after The Sandman finished then he’d be a comics legend. But then well – someone posted this interview on facebook today (“Let’s talk about genre”: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation) and now I’m like actually – oh wait: he’s saying a lot of good stuff:
I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel; or a novel with cowboys in it and a cowboy novel. I have a mad theory that I started evolving when I read a book called Hard Coreby Linda Williams, a film professor in California. It was one of the first books analysing hardcore pornography as a film genre.
She said that in order to make sense of it, you need to think of musicals, because the plot in a musical exists to stop all of the songs from happening at once, and to get you from song to song. You need the song where the heroine pines for what she does not have, you need the songs where the whole chorus is doing something rousing and upbeat, and you need the song when the lovers get together and, after all the vicissitudes, triumph.
I thought, “That’s actually a way to view all literary genres,” because there are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy. If it was a cowboy novel, we’d need the fight in the saloon; we’d need the bad guy to come riding into town and the good guy to be waiting for him. A novel that happens to be set in the Old West doesn’t actually need to deliver any of those things – though it would leave readers of genre cowboy fiction feeling peculiarly disappointed, because they have not got the moments of specific satisfaction.
I mean – I know in the past that I’ve been much the “yay genre!” kinda guy. But yeah (surprise surprise) my feelings and thoughts are probably a little bit more complex than that: seeing how all the “genre” stuff I really like – is the stuff that doesn’t actually “hit” those genre marks – but instead finds way to provide satisfactions by what it doesn’t give you.
A particularly good example the made-up sword fight in “Cluracan’s Tale” – which isn’t really that good when he tells it and then (ha!) turns out that he just made it up anyway to provide a little local colour (or however it is he phrases it). I mean yeah – I don’t really know why: but that kinda stuff really pleases me. The fact that you don’t get what you expect / what you want is precisely the type of thing that I want – yeah?
Forgotten almost everything about this book apart from the wraparound story with the funeral procession at the end. Perhaps I didn’t pay that much attention because I was hurrying to get to the end already. It does feel like a bit of a breather for Gaiman, before he launches into the longest and most ambitious part of the series.
I’ve mentioned this before in a previous LGNN discussion, but my pet theory is that the Endless abandoning their (always mysterious, never specified) duties is supposed to have a democratising effect on the domain in question. Destruction going AWOL precipitated the creative destruction of the Industrial Revolution. Dream doing the same should make all of us storytellers. This book may be an attempt to prove that point.
Except that (SPOILERS!) Dream doesn’t abandon his realm, he also, if memory serves, looks down on Destruction for abandoning his duties rather than doing the decent thing and dying so that some other aspect can take over, as with Despair.
I also remember, at the time, being very annoyed with this collection of stories that, like Ilia said, seemed to be a delaying tactic before getting to The Kindly Ones, I caught up and started collecting the monthly comics about halfway through ‘The Kindly Ones’ as it got later and later with the shipping. Now, without that, want the next new comic now, feeling to it I can appreciate the story for what it is, with that modern ‘Canterbury Tales’ vibe to it. It’s also the point where Gaiman starts spinning out stories that he has no intention of following up, which over the subsequent decade Vertigo would turn over to other writers to try and squeeze every last cent out of the Sandman loving readership.
It’s perhaps worth noticing that the reality storm is both sides of Destruction’s nature, the storm itself being destructive, but afterwards a lot of people seem willing to try new things, whether it’s abandoning their professions or deciding to stay and work in the Free House.