Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

"I'll show you fear in a handful of dust" -- T.S. Eliot

I read all of The Absolute Sandman, Vol I over the holidays. It was exactly the sort of thing you're supposed to read over the holidays -- enjoyable pop culture, not deep enough to trouble your heart, but not so shallow that you'd be ashamed of it.

I was not a real comic reader when I was younger; like most people with literary pretentions, I viewed them with a certain amused disdain. The whole super-hero genre was filled with such naked escapism -- it allowed the geeky, awkward, and unfit to project themselves into dreams of wealth, power, and beauty, while still preserving their identity as misunderstood outsiders.

But to all rules there are exceptions. I think it was my older brother who introduced me to The Sandman, back in his med school days. I can't remember exactly what he said about it, but it was something to the effect of, "Not all comics are vacuous. This one has something on its mind." I read few issues, and I enjoyed them. So when Wired gave a thumbs up to a bound collection, I put it on my wish list.

The Sandman is the King of Dreams, the personification of dreaming, one of seven Eternal ones. (His older sister, Death, makes some regular appearances.) In the dreamworld, Dream (or Morpheus, or Oineros, or whatever mythological sobriquet prevails in a given issue) is nearly omnipotent, but occasionally this god-like being gets entangled in the affairs of the real world, and that's when things gets interesting. The series begins when a secret occult society attempts to trap Death, so they might live forever. Instead of catching Death they get Dream instead. As the occultists attempt, over generations, to extort power from their captive, things start to go haywire in the dreamworld . . . and much of the story arc of Sandman is Morpheus' continuous efforts to set things aright after escaping his seventy-year imprisonment.

What makes the stories interesting, from a story-telling point of view, is how little of the main character we actually see. Most of the stories revolve around the mortals and their all-too-human dramas, in which Morpheus plays brief but significant roles. He remains (as he ought) a mysterious figure, never fully explicated, and never completely understood. He is god-like in more than his power, too -- while often aloof and indifferent to mortal struggles, he is occasionally moved by love, by anger, by pride, or by quiet curiousity. The stories were originally categorized under the "Horror" genre, which I suppose makes sense, in the same way that you could call "The Twilight Zone" horror. In most of the tales we see human suffering, evil, despair, and glimmers of hope, all from a god's-eye point of view -- what Sartre might call "the brotherly indifference of the universe."

If you enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- that is, a mash-up of fantasy, horror, humor, and heroics -- then you might enjoy Sandman. Just expect less humor and heroics, and more dark nights of the soul. If you, like the writer Neil Gaiman, have a wardrobe of black clothes and solitary ways, then the Sandman may be your patron saint.



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