Read: October 2020
Author: Neil Gaiman & Dirk Maggs
Published: 1989 | 2020
Length: 10h 54m (audio)
Selected By: Elle Tea
When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus – the immortal king of dreams, stories, and the imagination – is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three tools that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer, chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare, and many more.
I have been waiting for The Sandman to explode into the mainstream for a few decades now. I love the graphic novels – they are one of the few things I have made sure to have with me every time I’ve relocated, with a strict “No Issue Left Behind” policy, resulting in an entire cabinet now dedicated to Morpheus & Co. I, like so many, found my introductory copy entirely by accident: it was in the early nineties, a few years into its original publication and at the beginning of the series’ relationship with DC’s adult imprint, Vertigo; a young me was perusing the shelves of a local comic-book store when I saw, staring at me from the midst of all of the brightly-colored mutants and aliens, a goth/punk/rock-looking girl with an ankh around her neck and the word “Death” emblazoned above her head. I made the purchase of that comic as well as its predecessor, burned through both, and in the wait for the third and final issue of that spin-off limited series, ran out and bought every copy of The Sandman that my meager first part-time job’s paychecks could afford. When most kids were saving every penny from their part-time high-school jobs for their first set of wheels when they finally got their driver’s licenses, I was happily handing every one of those precious pennies over for another fix of the Endless.
“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”
I love this series so fiercely, it has been as if I’d given birth to it myself – I have never been able to see its flaws or its hiccups, so I’ve never quite understood why the release of every single issue wasn’t preceded by fanfare and a parade so that the masses could be made aware of the one perfect thing that existed in all the world. From the writing to (much of) the artwork to those brilliant McKean covers… They were just…
You know that feeling you get, that anxious, fluttering, bird-in-a-cage feeling you get in your chest whenever you hear that some piece of literary genius with which you’ve been fascinated and protective of for years suddenly has that one little, powerful word – “adaptation” – attached to it? And we all say the same thing, in some way, shape, or form, we all say the same thing: “I hope they stay close to the source material.” And They never do. Instead, They put their own spin on things – They don’t interpret everything the same way each of us do, and so They change things around, They remove elements we found entirely necessary, They add things we think are thoroughly pointless, They just – They never seem to just let it be what it is, what it always was, what it was that made it great to begin with.
“We don’t have a clue what’s really going down, we just kid ourselves that we’re in control of our lives while a paper’s thickness away things that would drive us mad if we thought about them for too long play with us, and move us around from room-to-room, and put us away at night when they’re tired or bored.”
Except this time. Audible’s full-cast recording of The Sandman was shaped and molded with supervision from its creator, Neil Gaiman, who, unlike the licenses taken with American Gods, firmly stays entirely on The Sandman‘s original course, never deviating, never taking a shortcut across the twenty introductory issues included in these eleven hours. The first three volumes of The Sandman – Preludes & Nocturnes, The Doll’s House, and Dream Country – are all here, present and accounted for, in-full, as-written.
Which is fantastic, right? Because, at its core, The Sandman is about stories. In particular, it is about Neil Gaiman’s stories, and I think we can all agree that, love his style or hate it, the man can write. The fact that this is an audio version now means you won’t be distracted in the least by the vividly muddy artwork of some of those first issues, you won’t be given faces that just don’t jive in your mind for your demons or killers or heroes. Our beloved characters from yesteryear have voices – spectacularly-cast voices, by the way – and the occasional brief description is added when and where necessary, but the rest of the imagery is entirely up to you. But the most important part, the stories… the stories, my friends, remain true. From Morpheus’s kidnapping to the off-putting serial killer convention in Florida, from Lucifer in Hell to cats in charge of the world… it is all here. It is all still here.
And it is glorious.
The tales told within The Sandman are about… well… they’re about life, really – life and death and hope, all the things that make up what it is to be a human in this world. There is magic, yes. And religion. And myths and legends from a variety of cultures, some still in existence and some all but forgotten. But all of it comes back around to what it is to be human: what is magic and religion, what are myths and legends, but human minds armed with the tools and information of their specific moments, assigning what they need to where they need to in order to deal with what they do not or cannot know or understand. A way for us to put something between us and all the great unknowns. The Sandman takes our unknowns – Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire and Despair, and Delirium – and gives them life, gives them their own purpose, and sets them free to judge and fear and hate us in turn.
And it is all still so glorious.
“But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted.”
Except it is all here. It is all still here.
So… you know that feeling you get? That anxious, fluttering, bird-in-a-cage feeling you get in your chest whenever you hear that some piece of literary genius with which you’ve been fascinated and protective of for years suddenly has that one little, powerful word – “adaptation” – attached to it? And we all say, in our own ways: “I hope they stay close to the source material.” And then… suddenly… unexpectedly… They do. And you realize just how much has changed in the world in the 30 years since its original publication. And you realize just how little certain elements truly contribute, how silly and unnecessarily pointless they are when shone in a new light, with a new medium. And that what you loved, what you thought was great all this time, was great despite those things being present to begin with.
Minor case in point: so, this didn’t actually bother me, but I can understand that some will be like, “Really, that‘s how you decided to deal with this in this day and age?” The source material for The Sandman dates back to the late 80s / early 90s, when a man was born with a penis and a woman was born with a vagina, and anyone falling outside of those two definitions was a bit of an anomaly. So, while referring to Desire – who, like his/her namesake, is neither male nor female and yet is also simultaneously both male and female – as “It” is, though sensible and easy, also maybe not the best option, given how sexuality and the identification of one’s own sexuality has changed in the past decade. I shouldn’t have to say this, but life hasn’t always been the same for everyone in all of time, and you really shouldn’t judge things from the past, such as source material from the 80s or 90s, with modern eyes from 2020. As I said, this didn’t bother me personally, and I didn’t judge Audible’s edition of The Sandman positively or negatively for this point – I just wanted to put it out there in the event any of you may be swayed or put-off by the presence of an androgynous character being referred to as “It.” Which then brings me to…
“I’m not blessed. Or merciful. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we’re talking, I’m there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I’m in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abbatoirs. For some folks, death is a release, and for others, death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end… I’m there for all of them.”
Major case in point: what in the name of Choronzon do all of those DC cameos have to do with anything, really?? I mean… with the exception of Constantine’s appearances in the graphic novels, which I could at least attribute to him being some kind of demon hunter, the sudden popping-in of comic book characters was something I would eye-roll my way through just to get to the meaty deliciousness of the actual stories Gaiman and the artists were telling. The appearances of characters from Gotham and Metropolis seemed, even when I read them in the 90s, more like shameless DC plugs than crossovers, and I would tell myself that DC must have requested or required that their more mainstream heroes and villains be inserted into Gaiman’s stories – that had to be the case, right, because… because otherwise, what in the hell do the superheroes of the Justice League or the criminals of Arkham Asylum have to do with serious adult-life shit like physical and mental abuse, Death’s claim on young and old alike, and the fine line between passion and obsession, love and hate, desire and destruction?
But those damn goofy superheroes and borderline absurd villains are still here. And truth be told, their dogged insistence on being part of Morpheus’s latest adaptation is the sole reason I removed a cuppa from this review. I’d committed so little to those cameos in all of my read-throughs of the original issues that I’d genuinely forgotten all about them until listening to this Audible edition, when their sudden bursts onto the scene had the same impact each time: a cringing feeling inside my brain as a little voice in the back of my mind began to whisper: “Wait for it… you like this now, but there’s something cooooooming… something you’re not thinking about, something you’ve forgotten… but it will be here soon, and then, then you’ll remember…” And then, BAM, there they were. And at least in the graphic novels I could just skim that artwork, tell my eyes they were lying and that anyone else had been inserted there, any other random character, it didn’t matter… But with an audio edition, once one of them shows up, they’re just… always there. The music for their characters is different, their voices are present in all of their ha-ha-I’m-the-hero or mwah-ha-I’m-the-villain tones… and suddenly you’re very well aware of how long some of those issues were, of how painfully, boringly long… and after a while, you look up , realize that Morpheus hasn’t made an appearance in half-an-hour and that cartoon-like malarkey is still being crammed into your ear-holes, and find yourself angrily wondering, “Who the hell is this supposed to be, now? What is even going on anymore? What book am I even listening to right now?!”
“You say that dreams have no power here? Tell me, Lucifer Morningstar – ask yourselves, all of you: what power would Hell have if those here imprisoned were not able to dream of Heaven?”
All in all, this was a perfectly splendid and entirely faithful adaptation, and I recommend it to lovers of Gaiman’s style, as well as to anyone who loved the graphic novels, or if you just love a thought-provoking but entertaining form of escape from the seriousness of life. Just be aware that the age of its original source material is allowed to peep through, and those DC cameos are present but are, like the originals, little more than speed-bumps in an otherwise fabulous and fantastical journey across time, place, and legends.
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): Morpheus / Dream, Death, Lucifer, and Cain & Abel.
Narration Review†: Well, James McAvoy absolutely nailed Morpheus’s voice and cadence for me – it’s pretty much spot-on to the one I had internally assigned to Dream in my head all those years ago while initially reading (and re-reading… and re-reading over the years) the graphic novels. Kat Dennings was fantastic as Dream’s unquestioningly and unapologetically accepting and cheerful older sister, Death, Michael Sheen was excellent as the charming and petulant Lucifer, while Neil Gaiman’s clear, soft tones were perfect for the narration. As a long-time fan of the series, I was extremely pleased with all of the casting choices and the work each member did to breathe new life into their characters and this story!
Elle listened to the Audible Originals edition of this selection, narrated by Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, James McAvoy, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, and more.
This was fantastic! I could listen to Neil Gaiman tell stories all day everyday. I have a huge crush on James McAvoy’s voice as Morpheus. While I liked the story they really just knocked it out of the park! I have already started listening to it again.
My favorite story was where he went to Hell to retrieve his helm. The end of the story gave me chills. We’ll just say that there is always hope.
I haven’t read the comics yet, but I own the first three issues and want to listen to it while following along with the comic. Obviously I recommend this to others and can’t wait to listen to it again.
It is very graphic so those that are faint of heart should probably pass. Everyone else: hold on to your seat for a ride you’ll never forget!
Did I say I recommend this? Well just in case I didn’t, I do.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): I would say that my favorite character is Morpheus but a close second would be Gilbert / Fiddler’s Green. I loved him. He was so nice and chivalrous. I liked how he always called Rose by her full name: Rose Walker.
BillMo listened to the Audible Originals edition of this selection, narrated by Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, James McAvoy, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, and more.
This was advertised as a full production recording; I feel that this was an understatement. This production is reminiscent of the 1920 radio shows with soundtrack, sound effects and actors to create the ambiance of the story. Initially, the background music annoyed me, and I found it slightly distracting. However, it does seem to add to the ambiance that the author is going for. Another aesthetic issue that I had with the “production” (and the novel had I read it) is the fact that they threw in DC characters. Other than to tie certain things together, it did not add very much to me. In fact, it was more distracting than anything.
In Neil Gaiman fashion, this is a maze that a person must filter their way through to the end. For those who do not follow jumps in times, cross-pollination of storylines and the like, it may be a bit confusing and disconcerting at times. I do appreciate that Gaiman, as always, pulls in different cultures. As many of us know, each culture has its own version of myths and legends that pretty much resonant across cultures. Therefore, the character/entity of Dream or Lord Morpheus originates with the Greeks, shows up in the Anglo world, the Mesopotamian culture, and the African culture, just like each culture has its own trickster god. I personally enjoyed that Dream, Death, Desire and Despair are all personified in this novel and that each is a sibling. Each character had his or her own motivations that were uniquely otherworldly and human at the same time, even if their portrayal is not what one would expect in the personification.
Of the siblings, I most enjoyed Dream, portrayed by James McAvoy. Who knew that since he played a young Professor Xavier that his voice would carry so much resonance? I must say, he was perfectly cast and he evoked different emotions at different stages of the novel that made you feel that Morpheus was someone to empathize with, to be annoyed with, and ultimately to fear on some level. When one dreams, they often experience things through another’s eyes and Gaiman does a great job in exuding this. Gaiman does a magnificent job of examining how things may go awry when dreams go unchecked or are distorted by those who wish to control what is not theirs to control. In fact, the capture and imprisonment of Lord Morpheus was unplanned and makes the reader think, “what would have happened if the intended victim were captured”?
Gaiman further pulls in figures from throughout history that Lord Morpheus was involved with and gives you an idea of how Lord Morpheus impacted those around him through the centuries. I was amused by the relation of Shakespeare and slightly agitated by Judy Garland. However, the casting was immaculate for this production. The only character casting that threw me a bit was Kat Dennings as Death. Gaiman turns the idea of Death on its head with a younger woman portraying Death versus a voice of someone of advanced age. Because she was unexpected, it actually plays into the idea that people are often surprised by Death’s unsuspecting nature. There is no malice, there is no angst, it is what it is.
As an unseeming offshoot of the novel, but brings in an animal’s perspective, I quite enjoyed the cat dream aspect. We all know that our house lions feel that that run the world and Gaiman’s take on this concept was absolutely brilliant. Those of us who are animal parents know our dogs, cats and even rabbits have dreams. They react in dreams in a way that mimic their real life, so in my opinion, we should not assume that their dreams are benign or that they don’t have higher aspirations than snaking your dinner or getting your undivided attention at times. What happens when humans are not the top of the food chain and the animals treat us as we treat them? This is an interesting slant and was probably one of my favorite parts of the book.
Of the things that truly bothered me in the novel, the convention for serial killers was morbid, wayward, and just downright disturbing. The construction of this part of the novel was well done, but the concept gave me the creeps all the way around. However, I also have had the passing thought of “what if” serial killers did meet on the dark web and decided to get together to trade stories like it was a TED Talk or convention of sorts? Interesting twist and a great vehicle to bring Morpheus and other characters together to resolve certain loose ends of the novel. Though this was disturbing to me, it was well done and just causes a person to think more also.
Rather than ramble on, I will leave you to explore this work on your own. I feel it is worth your time and I’d likely relisten to this again in the near future. Overall, this was a well-done production. Again, the casting was spot on, with the story line having a few hiccups for me that rendered me unable to give it 5 cups.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Morpheus / Dream.
Lady Esbe listened to the Audible Originals edition of this selection, narrated by Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, James McAvoy, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, and more.
† Narration “cup” scores do not count towards the overall average score of the selection itself.