Wed
Sep 9 2009 12:27pm

Re-reading Sandman: Issue #1, “The Sleep of the Just”

I said I wasn’t going to talk about editions. I was wrong. If you want an excuse to buy the huge expensive hardcover Absolute Sandman collections, I can give you one: they’ve been digitally recolored throughout. The difference is transformational. The underlying inked art is still the same, but it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on in it.

Some examples: Old and new versions of a two-page splash panel. The penultimate and antepenultimate pages of “Men of Good Fortune.” Another comparison of old and new splash panels. (You’ll have to scroll down a few clicks.)

Odd thing: I remembered the colorwork in the original Sandman comics being much richer and subtler than it is. That’s normal; readers who’ve gotten hooked by a story always fill in details without realizing they’re doing it. But until I compared the two versions, I didn’t realize quite how much I’d been filling in the first time around. Frequently, colors functioned more like traffic signals than anything else. They were laid down in big monochrome patches in order to group objects, separate foregrounds from backgrounds, and clarify panel boundaries. A lot of detail disappeared into the murk.

I don’t mean to bash Robbie Busch, or any of the other colorists who worked on the original comic. Their job wasn’t easy. If you’re curious, read Todd Klein on old-school coloring. Besides, coloring came in at the end of the artistic process, so any delays in the earlier stages could mean the colorists got stuck with insanely short deadlines. At any rate, that’s how things worked at Valiant/Acclaim; and I don’t recall the colorists there complaining that This Never Happens at DC or Marvel.

On with the story: Sandman #1, “The Sleep of the Just.” Page numbers refer to the Absolute Sandman edition.

11-12: June 6, 1916. Wych Cross, England. Professor John Hathaway arrives at Fawney Rig, the home of Roderick Burgess, a notorious libertine and ceremonial magician. Hathaway is clutching the Magdalene Grimoire, which he’s stolen from his employers at the Royal Museum, and he’s got “supplicant” written all over him. He’s just received word that his son Edmund is dead, killed when his destroyer went down off Jutland, and he wants to talk to Burgess about a piece of ceremonial magic.

Roderick Burgess looks out at Hathaway with a malicious grin. The last time they’d talked about the Magdalene Grimoire, Hathaway had turned him down. Now the man’s bereaved and desperate, and Burgess doesn’t even try to disguise his glee. Once he’s got the book in his hands, he tells Hathaway that his magical order will be able to perform the ceremony at the next full moon—and after that, no one will ever have to die.

The first time I read Sandman, I didn’t realize what a terrible idea that was.

13: June 10th, 1916. [1] For Ellie Marston, Daniel Bustamonte, Stefan Wasserman, and Unity Kinkaid, this will be their last night of normal sleep and dreams. Unity dreams of a tall dark man with eyes like stars.

14: Back at Wych Cross, Roderick Burgess’s waking dreams are of power, immortality, and an end to getting razzed by Aleister Crowley (who did that a lot). Burgess and his order (the Order of Ancient Mysteries, which has no resemblance to Crowley’s O.T.O.) plan to summon and imprison Death. And even if the ceremony’s a failure, he observes to his downtrodden son Alex, they’ve still gotten Professor Hathaway to steal the Magdalene Grimoire for them from the Royal Museum where he works. They can use that fact to blackmail him, and the museum will be theirs to plunder.

Let’s look at Roderick Burgess.

When you’re talking about magic made with grimoires and spells and talismans, the sort that’s a technology for manipulating the world (as opposed to the sort that’s an expression of the real nature of the world), fiction gives us two kinds of magicians. One kind—Merlin, Stephen Strange, Harry Potter—knows what magic is, how it works, which spells to use, and what results it will get. They make their mystic gestures or wave their wands, yell “Abracadabra!” or “By Agamotto’s All-Seeing Eye!” or “Expelliarmus!”, and poof, it’s done.

The other kind of magicians we get in fiction—and the only kind we come close to having in real life—inhabit a world where magic is only partly understood, so they’re constantly having to improvise as they go along, and afterward maintain that they meant to get those results. Roderick Burgess is one of these. His genetic makeup obviously has a lot of Aleister Crowley in it, but in a larger sense he and Crowley are both examples of the unreliable magician, a semi-stock character that has the interesting property of turning up in the real world as well as in fiction.

The unreliable magician is part magus and part con artist, mixed in an indeterminate ratio. As a class, they can be described as the set of magicians for whom the answer to “How much power do they really have?” is “Greater than zero, less than they pretend, and enough to get them into trouble.” Fictionally, their name is legion, but some recent examples include John Constantine, Ethan Rayne, and Sam and Dean Winchester. In the real world, their lineage takes in Johann Georg Faust, Edward Kelly, Alessandro Cagliostro, the Comte de St. Germain, Jacob Philadelphia, Gustavus Katterfelto, and so on down the ages, until it finally alights on Crowley himself, and such modern practitioners as Alexander Cannon and Carlos Castaneda.

As a stock character, the unreliable magician dates back to the Renaissance, an era fairly obsessed with grimoires, alchemy, rare and ancient magical texts, and encoded meanings. Why? Roughly speaking, because while they were romping through the surviving texts of classical antiquity, Renaissance scholars managed to convince themselves that somewhere in all that obscure recovered knowledge and strange new learning, they were going to find out how to do Real Magic. It was only a matter of time. By and large, the seekers who had the Renaissance equivalent of tenured positions tended to have stabler careers. It was the ones that didn’t who blossomed into the great charlatans, because they had artificially inflated reputations to sustain, and backers they needed to satisfy. [2]

Unreliable magicians aren’t complete frauds, in the real world or in fiction. They honestly believe that magic exists. They just don’t have as much of it as they want. Until they get it, they augment what magical knowledge and power they do have with trickery, mystification, wild surmises, speculative trilingual reconstructions, uncontrolled experiments, glossed-over setbacks, and artfully modest stories about how successful they were on certain previous occasions.

This is why they make such a resilient stock character: they’ve got their own story ticking away inside them. They’re betting that they’ll make good on everything, find what they need, before they run out of time.

* * *

15-19: The order begins the ceremony. Burgess pauses for a moment, struck by what a piece of effrontery it is to try to bind Death. Then, just as quickly, he dismisses the thought. By this, we know that he isn’t acting out of simple stupidity. Whatever the result, he’s got it coming.

The ceremony starts with short, concrete, evocative offerings: A coin made from a stone. A song stolen from the dirt. A knife from under the hills. A stick Burgess stuck through a dead man’s eye. A rat’s claw. A lost name. Blood from his own veins. A feather he pulled from an angel’s wing. Some of those elements can be mapped onto the standard four elements and Tarot suits, but others can’t, and so the list breaks out of the standard magical systems and extends into unknown territory.

(Incidentally, by building new extensions onto known magical systems, Neil makes all of them, familiar and unfamiliar, seem more real. If Burgess’s ceremonial offerings had stayed within the boundaries of known magical practice, the result would feel schematic and artificial.)

Burgess realizes he’s not in control; the spell is. This is almost never a good sign. But he can’t stop, so the spell continues into its next phase, the summoning by names of power. This is good construction. A well-made ceremony is a story in its own right. This story/ceremony started with concrete, knowable objects, then expanded out into stranger territory, then sped up when Burgess realized he couldn’t stop. Only now, when he’s got the story revved up and moving, does Neil bring in the abstract lists of strange names. Too many writers would start with the invocations, which wouldn’t work nearly as well.

You don’t really need to know the magical names; it’s obvious what they’re doing. [3]

The ritual is a partial success. At its climax, a strange masked figure materializes inside the circle and collapses on the floor. It isn’t Death, but Burgess and his minions decide to keep him anyway. They also steal his mask, his clothing, the ruby he wore around his neck, and a small bag of sand he was carrying. Later, they fasten a glass dome over him, and keep him under a 24-hour watch. This is Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, and he’s trapped in an East Sussex basement.

After this, time slows down.

Throughout the rest of the issue, Neil ties the repercussions of Dream’s captivity to 20th C. events. This serves a couple of useful purposes. One is that it’s a much more entertaining way to let us know how much time has passed. The other is subtler. As readers, we’re a little cautious when we’re first presented with new story. It makes assertions, and for just a moment we question them, hardly aware that we’re doing it: Can I buy this for the duration of the story? Is there anything about it I dislike? It’s our moment to argue with it before we and the story settle down together.

There are various ways to ease the reader past that point. One is to get the story started before it occurs to them that it’s time to argue. Another is to tie it to a storyline already in progress that the reader’s already bought into. This issue does both, tying its events to the historic timeline and the DC continuity. By the time the story reaches “now”—or the point where “now” was when the issue was published—we’ll be forty-odd pages into it; and we’ll believe, at least for the duration of the reading, that this-that-and-the-other known event was caused by Roderick Burgess’s imprisonment of Dream of the Endless.

20-21: The sleepers we’ve seen earlier develop sleep pathologies. Three of them mimic the worldwide epidemic of Encephalitis lethargica that struck in the Teens through mid-Twenties. Ellie Marsten goes to sleep and never wakes up. Unity Kinkaid gradually follows her. At first Daniel Bustamonte is just unable to dream, but after years of resisting, he finally succumbs to endless sleep as well. Stefan Wasserman, a young soldier in the German army, has a different problem: He can’t sleep at all. He’s diagnosed as having “shell shock,” an inadequate term used to describe the disturbingly high rate of stress-related psychological problems that developed on the battlefields of WWI. A year after he’s discharged, Wasserman kills himself.

22: Burgess attempts to threaten and cajole his prisoner, and gets nowhere.

23: June, 1920. The Royal Museum takes stock of its holdings, and finds books and manuscripts missing. Professor Hathaway comes under suspicion. At the end of his rope, and painfully aware of how thoroughly he’s been used, Hathaway writes a long suicide note revealing all he knows about Roderick Burgess, then stabs himself. Simultaneously, we see Burgess and his son using a magical artifact to set fire to Hathaway’s letter from a distance. Hathaway bleeds to death while watching his confession burn to ash.

24: Roderick Burgess is cleared of any involvement in Professor Hathaway's misuse of museum property and suicide. In an apparently unconnected event, Stefan Wasserman also kills himself.

Let’s pause here for a note on Ruthven Sykes, Roderick Burgess’s second-in-command. You’ll have noticed by now that he’s black. Why? To the best of my knowledge, for no particular reason beyond his own existence. If so, I applaud. Too often, characters are only created black, or female, or middle-aged, or gay, or, I don’t know, socialist Greek Orthodox Wampanoag, if they “need to be” for purposes of the plot. The unquestioned assumption there is that white/straight/male/etc. is the default condition, and everything else is an aberration. Yet the default condition of the real world is that people have all kinds of natural variations, no one of them more purpose-driven than any other. Hurrah for the casting director who remembers that.

25: August,1926: Young Alex Burgess finds a picture of Morpheus in a grimoire called the Paginarum Fulvarum. Aren’t Latin titles ever so sonorous and impressive? This one translates as “yellow pages.” Back when this issue came out, the phone company was running an ad campaign for the Yellow Pages that used the slogan, “If it’s out there, it’s in here,” meaning that anything that exists can be found listed in the Yellow Pages. Judging from the evidence on this page, they were right.

Later on in Sandman, the book will be referred to as the Liber Fulvarum Paginarum. It has been cited as the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum in the novel Good Omens (1990), which Neil wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett, and in Pratchett’s own Discworld books, where its other alternate title is the Necrotelicomnicon.

Burgess pretends he already knew it was Dream, but praises Alex “for working it out on his own.” He then predicts that if he ever dies, the Order of Ancient Mysteries will be safe in Alex’s hands, and invites Ruthven Sykes to confirm it. Sykes, who’s been his competent and hard-working second-in-command for all these years, constantly at his beck and call, smiles unpleasantly and says yes.

It’s remarkable how often new religions split over the question of whether the founding prophet’s biological offspring will inherit the mantle of leadership. The devoted but unrelated people who’ve already been helping run things tend to take it badly. Notice also that in a couple of panels on this page, Sykes is messing around with a framed photo of Burgess’s longtime mistress Ethel Cripps, which she’s inscribed Roddy—your slave in love, Ethel. Has he already been canoodling with Ethel, or is this the start of his plan to abscond with the OAM’s cash and all its best toys?

26-27: November, 1930. There’s a schism in the order. Ruthven Sykes and Ethel Cripps run off together, taking many of the order’s treasures and more than £200,000 of its cash. [4] Burgess declares magical war, so Sykes swaps Morpheus’ helmet with a demon in return for an amulet of protection. For the next six years, Burgess continues to throw blights and curses at Sykes, to no effect. Then Ethel Cripps walks out on Sykes, taking the magical doodads with her, and all of Sykes’s magical bills come due at once.

It’s a nice panel. The digital recoloring really brings out the details of Sykes’s exploding head.

28: July, 1939. Ellie Marsten, Daniel Bustamonte, and Unity Kinkaid still can’t wake up. In Unity’s case, that’s despite her having been raped seven years ago, carried a baby to term, and given birth. Her daughter was given up for adoption. For me, that plot setup now sticks out like a sore thumb; but the first time I read this issue it was just one more thread of many that might lead off in interesting directions.

Meanwhile, the universe is aware that Morpheus is missing, and is trying to replace him. (I love this concept: the universe, like evolutionary pressure, adapts whatever materials are on hand to make what it needs. God is a bodger.) Thus does Wesley Dodds becomes the Sandman, who runs around putting wicked people to sleep with his gas gun. [5]

Neil Gaiman is a tidy writer. Throughout the run of Sandman, he weaves bits and pieces of loose storyline back into the vast fabric of the DC continuity. Here on page 28 he accounts for the existence of Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, one of DC’s oldest characters. Further on he does the same for other incarnations of the Sandman by making them part of a larger story in which it’s perfectly logical that they, and Wesley Dodds, and Morpheus, have all borne that title. He likewise tidies up bits from a great many other storylines.[6] I’ll mention them when I spot them, though I’m sure there’ll be others I’ve never noticed.

29: 1947. Roderick Burgess tries one last time to bargain with his captive, and for one last time gets nowhere. He breaks down and cries because Dream could have given him “power beyond his wildest dreams,” but refused. “I didn’t have to get so old,” he says, badly mistaken; “I shouldn’t have had to get old.” Then he dies. In the real world, 1947 is the year in which Aleister Crowley died.

30-35: 1955. Ellie and Daniel and Unity are still asleep. It’s been forty years since Morpheus was captured. Alex Burgess lives at Fawney Rig with Paul McGuire, his significant other. Paul is also the new second-in-command of the OAM, despite the fact that he’s not a magician and doesn’t even believe magic exists. Down in the basement, the house’s other inhabitant is as intransigent as ever.

1968. Seekers at the doors of perception and gates of reality come to Fawney Rig, believing Alex Burgess can teach them how to do real magic. After some years, they drift away again. The quality of the guards who keep watch on Morpheus declines.

A strange thing is happening to Alex. He’s growing to look more and more like Cain: storyteller, keeper of the House of Mystery, and a servant of Morpheus. When Alex conjures up an apparition for his followers, it’s Cain’s pet gargoyle Gregory. This all stands to reason. He is keeping a house of mystery; Dream is a guest there, however unwillingly; and he’s telling stories to his groupies. In 1970, when they’ve drifted away, he stops looking quite so much like Cain. Perhaps it’s because he’s no longer telling stories.

1972, 1978, 1982, 1988. Alex Burgess gets old. Morpheus remains intransigent. Fred and Ernie, the guards who watch him now, are mere louts. In fact, if you look closely at the center panel on page 36, you’ll see that they’re Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. I don’t know whether that was in the script.

36-39: Paul brings Alex down to talk to Morpheus. As usual, the conversation goes nowhere. But as he’s turning Alex’s wheelchair to push it out of the room, one of its wheels cuts an arc through the the magical circle. Paul doesn’t notice. He doesn’t believe in magic.

Clear back on page 22, we had Roderick Burgess telling Morpheus that the magic circle traps him incorporeally, and the locked-down glass dome traps him physically. With the circle broken, his power is no longer bottled up. He hits Ernie with a microburst of REM sleep, grabs a handful of sand out of Ernie’s dream of the beach at Eastbourne, and then pretends to collapse unconscious onto the floor. Fred and Ernie panic, thinking he’s dead and that they’ll be blamed, so they call in Paul McGuire. Paul, concerned, has them unlock the dome. Morpheus blows sand in their eyes—

40: And escapes into the Dreaming.

41-42: A starving, naked Morpheus finds food and clothing in passing dreams. There’s a lovely vignette of Mort Notkin’s recurring anxiety dream:

In Mort Notkin’s recurring dream, he goes to this swell party, but he’s dressed as a clown.
He thought it was a costume party. He didn’t know.
Everyone laughs at him: Marilyn, Elvis, even the Duke…
Weird! That’s the first time a naked man has ever turned up to raid the buffet.
Dreams, go figure them.
Then Ron and Nancy turn up, and Mort’s back on familiar ground.

Some commentators think the smaller figures in the background of Mort’s dream are Jimmy Durante, Bela Lugosi, and Jane Fonda. I disagree. I think they’re Dustin Hoffman, Cary Grant, and Katherine Ross—not that it matters all that much, as long as they’re movie stars.

43: The sleepers awake. Ellie Marston is confused. Daniel Bustamonte is sane and coherent. Unity Kinkaid remembers her baby.

More analogue real-world events: some victims of the post-WWI Encephalitis lethargica epidemic were awakened in the late Sixties by giving them large doses of a new drug, L-DOPA. They weren't as lucky as Neil's characters, though. A few were permanently cured, but for the unfortunate remainder the benefits of the drug regimen were temporary, and they helplessly slipped back into trance-like immobility. Oliver Sacks, who was the neurologist in charge of the program, wrote a fascinating book about it: Awakenings. It’s become something of a minor classic. Check it out.

44-47: Asleep in his bedroom, Alex Burgess dreams. He walks down the long hallways of Fawney Rig, growing younger as he goes, then follows a black cat down a long spiral staircase to a room with a single ornate chair in it. The cat jumps up onto the chair, and turns into Dream of the Endless. Who is angry. Who is seventy-two years’ worth of “I am one of the primordial forces of the universe, and you bunch of two-bit hedge-wizards have been keeping me locked in a basement in East Sussex” angry.

Dream asks whether Alex has any excuse or explanation for what they’ve done to him. Alex, justly terrified, tells him they were trying to capture Death, and got him by mistake. This doesn’t help, to put it mildly. Dream tells him that he should count himself lucky, for the sake of his species and his planet, that they didn’t capture Death.

Dream is right. Having Death locked up wouldn’t make people ageless, immune to disease, or invulnerable to injury. They just wouldn’t be able to die.

Check the date on which this story starts: June 6th, 1916. The First World War is in full swing. Professor Hathaway’s son “whose destroyer was sunk last week off Jutland” was killed in the Battle of Jutland, 31 May - 01 June 1916. The combined losses of Germany and Great Britain were 25 ships sunk, 8,645 men killed, and 1,017 wounded. If Death had been imprisoned before the battle started, all those dead men would still be be alive. They’d be burned, maimed, crushed, blown to pieces, trapped in sunken wreckage, or lost in the black depths of the North Sea, but they’d be alive, and they wouldn’t be grateful for it.

It gets worse. The OAM conducted its ceremony just a couple of weeks before the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, [7] when Britain took 54,470 casualties in a matter of hours. [8] It’s the quasi-official worst day in British history. The battle would eventually rack up 1,070,000 casualties for both sides combined before it ended in November of that year. Meanwhile, the equally horrendous Battle of Verdun was grinding away and would continue to do so until mid-December, for a total of 708,000 casualties. The Austrians and Italians were slugging it out in the Alps. On the Eastern Front, the Brusilov Offensive would continue through early August, with 2,350,000 total casualties.

That’s just a few of the major campaigns. It was a global conflict. People were fighting and dying all around the world.

There were also epidemics going on—polio, typhus, etc.—and lurking just down the road were the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that killed more than 50 million people worldwide, then Encephalitis lethargica. After that, everything goes pandemic, because if no one can die of infectious diseases, they never stop spreading. Finally, pile all that on top of the normal ailments and miseries that kill people even when nothing else is going on.

If no one can die, what all that adds up to is the Zombie Apocalypse, except these zombies would be sentient human beings, many of them would be screaming in pain, and they’d all think they’d gone to hell. That’s it for first couple of years. After that, problems of the Zombie Apocalypse would be trumped by the fact that insects and microbes weren’t dying either. That’d get really ugly.

As I said, Dream is right. They’re been unbelievably negligent, and they’re lucky they didn’t catch Death.

47-50: Dream condemns Alex Burgess to Eternal Waking: a permanent state of false awakening from one nightmare into another. I’ve experienced a temporary version of that. It purely sucks.

50: Dream says, “And I have showed him fear,” which is a reference to T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. If all of you will please just Google on “what are the roots that clutch” plus “handful of dust”, you can see the pertinent passage without my having to ask the Eliot estate for permission to quote it.

More to come.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Actually it’s June 15th, but never mind—it doesn’t affect the story. I’ll tell you later why I looked it up.

[2] The Renaissance provenance of the unreliable magician explains a set of odd persistent circumstances that accompany him. No matter what century he’s working in, his source texts are always written in strange, crabbed languages; they’re always super-rare old leatherbound monstrosities; no one ever just borrows a grimoire and runs it through a copier, or has a typist transcribe it; the dates the books cite are extremely difficult to reconcile with the current calendar; and they never, ever have a proper index.

[3] However, if you’re curious: Namtar and Allatu are Mesopotamian gods of evil and the underworld. Morax, Naberius, and Vepar first appear in Johann Weyer’s Pseudomonarchia Daemonum (1577), where they’re described, respectively, as a Great Earl and President of Hell, the most valiant Marquis of Hell, and a strong Great Duke of Hell. They’re described differently in other grimoires, but no one cares. Klesh is the Navajo word for “snake.” Maymon is the ruling angel of Saturday and the southwest wind, according to the Heptameron, or Magical Elements (1496), attributed (most likely spuriously) to Pietro d’Abano. Ashema-Deva, from the Avestan aesma-daeva, started out as the Zoroastrian demon of wrath, then became Ashmedai or Asmodeus, and under the latter name turns up in many grimoires. Maborym is a meaningless word. Finally, Horvendile (see also Aurvandil, Earendel, Eärendil, Auriwandalo, Orentil, Erentil, Horvandillus, Horwendil, etc.) could be on the list for any number of reasons; but I’ll bet you a bright shiny quarter it’s because the demiurge Horvendile is an important figure in James Branch Cabell’s work, and Neil is a big fan of Cabell.

[4] This is not unlike what happened to the California branch of Crowley’s O.T.O. when “Frater X” ran off with Jack Parsons’s money and wife. One ought not make too much of the parallels, though; this is another one of those things that happens in a lot of organizations. Case in point: the O.T.O. may have talked incessantly about sex, but for actual fornication and adultery they weren’t a patch on the Fabian Society.

[5] The Wesley Dodds Sandman would have made a lot more sense at the time the character was formulated than it does now. Back in the Thirties, people believed that “gas” had all sorts of interesting properties we’d find difficult or impossible to duplicate now. They also believed in mysterious figures who ran around gassing people. Wesley Dodds’s crimefighting alter ego bears more than a passing resemblance to the Mad Gasser of Virginia, who supposedly terrorized Botetourt County, VA in 1933 and 1934, and the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, who terrorized Mattoon, IL in 1944. (In good comic book fashion, the Mattoon Mad Gasser was also referred to as “the Anesthetic Prowler” and “the Phantom Anesthetist,” which beats the heck out of DC calling the Sandman “the Grainy Gladiator.”) Both the Virginia and the Illinois episodes are now thought to have been caused by mass hysteria, but at the time they caused considerable alarm.

[6] If you don’t know from DC Comics, don’t worry; Sandman reads just fine without.

[7] Do I think Neil knew that? Heck yeah. Look how delicately he tucked in that reference to Jutland, and how specific he is about the dates. Also, getting through a British education with hearing about the Somme would be like getting through an American education without hearing about Gettysburg.

Whoops, nearly forgot: I promised I'd explain footnote #1. I knew the full moon fell on June 15th in 1916 because I'd been double-checking the dates at the beginning of the story. I wasn't scrounging for corrections for their own sake.

[8] We have actual movie footage taken that morning of two companies of Tolkien’s regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers, forming up in a sunken lane and moving out to attack eastward across No Man’s Land, past the brand-new Hawthorn Mine Crater. There was a low bank a few hundred feet forward of their position. Only fifty of them made it that far. It was a bad, bad morning all ’round. But I digress.


Teresa Nielsen Hayden is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a fan writer, essayist, blogger, teacher, and moderator.

54 comments
Irene Gallo
1. Irene
Wow. This is fantastic, Teresa.

I’m reading Sandman for the first time now, just finished Fables & Reflections, and I sink deeper into totally-geeked-out-fan-girl with each volume. As much as I am loving it, I’ve been reading knowing there are many references I don’t get....It’s great to get this kind of grounding as I finish up the series and then race around and catch up on the re-read with you.

(I’ve been avoiding the Absolute editions but you may have convinced me with that comparison shot. CosmicComics may have a very good day today.)
David Goldfarb
2. David_Goldfarb
I'd been wondering what happened to this series! Nice to see it started at last.

I'm very impressed by your referencing all the names in the magical ritual -- where were you when I was doing annotations?

I recall one of the letter columns in a later issue having a reader talk about how bad it would be for nobody to die, and Neil replying "It would be much, much worse." If we look at what happened when Dream was captured, it wasn't so much that nobody dreamed (clearly people still did) as that dreaming went out of control: some people were swallowed up by dreams and remained asleep all the time, while others became unable to dream. Now imagine something analogous, with Death -- some people immortal but not invulnerable, while others just suddenly dropped dead for no reason.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
Irene, the Absolute editions are *gorgeous*—well worth the cash.

Theresa, thank you for doing this—Neil packs so many references and allusions into Sandman, that it's hard to keep track of it all. Wonderful to have a knowledgeable and astute guide through the Dreaming. I'm so looking forward to following along with my own copies!
Genevieve Williams
4. welltemperedwriter
It's been long enough since I read Sandman that this synopsis is familiar, but not too much so. Most enjoyable. I'm about to lend my copies to a friend who has somehow gotten this far in life without reading the series.

More esoterically, I can trace an interest in the history of the occult to my first reading of Sandman over 15 years ago. It's fascinating, for just the reasons Teresa says. (Also, it always amused me that the ceremonies in the Lesser Key of Solomon are arranged in a series that becomes steadily more complex--if your first try doesn't work, you're supposed to proceed to the next ceremony and try that one, and so on. If you reach the end of the Key and still no results, you're supposed to start over again at the beginning. It's like a Ponzi scheme involving only one person.)
Ken Brown
5. Ken Brown
Thanks for "keeping-me-locked-in-a-basement-in-East-Sussex-angry"! And for the link to Todd Klein's site which for some strange reason I have never seen before.

I spent most of my teens living in a basement in East Sussex but it was my parent's house in Brighton and I wasn't locked in :)
Zed Lopez
6. ZedLopez
Wow. Really wonderful, Teresa. I'll be rereading Sandman to follow along, and looking forward to each installment.
Avram Grumer
7. avram
I notice that the regions of solid black are much blacker in the Absolute edition. This probably has something to do with the paper as well as the re-coloring.
Abigail Sutherland
8. evilrooster
Teresa,

This is superb. I reread Sandman about a year ago, so the story was fairly fresh in my head, but that just gave me a firm basis to stand, neck cricked, watching your analytical fireworks.

I have a long-standing theory that Ethel Cripps is a reference to Ethel Le Neve, who fled England on a steamer with Dr Crippen.

Crippen was in 1910, of course, and Cripps in 1930. But the eyebrows are the same, and the shape of the mouth.
Ken Brown
9. TNH
Thanks, everyone.

The links in footnote #8 should be fixed any second now.

Abi, in re Ethel Cripps: You too? I had a momentary attack of cowardice about being too obscure, which is why it isn't in the entry.
Pablo Defendini
10. pablodefendini
@avram #7

you are correct, in part. The ink density that you can get away with on nice paper as opposed to cheap newsprint allows for deeper blacks, but additionally, the deep, dark blacks found in the Absolute editions are what are called "rich black" EDIT: this term is incorrect. And it sucks that our bbcode set doesn't allow for strikethrough text] in printers' parlance. This type of black is actually composed of 60% saturation (or thereabouts—different presses have different tolerances) of all the other three inks used in four-colour printing in addition to Black (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow), and as such create a much richer, deeper black than simply doing 100% Black.

Doing this was problematic in the old days of comics printing, since rich black requires spot-on registration (the correct lining up of all four colour plates on a press job), something which was sadly neglected in the quick-and-dirty days of fast-turnaround printing. The earmarks of something being "off-register" are the halos of Cyan, Magenta, or Yellow that you sometimes see in cheaply-produced print jobs, such as older comics.

With the advent of digital pre-press and plate production, being off-register is actually more of a challenge than not, so this problem is not seen as often in modern comics. Additionally, since the Absolute editions were produced with an extraordinary attention to craft, they made damn sure that everything looks just right.
Abigail Sutherland
11. evilrooster
TNH

I think you need grey text for writing down unproven theories as well as black for the stuff you can nail down. Alternatively, you could put such things in the comments.

Speaking of which, by the way, do you have any other things you weren't sure enough of? I'd love to hear them; Ethel Cripps is one of only three or four little beliefs I cherish about Sandman, but I bet you have dozens.
Stefan Raets
12. Stefan
This was really fascinating. Thanks so much. I'm planning to read along, one issue at a time, at the pace of your posts. What a treat.
Ken Brown
13. StephenFrug|
I liked your invocation of the Apocalypse of Living Zombies. But are we sure that capturing Death would mean that no one would die? After all, capturing Dream doesn't stop everyone from dreaming; based on this issue, it seems to affect a fairly small number of people.

IIRC Burgess talks about how much power capturing Death will give him -- but, as you noted, he's an unreliable magician and in some part, although not entirely, a fraud. (It's been a while since I read this issue. So my memory may be faulty.) He may not know the consequences of capturing Death, and what he says they'll be can't be considered definitive.

On a slightly different topic: is there a clear textual/visual reason to think that Burgess is only pretending when he implies that he knew all along that he'd captured Dream (when Alex shows him the book)? Again, it's been a while, but while that sounds like a possible reading, I don't recall reading that way or seeing anything to push me in that direction. So what makes you think so?

(BTW, fabulous post, and I look forward to the whole series.)
Sam Kelly
14. Eithin
Regarding the recolouring - obviously, it's their call, because it's their vision, but I'm dubious. Which might be innate conservatism, but the murkier, shadier colouration of a lot of the Sandman stories seems to suit the tone of the text. Looking at some of the scans TNH posted, my first thought was along the lines of "Hang on, that looks like a Claremont panel" - but then I calmed down and remembered to reserve judgement till I got a good hard look at a physical copy. And then went to find P&N to look something up, and... yeah. That London bus (page 15) is magenta. They're not supposed to look like that.

Regarding Burgess - there's a long tradition of magical defenses for England, from the severed head of Bran the Blessed immured under the White Tower (though he asked to be buried, at least) to the witches who sent hexes against both the Armada and the Luftwaffe, and all the Wiccans doing similar things today. Burgess is working in the same tradition, though with a far grander and, um, more bloody stupid vision. Which is a very nice parallel of the technocratic response to the increasing threat of War In Our Time.

Part of the thing about the Ponzi scheme of rituals, as Aleister Crowley cheerfully admits (in 777, I think, though I might be misremembering), is that the complexity and the patterns of repetition, and all the memorization required, are designed to maze and baffle the practitioner and give them a sense of investment and ownership. Which tends to throw in a huge wodge of observer bias when it comes to evaluating success, and lead to continuing involvement.

Or to put it another way - the intricate design and internal structural rhyming of the rituals help to put the practitioner in the right plane of consciousness for results, as Crowley defined results, which is to say interesting psychological events and local diversions from the global consensus reality.

As TNH says, "real" hermetic magicians are always a bit shady and unreliable, and so is everything around them. There's a sound psychological basis for this too - it's really, really hard to achieve those interesting psychological events when everything around you is bright and shiny and demystified. If only they'd all followed Crowley's advice about a magical diary...

Another point there is that it's also easier to achieve that state when you aren't surrounded by other monkeys constantly reinforcing consensus reality at you, which is why the Classic Hermetic Magician always works alone or with a subservient famulus who isn't going to tell him he's doing it wrong. Which means that the ancient grimoires, crabbed scripts, lack of indices, and so on are realistic, because producing all these things in a sensible, usable, reproducible form needs a professional infrastructure, which depends on lots of practitioners who talk to each other. You've always got the late-mediaeval correspondence net, but that worked by Travelling Casanova Protocol, which has even more latency than the method set out by RFC 1149.
Abigail Sutherland
15. evilrooster
Eithin:

Good points, all. I'd only add one thing to them.

Speaking as a Classic Hermetic Software Tester, working in my particular solitary fastness, I can tell you that crabbed scripts and lack of indices are also the clear hallmarks of notes purely intended for one's self.

If I were trying to collaborate with anyone else (or teach them), I would document things more clearly and thoroughly. But that would take time that I could be using to find the Philosopher's Stone^H^H^H bugs.
Zed Lopez
16. ZedLopez
Eithin @14: Regarding the recolouring - obviously, it's their call, because it's their vision, but I'm dubious.

Gaiman seemed pretty enthusiastic about the recoloring.

"It's astonishing how much better the art in Sandman #1 looks recoloured. There are sequences that didn't quite make sense before that now flow really well."

"one thing that's impressed me over and over as we've worked on ABSOLUTE SANDMAN is the number of places where what seemed like poor storytelling on an artist's part turned out to make perfect sense once the colouring was fixed."

Updated: I somehow creatively read Eithin's comment as implying that the recoloring was done without Gaiman's input. After posting, I realized the comment said nothing of the sort. Sorry about that.
Clifton Royston
17. CliftonR
Great commentary, Teresa.

Eithin, if I remember correctly Liber 777, strictly speaking, is simply Crowley's own adaptation of the Golden Dawn's tables of correspondences for the 10 sephiroth and 22 paths. I think the passage you're recalling is either in Crowley's introduction to the Lemegeton or in Liber 4. I'm fairly sure it's the Lemegeton because he specifically suggests that the long strings of "barbarous names" found in its invocations - which it's a classic example of - are to confuse and exalt the evoker.
Clifton Royston
18. CliftonR
Great commentary, Teresa.

Eithin, if I remember correctly Liber 777, strictly speaking, is simply Crowley's own adaptation of the Golden Dawn's tables of correspondences for the 10 sephiroth and 22 paths. I think the passage you're recalling is either in Crowley's introduction to the Lemegeton or in Liber 4. I'm fairly sure it's the Lemegeton because he specifically suggests that the long strings of "barbarous names" found in its invocations - which it's a classic example of - are to confuse and exalt the evoker.
Dave Robinson
19. DaveRobinson
They have all four volumes on the shelf at my local BAMM and I have been drooling over them forever. Eventually I know I'm going to have to take the plunge - but nothing is as good as an Absolute, and I can't afford them at the moment.

In the meantime, I'll continue to drool.
Ryan V
20. JesterJoker
What book is that colorised map of Europe on? I hadn't realised Gutenberg had colorised maps like that!
Steven Schend
21. SESchend
Great commentary and annotations!

Any chance you could be convinced to be this thorough for the whole series and turn these columns into a book? I know I'd immediately queue up for at least two copies and know at least a score of folks who'd do the same.

Steven Schend
www.steveneschend.com
Ken Brown
22. Godfree
I see SESchend was thinking along the same lines I am. An annotated "Sandman" a la Martin Gardner's "Annotated Alice" would be a splendiferous thing indeed.
Soon Lee
23. SoonLee
Excellent post!

Beginnings are such delicate times. I recall on my first reading thinking that Gaiman was just throwing everything he could think of into this issue, on the off chance that he might need a convenient plot hook later; being a serial comic, Gaiman couldn't go back and re-write an earlier issue after its publication.

Though he made it look like it was all planned that way all along, I wonder how much of Sandman arc Gaiman had mapped out from the outset and what proportion was evolved over the life of the comic.
Ken Brown
24. Tom Whitmore
In the vein of mixing animated cartoons and Crowley, the t-shirt on the guard on page (23 in Preludes and Nocturnes, since I don't have the Absolute set) which has Daffy Duck saying "Do what thou wilt, Buster!" is another lovely bit of lagniappe. Thanks, as so many have given, for pushing me into re-reading this.
Ken Brown
25. Jenny Creed
Very interesting read. I've learned some things today, most significant the similarity between Burgess jr. and Cain.

About Death, I always imagined if she had been captured things would still die, just not with her help. Her job isn't to kill people after all, it's to guide us to the "Sunless Lands". I imagine people would still find their way, though maybe not fast, or to the afterlife they're meant for.

On reflection, as we learn later on that people also meet Death when they are born, life and pre-life (whatever that is) might get even more chaotic than afterlife.
Ken Brown
26. legionseagle
Regarding the Battle of the Somme, June 15 1916, this talks about the War Memorial in the Sacred Trinity Church, Salford (my parish church). Short version; the journalist doing the piece on the church noticed the memorial book and thought, "That's a hell of a lot of deaths for one parish." Then he looked closer, and revised his view: "That's a hell of a lot of deaths for one parish on one day/" 400 officers and men of the Lancashire Fusiliers, to be precise.
Tikitu de Jager
27. tikitu
Great work Teresa. I'm thirding SESchend: this is worth collecting (somehow).
Chuk Goodin
28. Chuk
Excellent work, and by coincidence I just finished reading the first volume of Absolute Sandman yesterday. It's been years since I read it and it really, really rewards a second reading.

Thanks for checking all the demon names, too -- now I don't have to. :-)

But I can't wait for one issue at a time so I'll be finished way before you.
Elizabeth Coleman
29. elizabethcoleman
If I may be pedantic for a moment. Rich black and registration aren't the same thing. Rich Black =60%C 40M 30 Y 100K (at least at the press I work at) while registration is 100% all across. It's used for registration marks only. If you see it in your swatch palette, don't use it. EVER. Your printer will hate you.

And is less pedantic news, awesome recap! Thanks for the links on comic production. I'm blessed to live in the modern age with computers to do separations, and I like being reminded of how lucky I am.

We printed the posters for the recent movie, Alien Trespass, which is an homage to the old B-Movies, and they initially wanted us to intentionally print it out of register! Fortunately for our pressmen, we didn't, but we did use Photoshop to blow up the halftone dots in places.
Ken Brown
30. Wrye
Truly wonderful stuff, Teresa. I look forward to revisiting the series with you. Given how the DC comics continuity has continued to mutate and evolve since the events of Sandman, it'll be interesting to revisit those references, too.
Ken Brown
31. Dave Harmon
Awesome -- I hadn't even realized that the encephalitis lethargica epidemic was for real! (It just seemed too pat....) I just Googled up "Hathaway Royal Museum theft", but no dice -- all the references were to discussions of Sandman.
Ken Brown
32. TNH
WellTempered, I'm utterly charmed by this idea of ceremonial magic as a Ponzi scheme in which you ensnare yourself by investing your time, effort, and belief. I've seen powerfully certain mindsets develop in people who've repeatedly had to slay their own skepticism so that they could keep pursuing some essentially insecure proposition. Boundless faith in your own dreams isn't always a good idea.

I also liked Eithin's observation about magic's arbitrary complexity:
Part of the thing about the Ponzi scheme of rituals, as Aleister Crowley cheerfully admits (in 777, I think, though I might be misremembering), is that the complexity and the patterns of repetition, and all the memorization required, are designed to maze and baffle the practitioner and give them a sense of investment and ownership. Which tends to throw in a huge wodge of observer bias when it comes to evaluating success, and lead to continuing involvement.
That might help explain the pointless overcomplication of demon-and-spirit lists, which read like a cross between the Pokemon Index and the saints' calendar as re-imagined by H.R. Giger.

Ken Brown, I take it your East Sussex basement wasn't nearly that interesting?

Pablo, my infrequent hangovers always make me feel like I've been printed off-register.

Abi, unless I've forgotten some, my only remaining half-baked theory is that the dome under which they imprison Morpheus is the inverted bottom half of the "Vessel of Brass wherein King Solomon did shut up the Evil Spirits" illustrated in the Mather-and-Crowley Lesser Key of Solomon, fig. 158. That particular illustration makes it look like it's mostly transparent.

If one wanted to justify that, one could easily point out that magicians are forever going on about what odd voices demons have, so why not suppose they mixed up glass and brass? For all we know, grimoires are full of "Blessed are the Cheesemakers" errors. From there, it's no great leap to imagine that the OAM had a big heavy glass-and-brass Vessel of Solomon left over from some earlier project that didn't pan out, and that when they needed a see-through cage for Morpheus, they simply inverted the bottom half of their great chrystalline sphere, just like you'd use a Pyrex glass measuring cup to trap a tarantula in your kitchen.

Stephen Frug, I think Death is either responsible for death itself, or she's responsible for the dead going wherever it is they're supposed to go. If it's the latter, you'd get a situation like gur bar yngre va gur obbx jurer Yhpvsre xvpxf nyy gur qnzarq fbhyf bhg bs Uryy naq ybpxf gur qbbef--fvzvyne rssrpg, ohg lbh'q unir gb qrny jvgu na rkgen pbecfr cre qrnq crefba, vafgrnq bs n fvatyr pbecfr gung bhtug gb or qrnq ohg vfa'g.

(That was a spoiler. This is ROT13.)

Notice that Burgess never seems to have played around with Dream's tools. I don't think he has any idea what he'd do with unimaginable power. He just doesn't want to die.

I have two reasons for thinking Burgess is pretending he knew who he'd caught. First, it's the only time we ever see him praise Alex or try to court his favor, and he overdoes it, saying he knows the OAM will be safe in Alex's hands. He knows nothing of the sort. He's just saying that to cover his own lapse.

Second, it's clear from the dialogue when they walk into the room that Burgess and Sykes have been discussing their captive. Now look at Sykes's face in the last panel on that page. He knows damned well that Burgess is faking it. Whether or not Burgess would have told Sykes before now if he'd known who it was, the knowledge that the prisoner in the basement is Dream of the Endless would have informed the rest of Burgess's conversation. For example, it would be superfluous for Burgess to say "I know he understands me!" as emphatically as he does. He would, in fact, know that Dream understands him, and so he wouldn't have to assert it.

I can't be sure, but I think it's likely that Sykes had too clear a view of Burgess's fraudulence, and it led him to underestimate Burgess's actual power. When he's bargaining with the demon, he has the air of someone who's fallen into a lot more trouble than he anticipated.

Eithin again, the trouble with murky, atmospheric colors and expressive but obscure line art in SF and fantasy comics is that when you're trying to build and people new worlds, your readers have to be able to tell what they're looking at.

JesterJoker, the colored maps are from The Story of the Great War, Volume V.

If I had to guess why Gutenberg has so few books with color illustrations, I'd say it's because the terminal line of copyright is just moving into the era of relatively cheap full-color printing.

Steven Schend, Godfree, Tikitu: Not every issue is going to have this much to talk about. Some stories don't leave you much to say beyond "Wow, that was really good."

Also, it would make me nervous to think I was writing a book.

Soon Lee, if I were the author, I'd never tell. Would you like it better or worse if you thought he had it all planned out from the beginning?

Tom, you're welcome. Did you see what I linked to from Aleister Crowley?

Legionseagle: The Salford Pals? That's your local parish? Oh, my goodness. What a piece of history to grow up with.

Dave Harmon, I've always assumed it's the British Museum.

The building shown in the comic looks a lot like the central facade of the British Museum; but then, so do half the museums in the world.
Pablo Defendini
33. pablodefendini
@elizabethcoleman
You are absolutely correct. I can't believe I screwed that up.
Ken Brown
34. TNH
Pablo, I just assumed production language had mutated since I last spoke it on a daily basis.

Elizabeth, I got to see the changeover from brushed-on dyes to computer coloring where I was working. I'm not sure whether I still have a sample comic done by an over-enthusiastic artist who'd used 3D color modeling and graded fills in every cell. It reminded me of the period when DTP was new and designers were drunk on having multiple fonts to play with. Nothing to do but grit your teeth and wait it out ...
Soon Lee
35. SoonLee
Teresa @32:

I would expect that he had the overall arc of the story mapped out in broad brush-strokes from the beginning, and that some parts altered in the telling.

I wouldn't like any more or less either way, but if it had sprung fully-formed and was set down unchanged from Neil's original conception of the story, I'd be gobsmacked. I can't imagine anyone being able to hold a long (and at times complicated) storyline such as this, in all its details, in their mind. I also can't imagine that he didn't get new (better) story ideas as it went along, and if he did, chose not incorporate the new ideas even if they diverged somewhat from the original conception.

"...if I were the author, I'd never tell."

But I'm nosy! Having seen a few manuscripts go through the process from before the first draft to the finished product hasn't lessened my appreciation of them. But it's a different sort of appreciation I suppose.
Ken Brown
36. Leslie S. Klinger
You make a number of interesting observations, and I look forward to your comments on the balance of the series. FYI, I am currently editing an "Annotated Sandman," with the full cooperation of Neil Gaiman, to be published by D. C. Comics in 2012 or 2013.
Ken Brown
37. Tom Whitmore
TNH @32 -- no, I hadn't noticed. You should be careful with stories like that -- someone might think it was fan fiction. (Online equivalent of blush inserted.)
Dan Layman-Kennedy
38. maestro23
I suspect that "Maborym" may be a misprint (or misremembering) of Haborym, who is also known as Aim or Aym in the Lesser Key of Solomon. He's a Great Duke of Hell who sets things on fire. (Haborym also makes an appearance in Mike Mignola's Hellboy short "Pancakes," for those keeping score at home.)

Leslie S. Klinger, that's fantastic - an official set of Sandman annotations would be a welcome thing, and I'll be eager to get my hands on a copy. (I recall there was at least one attempt at an annotated Sandman website, but it looked like the project was abandoned at some point, and I know there were some significant things that got missed - like the hat-tip to Jurgen in the Breschau of Livonia scene in Season of Mists, frex.)

TNH, I love what you're doing with this reread. I await with much eagerness the next installment.
Ken Brown
39. TNH
Thank you, Maestro--I tried googling on some alternate spellings, but that wasn't one of them.

Soon Lee, I think your best option is to ask him.

Leslie, I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours.
Britta Ager
40. weatherglass
I'm thoroughly enjoying the reread, but wanted to add a note that the links to the reread indexes for Sandman and Makers on the main page are crossed; the one for Sandman takes you to Makers, and vice versa.
Ken Brown
41. Leslie S. Klinger
A few comments:

There are in fact several connections between the O.T.O. (Crowely's organization) and the O.A.M. Burgess calls himself "Magister Ipsissimus," which was the highest order of the O.T.O. Elsewhere, we learn that Burgess was a disciple of Alan Bennett, Crowley's roommate.

I agree that Horvendile probably was the same demi-urge known to Cabell; it was also reportedly the name of Hamlet's father.

It's fascinating to read that notwithstanding the optimistic BBC News article you link regarding Encephalitis lethargica, subsequent studies suggest other causes, including auto-immune reactions, and the disease's origins remain unknown. Although no epidemic has occurred since 1927, the occasional outbreaks may link to absences of Dream--further research remains to be done.
Ken Brown
42. TNH
Leslie, Horvendile is but one of the many versions of Hamlet's father's name, and there are other plausible connections. Check out the Wikipedia entries on Aurvandil and Horwendill, the section on Orentil, Wielant. Mimi. Tell, &c. in Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, Appendix 2 of Hamlet's Mill, and the Tolkien Wiki community's discussion of Éarendel.
Daniel Cole
43. zaldar
"In the real world, their lineage takes in Johann Georg Faust, Edward Kelly, Alessandro Cagliostro, the Comte de St. Germain, Jacob Philadelphia, Gustavus Katterfelto, and so on down the ages, until it finally alights on Crowley himself, and such modern practitioners as Alexander Cannon and Carlos Castaneda."

Wait so you think there are people in the real world who had some magical ability....eh?
Ken Brown
44. favve
Teresa. This is truly exciting, since I discovered The Sandman I've always regret that I wasn't grown enough to read it when it was first published and all of the things I missed, this re-reading and discussing every issue feels like it, or sort of...

This Absolute Sandman volumes had been in my wish list for about a year and this was indeed the perfect excuse to finally get them... so, thank you! About the recoloring, in my collection there's only TP issues, which already vary from the original ones. I've seen originals and I must admit I prefer the coloring in those than in both the TPs and the Absolute editions. Anyways, I believe such variations can enrich the whole experience of reading Sandman.

Now I have two things to comment on, the first one is what would've happen if the order would have actually captured Death? We've learn through the story that when an endless leaves its position, every aspects of its domain become chaotic, I believe some people would've never died, but also some would've died overnight and so on... the Zombie Apocalypse is a nice theory though. Also, I believe the universe would have replaced Death with someone else like it did when Dream was captured, which leave us an interesting question: who or what would that be?

The other thing is about the date when Burgess held the spell to capture Death. I had too revised the moon phases for the date and discovered there wasn't full moon that day but I didn't think it was a mistake, I thought that fact as a probable reason why the spell didn't work properly; first I believed it was impossible to think that somebody would confused the day when there was full moon, specially a magician like Burgess, and that's how I came to the conclusion that he indeed wanted to capture Dream (like other people have pointed out) and not Death, not sure if the moon phase would be enough to change the purpose of the spell though.

And that's it, I'm also looking forward to the rest of the issues.
Ken Brown
45. tnh
Zaldar: Heavens, no. I think they started out believing they could do magic, or were going to be able to do it. They gradually slid into fraud when magic didn't come through for them.

Favve, I'm glad you're enjoying this. Thank you for saying so.

I'm not certain my take on what would have happened if they'd captured Death is the correct one. It is clear, though, that large-scale departures from the natural order of things are a bad idea. Yngre va gur frevrf, Zbecurhf zragvbaf gung jura ur bapr snvyrq gb fgbc n Qernz Ibegrk, na ragver jbeyq qvrq. Judging from that and from Dream's remarks to Alex Burgess, we can assume that capturing Death would have been a world-class disaster.

My only theory about the phase of the moon thing is that it's a simple typo: says 10, should have said 15.
Susanne Zur Freiheit
46. Susanne
I love that you're doing this. I first read the trade paperbacks and then the Absolute editions as they were published; and now you're giving me this fabulous excuse to start over, and maybe, *finally*, I'll get some of the references I know I never caught. (There are a great many of them). Thanks, Teresa!
Ken Brown
47. Tom Whitmore
One other small comment -- the fact that Dream first appears to Alex as a cat has important resonances, and should not be allowed to slip past unacknowledged. Dream is very conflicted about his cat-sensibilities: he feels he has responsibilities, and when is the last time you knew a cat to act in a responsible manner? Or at least to follow through on obligations (rather than to be responsive in other ways)?

And Alex's age-regression in the sequence is interesting, though not as foreshadowing.
Tim May
48. ngogam
Since I don't think anyone else has linked it:
Although all the online versions of "The Annotated Sandman" (compiled by Greg Morrow & David Goldfarb (#2 above)) seem to be down currently, it's available as edited by Ralf Hildebrant, via the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

Re whether Burgess is pretending he knew it was Dream: I'm not sure. Everything Teresa says at #32 is true, & "I was hoping you'd work it out on your own" really does read like a cover up. On the other hand, he's apparently already forbidden the guards to sleep, & he does know who the Endless are. So Dream has to have been at least a major candidate, though Burgess probably makes himself out to have been more certain than he was (as we would expect him to about almost anything).

Incidentally, the fawney rig is, in 19th century criminal slang, a scam in which a ring is exchanged for more than its true value. It's among the grifts Wednesday mentions to Shadow in American Gods "that's the Pigeon Drop but with a gold ring instead of a wallet".
Dan Layman-Kennedy
49. maestro23
On my own reread of this issue, I noted a particular tiny gleaming gem of Gaiman magic: When Dream is freed and berating Burgess, he says, almost parenthetically, "Lord, what fools these mortals be." Which (as you know, Sir Robert) is one of Puck's lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play whose text, and author, are revealed later to have an interesting connection with Morpheus. On a first reading, it's just a particularly apt allusion; on a reread, the fact that Dream would quote that line, from that play, becomes a fascinating little character note for him.

It's almost a throwaway moment, and it goes by so fast you could nearly miss it, but it's a fine example in miniature of the kind of thing that's woven throughout Sandman on all levels of the story.
Roland of Gilead
50. pKp
As someone who enjoys The Sandman a lot but has never really read DC comics, I am really glad you're doing this. Now I can at last get the cross-references without having to spend all my money on other works.

I may still buy the Hellblazer comics, though. John Constantine is just too awesome.
Ken Brown
51. Ambular
(Found you via Google while researching Burgess's binding spell for an RPG; I hope you don't mind my commenting.)

I'm very impressed and delighted at the depth with which you analyze the series! However, what particularly prompted me to comment is your references to Good Omens (which I adore,) to Ethan Rayne, John Constantine, and footnote #2, regarding the nature of magical grimoires.

I think that Rupert Giles expressed best why books of magic are usually found in the state they are, and I suspect that the angel Aziraphale and Lucien would both agree with him completely (quoting him here edited a bit for stammering):

Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be, um, smelly.

I think that magical knowledge, of the type you're discussing here, by its nature requires tangible connections to the physical world. There are all manner of correspondences found throughout various magical traditions, showing how different aspects of nature and the occult and human conventions are tied into into each other at the deepest levels, and the practice of the craft absolutely depends on these connections. There's also the implication, always, that the magician and his tools and the magic leave their marks on one another; there's a reason some grimoires are said to be written in blood or bound in skin or what have you. It's not just window dressing, it's required.

Quite apart from the risk of (for example) accidentally creating a killer demon robot by scanning the wrong text, by tidying it all up and removing the knowledge from its physical trappings, you break those bonds, wipe away the marks of those who came before, and you also take the mystery out of something that has been kept mysterious by dire necessity. Magic is, for the unreliable magician, as you put it, dangerous; it would be an unmitigated disaster for the world if someone came along and posted the deepest secrets of the universe on MySpace, and any sorcerer who's intelligent enough to have survived long enough to gain access to those secrets, knows it. With some of the books, it's perilous for even one difficult-to-decipher, rather icky and off-putting copy to exist.
Ken Brown
52. Aliosha
Any chance to see the rest?
Please, please, pretty please with sugar...
Geoffrey Dow
53. ed-rex
This could be a lot of fun, but possibly tor.com should consider removing it from their front-page. Five months between episodes is something less than a regular series.
Ken Brown
60. TrickyFreak
Dear Tor.com, and Ma'am Teresa:

Kindly continue this re-read, please.

Thank you.

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