Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fables and Reflections

Some things we lose, and some things we just give away.

It's always a choice, though, when you look narrow-eyed and shrewd upon it. A choice that shapes the direction of things, a choice that gives purpose to the story as we tell it or as we will someday come to tell it.

And so it is with Fables & Reflections, a collection of self-contained issues before the next big arc of the Sandman Saga. The pace of Sandman is one that needs space and time to gather up steam for the next big advancement of the plot; the issues that allow for that building of momentum are slight, but generally serve to foreshadow the importance of themes that are about to lurch into prominence. In Fables & Reflections, those themes are all about what we lose, the consequences of that loss, and our role in making the choices about what we will lose and what we will just give away.

"Fear of Falling" is about a playwright on the verge of losing his chance at success and the act of giving away your fear of fulfillment.

"Three Septembers and a January" recasts the historical Emperor Norton as a gambit in a bet between Dream and his younger siblings, illustrating the importance to holding on to dignity as a communal act instead of grasping at baser, personal desires.

"Thermidor" tells of one of Lady Johanna Constantine's adventures during the Reign of Terror. (Yes, she is the ancestor of that other Constantine.) This story introduces Dream's son Orpheus, and also links Orpheus to loss in a myriad of ways--he has lost his father, his body, and his head becomes "lost" to the people actively searching for it. Or are any of those things truly gone? Or has Dream simply chosen to toss them aside?

"The Hunt" is a fairy tale in the Eastern European style told by a werewolf grandpa to his thoroughly modern granddaughter. The old tales, too, are things we might lose sight of--either willingly or by failing to see their value.

"August" shows Augustus Caesar donning the attire of a beggar so that he might think in peace without the interference of the gods. What he thinks on: should he choose to let the Roman Empire decline and fall? Has he lost himself to the trauma inflicted upon him by the rapist Julius Caesar?

"Soft Places" finds Marco Polo discovering that man's thirst for mapping, exploration, and putting a name to the mysterious places of the earth might strip them of their particular arcana--is it better to know or to dream?

"The Song of Orpheus" retells the Greek myth of Orpheus, but in terms of Gaiman's own developing Sandman mythology. What else could it be about but letting go or being forced to let go? Love, life, faith, family, everything.

"The Parliament of Rooks" returns to Lyta Hall and her son Daniel (remember them from The Doll's House arc?), and Daniel's encounter with Matthew the raven, Eve, Cain, and Abel in the Dreaming. Much like "The Hunt," we're stuck in a cycle of telling stories and choosing which ones we keep and which we do not.

"Ramadan" takes us from Baghdad as the jewel of all cities to a modern war-torn version of the same--do we discard the glory of the past for an enduring present?

There are cycles at work in these seemingly unrelated stories: rulers who go among their people and must make choices about what will remain of their kingdoms and what will not ("Three Septembers and a January," "August," "Ramadan"); stories that fade or lose their mystery ("Fear of Falling," "The Hunt," "Soft Places," "The Parliament of Rooks"); familial belong as a decision that is made over and over again ("Thermidor," "The Song of Orpheus," "The Parliament of Rooks").

Some things we lose, some things we just give away.