I rarely post book reviews on this blog as I find reading both highly emotive and quite personal, and accept that what works for me may not be another person’s cup of blackberry tea. Being somewhat bed bound this week I reverted to comfort book territory, picking up Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes, the first collection of the Sandman universe. I first read this book back in 1992 and it holds so many emotional associations for me that what follows is not a critical review, rather a personal reflection of what this book means to me still – 22 years on.
Back in 1992 I was a callow student of library studies (you’ve seen the picture here, I’m even sat at a VAX!), fascinated by university life, the development of a new and strange method of communication called JANET (the Joint Academic Network) which the geeks used to communicate with each other on campus via the aged VAX computer system. This was way before the internet was open to popular use, and a super tool for a girl to employ to meet the then main target of her existent – geeky boys. I was happy to play computers with them, they were happy to show me their toys.
One of them had adopted the user name Morpheus on said system, which led to a discussion (actually in person) one day about the origin of the name. Oh, he said, let me show you my comic book collection, strange little girl. I willingly followed him up to his seaside book attic (aka paradise found) where a world of wonder was pressed into my eager little mittens. A sea of comic books, all loving preserved in plastic covers, filled in regimented lever arch binders. (An aside, I was using the frankly appalling user name Strawberry Tart at this point. I was 19, but I really don’t think that’s any excuse).
Now I’m a girl. A book nerd, fair enough, but I’d never been exposed to the wonderful world of the comic universe. My Morpheus was happy to educated me for the price of a few kisses. I really was that callow. And so I read my first batch of single issue comics, by a chap called Neil Gaiman. This batch known as Preludes & Nocturnes.
Now Mr Gaiman himself acknowledges that he wasn’t all that happy with the execution and story development of some of these chapters. He may be right – but I didn’t have any comparable frame of reference for what I was reading. Sure, I loved fantasy, elves and hobbits and David Edding’s wonderful Belgariad. But this was another level of reality. I dived into it all headlong and began a love affair with The Sandman that has now lasted 22 years.
There were so many firsts for me with this book – my first actual adult comic book reading, my first meeting with the Endless, The Corinthian, The Furies, the glory that is Lucifer, Dave McKean’s beautiful artwork, John Constantine (Hellblazer being the second series I submerged myself into in Morpheus’ comic loft), and the greatest personification of Death I’ve ever read.
This all came flooding back with this sickness induced re-read. I always seem to gain my greatest pleasure from Neil Gaiman when I’m bed bound and taking strong medications that can cause hallucinations!! I enjoyed every page, every detailed illustration in this now very battered first edition trade paperback. I fell in love with the Dream Lord all over again (though sadly not with his namesake who got a little huffy when the kisses stopped and banished me from his attic. Bah!).
For me, the pivotal chapters are 24 Hours and The Sound of Her Wings. 24 hours is pure horror theatre, and as a little gore hound goth – both then and now – it played into my nightmares beautifully. Then there’s The Sound of Her Wings, where we meet our second member of the Endless, Death. We walk a few hours in her shoes. We walk in the shadow of her wings, every day. I only hope that death is in reality that kind.
I loved this then. I love it now. I’m still in contact with my Morpheus, albeit at a distance. He gave me a great gift, this world, this toy box of fantasy. Right now I’m stepping back into The Doll’s House. The journey is long and occasionally uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank you, my Morpheus, and Mr Gaiman, for the magic that still captivates.
Endnote: thanks to everyone who has sent me good wishes. I am slowly getting better, this is my worst asthma attach in 20 years and I’d forgotten how debilitating they can physically be. I’m rather snug, surrounded by pillows, books, tea, various internet devices, and drifting off to the lovely sounds of Agnes Obel’s Philharmonics and All About Eve’s Ultraviolet. Zzzzzzz!