But evil? She acts according to her nature.
Is that evil?
Dream responding to Barbie, after she says the Cuckoo is evil.
After meeting my partner, a new world opened for me. She introduced me to many new novels, writers and off-planet worlds; hopefully, I did the same for her. Not to be too philosophical, but a love fusion of horizons took place between us. [A kind of a negotiation process between two people to come to some understanding (which is also self-reflective), in our case, to see if we fit with another.] In this whole process (still continuing) one specific writer stood out, namely Neil Gaiman. I knew of him and his work, and more specifically about The Sandman. However, I cannot really say that I had engaged with his work. With my love for Connie, my introduction to the world of the Sandman started and I was introduced to the Endless and the character of Dream. To say merely that a world opened up to me would be an understatement. Death, Dream, Destiny, Destruction (where ever he is), Delirium, Desire and Despair became part of my (our) life.
I have read quite a few of The Sandman graphic novels, although I am no expert. Up until now, I have two favorites, namely A Game of You and Brief Lives. In this blog posting I want to reflect on these stories (or at least one of them). Let us start with A Game of You; it stands out for me because of the character Wanda; she is trans like me. On a more general level the graphic novel is a story of identity (-ies), as my partner correctly reminds me. Wanda is not the main character, but a friend of the main character Barbie or Princess Barbara. The story line develops around Barbie, her interaction with the Cuckoo and the world, a dream world, she inhabited as a child (“You made up a magic land, and you populated it with your toys.”). The Cuckoo is a part of Barbie and lives in the latter dream world: “Not quite. I’m part of you. Sort of. You created me. Kind of.” The Cuckoo wants to kill Barbie, so that she can flew the nest. Because of this, Barbie is drawn back into the dream world and the Cuckoo tries to kill her. In the process we meet Wanda, as well as Foxglove, Hazel and Thessaly. However, most importantly, because a large part of the story plays off in the dream world, Barbie also meets Dream (or Morpheus or Murphy, however you prefer to call them). Dream created originally Barbie’s dream world, which she further built out with her characters, and now Dream must pass the final judgement on this world and “uncreate this world”. This after Barbie has invoked the compact of which Dream was part. I can’t give proper due here to the beauty and complexity of A Game of You, for now I want to move back to Wanda. As I already indicated, Wanda is a trans woman like me. Moreover, many of the experiences she has in the story are archetypical of the experiences trans people have or go through in life. Here is one very pertinent example.
In the story, George is a character sent by the Cuckoo to help them to destroy Barbie. He lives with Wanda, Barbie, Foxglove, Hazel and Thessaly in the same apartment block. After Thessaly has killed George and called him back from death, she interrogates him. After the interrogation, she, Hazel and Foxglove, through the help of the Moon, enters the dream world of Barbie – to help Barbie and kill the Cuckoo. Wanda is left behind to look over the body of Barbie, because she is not “real woman.” George then speaks to Wanda and many of his comments is probably a reflection of many people’s views or responses about or to trans people. George has three responses to Wanda after she asked why she could not go with the other women and had to stay behind to look after Barbie. The reason, according to George is that she is a man. In response to Wanda saying she is not a man, George responds by saying the following: “Maybe not to you, you’re not. But you’ve got the uh, you know. Male nasty thing.” Further to this, George throws in the whole chromosome debate: “And to be honest uh well even if you had uh had the operation it wouldn’t make much difference to the uh moon. It’s chromosomes as much as uh anything.” Then the whole religion thing: “…it’s like gender isn’t something you can pick and choose as uh far as gods are concerned.” These three responses from George, is for me the classic remarks people make to deny the existence of trans people: because of that … you can’t be a woman, a man or non-binary. And as illustrated by George, many of us carry these prejudices to our death. There are many of these trans archetypical experiences in the graphic novel; what you make of it is your choice. For me they were meaningful and forced me to reflect on my own trans experiences.
On a more general level The Sandman series, is a story of growth and transition. No, I am not saying the Dream-King is transgender, although as one of the Endless they are most probably beyond gender and the other markers we use to identify ourselves and the people around us. This is also why I feel uncomfortable to use binary gender markers for the Dream-king, because the way they present to us, is most probably to accommodate our views of gods, and godlike things. (In The Sandman novels the Endless are gendered; Death is for example Dream’s sister.) In Preludes & Nocturnes we learn how Dream was captured (although the trap was not originally intended for Dream) and also how they were freed and regained their strength. As you progress through The Sandman novels, you see how them being captured, has changed Dream. One sees this from the stories of Dream, before they were captured in how they treated living beings (think about Nada) and acted within the different world (-s). This change is for me the beauty of The Sandman graphic novels and it drives me to want to read more about Dream and their family. So, where A Game of You represents instances of trans experiences, the overarching story line of the Sandman novels is for me the archetypical representation of transitioning.
Referring back to the quote we started this blog posting with, and you interpret Dream’s words as them speaking about trans people or identities (yes, a forceful interpretation) – the significance of the Sandman Novels become clear.
Ps. I don’t have enough space here to write about Brief Lives, my other favorite Sandman Novel. But I will shortly write more about the road trip Dream and Delirium undertakes to find their lost brother, Destruction. It is a story of detours, my favorite type of story and it features my favorite Endless sibling, Delirium (formally known as Delight).