Our assignment was to read the first two issues from Dream Country. Glyph reviewed Caliope and Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats.

Glyph’s introduction to Sandman, in three parts, here, here, and here.

Preludes and Nocturnes recaps here: Glyph and Patrick tackled the first four issues, I tackled the fifth, Glyph recapped six and seven. Mike Schilling recapped number eight.

A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.

It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one ofter that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.

We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!

CalliopeSandman #17

“Writers are liars” – Erasmus Fry

First bit of dialogue: “I have no idea”.

We open on a writer, Richard Madoc, obtaining a trichinobezoar,
the result of Rapunzel (remember that) syndrome, from a physician named Felix.

(The Cabaret of Dr. Caligari is an AWESOME name.)

Multiple allusions to a difficult gestation (SYMBOLISM!) in the first couple pages – we are told that the bezoar was cut from a young woman’s stomach; that Madoc’s next novel is almost nine (not eight, and not ten) months overdue; and that he is in “breach” (breech) of contract.

Madoc exposits that he has not written a word of the overdue novel, as he walks to his next appointment. He is depicted wearing a jacket that looks remarkably similar to the type often favored by the author. (Based on the linked essay, it seems safe to say this sartorial choice for the character is probably entirely intentional).

Madoc meets with Erasmus Fry, a nasty and cantankerous old writer gone to seed who (amongst other historical trivia) makes reference to the original John Dee. Madoc confesses to his writers’ block, and he and Fry get down to their business; trading the bezoar for a malnourished, apparently-young captive woman.

Fry explains that contrary to her youthful appearance, she is in fact a Muse – the titular Calliope – whom he captured 60 years prior on Mount Helicon in Greece, and implies was the impetus for his many now-faded literary successes.

Madoc takes the captive woman home and locks her in the topmost room.

The long-golden-haired maiden thus ensconced in the tower, Madoc rapes her in a disturbing sequence – maybe all the more disturbing because Madoc exhibits the faintest flickers of some sort of conscience (he rapes her “nervously” – he briefly worries that he might have done “something wrong”); but these qualms quickly vanish as the act loosens his writer’s block, and he begins his second novel.

Calliope calls upon the Weird Sisters for help; they explain that they cannot assist her, as she is lawfully bound. They exposit that Morpheus and Calliope were once lovers and had a child together, but that it ended badly; and even in the unlikely event Morpheus wished to help her he could not, as at that time he is still imprisoned by Alex Burgess. Calliope at first says that she would not accept Morpheus’ help, even if offered; but after the Sisters take their leave, despairingly admits that she would.

Now we get a montage of Calliope remembering the day of her capture (and is it me, or does young Fry look sort of Joker-like?); her continued and ongoing rape by Madoc (by now, there is no hesitation or self-doubt at all in his actions, the creep); and the resulting years of Madoc’s increasing fame (he’s now a successful author, playwright, poet, screenwriter and director) and concomitant douche-picklery (“Actually, I DO tend to regard myself as a feminist writer.” ARGH).

By 1990, Madoc is at his professional peak; but somehow Morpheus has learned of Calliope’s plight and comes to visit her. She pleads, based on their shared history, for his assistance in freeing her.

Madoc arrives home from a TV interview at which he has learned of Fry’s death, to find Morpheus awaiting him. Morpheus requests that Madoc free Calliope; Madoc refuses. Morpheus is enraged (once again, we see that Dream’s own captivity has given him a newfound empathy for any prisoner, let alone one with whom he has a personal connection) and bestows to Madoc a writer’s version of Midas’ curse.

Madoc is overwhelmed with ideas, driving him mad and out into the streets (the panels showing his wrecked fingertips – yeesh). Madoc encounters Felix, the physician who provided him the bezoar years before, and begs that Felix go to Madoc’s house and free Calliope to make the ideas stop coming.

The physician finds no one in the topmost room at Madoc’s house, only a copy of Fry’s most famous book; presumably Calliope/Rapunzel has been rescued from her tower by her (former) lover. Calliope and Morpheus have a somewhat-strained yet mostly-companionable conversation that looks to be their final farewell; it’s apparent there is much painful history between them.

At Calliope’s request, Morpheus releases Madoc from the tidal wave of inspiration currently swamping his sanity; but Madoc’s brain has seemingly been scrubbed clean. He can now remember nothing, as we see Morpheus fade away, presumably along with any last bit of inspiration or imagination or memory Madoc may ever have.

Last bit of dialogue, completing the first: “No idea at all.”

What we have here is a little morality play about a writer’s greatest fear, Tales of the Crypt- or Twilight Zone-style. In a way, it’s almost like a mirror image of Stephen King’s “Misery”, though where that story focuses on what the readers will do to get what they want, this one focuses on what the writer will do to get what he wants. In both cases the answer appears to be: imprison the story-giver – and in a neat loop, we are right back around to the beginning of Sandman.

Also, for those interested: this is a little bit on how Dave McKean created those iconic Sandman covers, in the olden days before easy digital manipulation.


Dream of A Thousand Cats

It’s said that dogs are as old as Man, but cats are only as old as civilization. “Not fully domesticated” is another phrase thrown about with regards to the cat. As you may know, Maribou and I are a four cat household. We have young cats and old cats, skinny cats and fat cats, pointy cats and toothless cats. Cats, if you haven’t had the pleasure of spending much time with one, are marvels of engineering. Pint-size predators that have been infantalized… yet, in many urban settings, cats could easily be in the running for apex predator and yet, at the same time, they enjoy such things as being cuddled and brushed (assuming their bellies are full).

From time to time, though, it’s possible to see something completely that predates civilization in the eyes of your cat… though, usually, we consider such things “cute”. The example I’m currently thinking of is what our kitten does when we have a new cardboard “zip strip”, like you sometimes get at the side of a frozen pizza box. A long, thin, strip of cardboard, maybe a foot by a centimeter. When he hears the sound of the rip, he runs in and when he sees it, his pupils expand and he will stalk up to where we stand and leap and grab this little piece of paper out of our hands, claws extended, as if we were not there. Ouch, we laugh, as we let go. An hour later he’ll be jumping in our laps again and rubbing his cheeks against ours while he purrs… but, from time to time, when we have the right trinket, he forgets us.

It’s the look on his face when he sees that strip of paper that I think of as I read Dream of One Thousand Cats.

We begin with a little kitten being placed into a little pet bed as her people make their way to sleep themselves… but an outdoor cat comes up to the window and tells the kitten that it is, in fact, tonight… and explains one of the escape routes from the house available to the kitten. They go and discuss what it is that they’re going to… they’re going to listen to a speaker tell them a story. The location, of course, is a graveyard. The story, of course, is about a dream.

We hear the tale of the cat and how she went from thinking that she was quite well off, getting the better of her trade with her humans, giving them her presence in exchange for food and shelter and willingness to be brushed and cuddled. Then she met him and they did what cats do and she gave kittens and was quite pleased. Pleased… until her humans took the half-purebreed kittens and threw them into a sack and then into a lake. She then prayed. Not to Bastet, strangely enough, but to the darkness, to the night, to the Carrion Kind. Specifically, to the Carrion Kind’s emissary… and this takes her to The Dreaming.

A field of bone. A messenger of bone. Our speaker states what she wants: Justice, Wisdom, Revelation.

We are told what we all know, there is no Justice to be found. Wisdom, what there is to be found, is won and not given.

Now… Revelation? That’s something that can be found in dreams.

Our speaker is told that she can find revelation but the way is long and goes through difficult terrain. Her response is the response of Kipling’s Cat: “All Places Are Alike To Me”.

She tells us of her journey and we see places that we recognize, if she did not. We walk through Erebus, we wet our paws in Lethe, and find ourselves in front of the cave with the three winged guardians: the griffin, the dragon, the pegasus and they, as is their job, give her crap. In response, she gives one of the lines that sticks in my craw and strikes me as being centuries old when… really… I can’t find evidence of it existing prior to this issue: “I am a cat and I keep my own counsel.”

The guardians, doing their job, let our cat in to speak to The King of Dreams but, like he appeared to Martian Manhunter, he appears in the form that our speaker recognizes. (To be honest, I was reminded of the scene with The Great Owl in Secret of Nimh.) We see the line “a cat may look at a king” before we are given our Revelation… which caused me to google the phrase and I found that it dates back, at least, 450 years:

The Proverbs And Epigrams Of John Heywood, 1562

Some hear and see him whom he heareth nor seeth not
But fields have eyes and woods have ears, ye wot
And also on my maids he is ever tooting.
Can ye judge a man, (quoth I), by his looking?
What, a cat may look on a king, ye know!
My cat’s leering look, (quoth she), at first show,
Showeth me that my cat goeth a caterwauling;
And specially by his manner of drawing
To Madge, my fair maid.

In any case, we learn the (or a, anyway) Truth. Once, there was a world in which cats were the size of cows and humans the size of cats. Humans were playthings, and groomthings, and huntthings and Cats were supreme until Humans decided that they should dream a world in which things are different. A world in which things have always been different. And, then, “one night, enough of them dreamed. It did not take many of them. A thousand, perhaps. No more.”

And, this is important, the dreams they dreamed created the world. A world in which humans had always been dominant. Our speaker is told by the King that this can be done again… and then is given permission to wake.

And our speaker now goes from place to place, across seas, across cities, across prairie and savannah, speaking to cats and telling them that it only would take one thousand of them to dream it back to the way it used to have always been. Our kitten tells the speaker that she believes and then our kitten, and the outdoor cat, walk home… and we’re left with a scene where the kitten’s humans see the kitten sleeping and notice that she dreams and they wonder what cats would dream about and coo and awww over how cute the dreaming kitten is.

And I think about my four cats. Our kitten doesn’t have the attention span. A treat, a string, a cardboard zip… he’s content to remember hunting. Our Queen doesn’t have the patience. She wishes to be fed, to be cuddled, to be brushed. Our old man wishes to sit in the area where the blast from the heating vent in the ceiling blows down and to eat pinches of chicken breast from the occasional rotisserie chicken we bring home. Our tom, however? I think we should keep this issue away from him. Just in case.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. I just noticed that on the page with the linked Gaiman short essay, the author photo changes each time the page is loaded. So if you click through, you may not get the jacket to which I refer (though, click anyway, because it speaks directly to this issue) – basically, it’s that black leather biker jacket deal. Think Ramones.

    He even wore that damn thing at the signing I went to in college, in the middle of summer, in a notoriously hot and humid locale. I love Sandman – a lot – but I had to bite my tongue so as to not ask what kind of pretentious and image-obsessed git would wear a jacket like that in such a time and place.

    Many of these pics show it, or a variant.

  2. is it me, or does young Fry look sort of Joker-like?

    If you find yourself with an extra five bucks or so, you should definitely pick up Batman: Dark Joker the Wild. It’s an Elseworlds tale that will take you to the conclusion of your thoughts, there.

    • I see Kelly Jones drew that as well; is that the connection, or is there more to it than that?

      I thought the art in Calliope was really well-done; realistic when needed, grotesque when needed, lots of neat “cinematic” type effects in terms of perspective and lighting; different feels for the different locales.

      Not a situation where any one panel stands out as super-flashy; just art that was really tasteful and controlled and suited to the material at all times, and does a good job of conveying spatial relationships.

      But I know little about this end of things, so feel free to tell me I have no idea what I am talking about.

    • Also, I got to reading about Joker on wikipedia last night; it explained that his current characterization is pretty similar to the original one (psychotic homicidal maniac); but during Silver Age/ Comics Code Authority years (and obviously, the Adam-West-era TV incarnation) he was toned down to more of an eccentric prankster and thief.

      And as I was reading this, all I could think was, “the stories always revert to their original forms”.

  3. First off, I love any allusion to “Just So Stories.” They are some of my very favorite stories in the world, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading them to my kids. I know there’s at least one more reference to another one of the stories coming up. (I think that’s vague enough not to need ciphering.)

    There are a couple of things that bother me about “Calliope,” one minor and one relatively major. The minor one — why has Erasmus Fry sunk into obscurity? He still has the Muse at the opening of the story. Once Madoc gets her, we’re led to believe his success as a writer and beyond is epic, enough to establish a legacy of fame. Why is Fry forgotten? Doesn’t make sense.

    On something of a tangent, the treatment of Calliope reminded me of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” I read a recent translation a couple of years ago, and was genuinely shocked by how frequently and casually rape occurs. Vertumnus woos Pomona, only to be rebuffed time and again, and the story nonchalantly reports that he’s thinking about just taking her by force and being done with it, when luckily she relents and succumbs to his charms. Really horrific, frankly.

    Which brings me to my rather bigger beef with “Calliope.” Fair warning: it involves a MAJOR spoiler. I’m obviously going to rot13 it, but since it’s such a big spoiler I wanted to be even more cautious and issue a warning.

    Nsgre Zbecurhf qvrf naq Qnavry orpbzrf Qernz, jr frr jung orpbzrf bs n srj bs gur punenpgref jub unir orra gvrq gb gur Qernzvat va fbzr jnl. Vapyhqvat Evpuneq Znqbp. Naq, fvzvyne gb Nyrk Ohetrff, gurer vf n frafr bs nofbyhgvba sbe Znqbp, svanyyl tvira onpx uvf novyvgl gb qernz hc arj fgbevrf. Guvf vf npghnyyl bar bs gur srj cynprf va Fnaqzna jurer V srry Tnvzna znxrf n zbenyyl-synjrq aneengvir qrpvfvba.

    Hayvxr jvgu Ohetrff, Znqbp’f pevzr jnf abg ntnvafg Zbecurhf. Vg jnf ntnvafg Pnyyvbcr. Naq ur qvqa’g zreryl vzcevfba ure, ur frevnyyl encrq ure. Nofbyhgvba sbe gung pevzr vfa’g Zbecurhf’f gb tvir. Vg frrzf gva-rnerq naq fbzrjung cngevnepuny sbe gur znyr cnegl gb or gur neovgre bs whfgvpr/sbetvirarff jura n srznyr jnf gur cnegl jub jnf npghnyyl jebatrq.

    • Russell – regarding why Fry’s star has faded – remember that this story was written and published in the dark ages BV (Before Viagra). Fry is 87 at the story’s start. Let’s assume that with his obviously-implied alcoholism (the sherry), and hopefully, the Just Intervention of Fate, he’s been impotent since he was 67, if not earlier – 20 years or more is plenty of time for someone’s fortune to fall and to pass from popular consciousness, especially pre-internet and with your books going out of print.

      I also wonder if this has something to do with why he is obviously experimenting with poisons (=why he needs the bezoar in the first place, and his eventual method of suicide) –

      From wiki:

      Cantharidin (etymology: Greek kantharis, beetle) is a powerful irritant vesicant (blister-inducing) substance obtained from many blister beetles, and sometimes given the nickname “Spanish fly.” Cantharidin is claimed to have aphrodisiac properties, as a result of its irritant effects upon the body’s genitourinary tract, and can result in poisoning if ingested. (emphasis mine).


      Ertneqvat Znqbp’f riraghny eryrnfr – V trg guvf, naq nterr ba na rzbgvbany yriry; gurer jnf ab arrq gb “nofbyir” gung svfure, naq vg’f aneengviryl hafngvfslvat gung ur jnf.

      Ohg V pna fbeg bs rkcynva vg njnl va gjb jnlf –

      1.) Jura Qernz qvrf, nyy uvf “pbagenpgf” ner oebxra.
      2.) Nf jr fnj jvgu Anqn, naq nf Qernz rkcynvaf gb Qrfver, gur Raqyrff ner abg fhccbfrq gb gbl jvgu uhznaf. Gurl ner abg tbqf naq ner abg fhccbfrq gb npg nf fhpu (Qernz vf rawbvarq sebz xvyyvat uhznaf rkprcg haqre irel fcrpvny pvephzfgnaprf). Vg’f zl guvaxvat gung rira guvatf yvxr jung ur qbrf gb Ohetrff be Znqbp (be Anqn, zbfg boivbhfyl) ner abg ernyyl guvatf gung ur vf “fhccbfrq” gb qb; gurl ner ybbcubyrf fvapr gurl ner abg xvyyvatf, ohg ner fgvyy “tbqyvxr” npgvbaf (gurl ner “phefrf”, rffragvnyyl), naq fb gurl znl pneel artngvir pbafrdhraprf, naq fubhyq or evtugrq bapr ur vf ab ybatre nyvir gb znvagnva gurz (“gur fgbevrf nyjnlf erireg gb gurve bevtvany sbezf”).

      • Cantharadin is actually used in some medical settings to treat certain skin lesions (such as small warts). I used to work at a practice that had some on hand. However, it causes very significant blistering, and I once encountered a patient who had been giving an improperly prescribed compounded variety that caused horrible blisters. (They do, thankfully, almost always heal well.) I used it rarely, and not at all now. I can’t imagine ingesting it.

        I think your explanation re: Fry makes perfect sense. Thanks for mopping up that little puddle of irritation.

        And on to the other topic:

        V pregnvayl haqrefgnaq jul gur phefr unf gb or yvsgrq. Vg’f abg gur npghnyyl snpg bs vgf erfbyhgvba gung obguref zr. Vg’f gur ryrtvnp, orngvsvp gbar bs Znqbp’f eryrnfr. Vg’f qrcvpgrq va fhpu nf jnl nf gb pbaabgr sbetvirarff. Ur qbrfa’g frrz zreryl eryvrirq, ohg nofbyirq. Vg’f fubja va n fvzvyne yvtug nf Ahnyn’f jnxvat naq qvfpbirevat n frafr bs serrqbz. (Gurer’f bar bgure crefba ba gur fnzr cntr, ohg V qba’g unir gur obbx evtug va sebag bs zr naq pna’g erzrzore jubz. Nyy bs gur punenpgref ba gur cntr ner cnvagrq va fbzr xvaq bs erqrzcgvir yvtug. Ng yrnfg gb zl ernqvat.)

        V trg gung vg’f nyy va xrrcvat jvgu gur jubyr gbar bs Qnavry orvat n fbzrjung xvaqre, zber uhzna Qernz (juvpu znxrf frafr, fvapr ur unq orra uhzna bapr), naq gur frafr bs erarjny nsgre Zbecurhf’f qrngu. Ohg vg evatf snyfr sbe zr jvgu Znqbp, orpnhfr jr ner gbyq abguvat bs uvf erzbefr be ersbezngvba bs punenpgre, bayl uvf chavfuzrag.

        • Gotcha. I’m not looking at the page now (will try to remember this convo once we get there), but I think I remember it well enough via yr description, so I can see where you are coming from.

  4. I mightily enjoyed the Dream of a Thousand cats and also enjoyed your review of it but I think you left out the best line of the story which was the one where the kittens older guide cat pithily dismissed the probability of the worlds cats dreaming the world back to feline dominance.

    • “Little one, I would like to see anyone — Prophet, King, or God — presuade a thousand cats to do anything at the same time.”

  5. Ah yes, A Dream of a Thousand Cats. Or, how I tend to think of it, Why I Sometimes Want to Kick Sleeping Cats. You know, just in case. Am I alone?

    (Seriously, I am not advocating cat abuse. Turning them into endless fountains of cats, sure, but not hurting them.)

  6. I loved that “I consider myself a feminist writer” line. It shows just how much of a pathetic hypocrite Madoc is.

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