Our assignment was to read the last two issues (Chapters Five and Six) of A Game of You. Russell Saunders will be doing the honors this week.
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.
Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Calliope then Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream then Mike Schilling reviewed Façade in the second.
Season of Mists recaps here: Jaybird reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank reviewed the next two here. Boegiboe reviewed the next two after that here and here. Ken reviewed the final two here.
It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one after 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!
Over the Sea to Sky
We find ourselves in the Cuckoo’s citadel, which Barbie immediately recognizes as her old house. She looks through a sliding glass door out on the Brightly Shining Sea, except she realizes that it’s just the same Atlantic Ocean from her childhood, captured in her memory at the moment when the sun’s light was most magical. As she recalls that the water was never as shining when she cupped it in her hands, she is joined by a little girl.
If you called for Generic Little Girl from Central Casting, this is the girl you’d get. Pink dress. Hair in pigtails with ribbons. White Mary Janes. The works. She explains to Barbie that here, it really is the Brightly Shining Sea, where the water stills gleams in your hand, and it also tastes like grape juice.
Oh and also, that’s she a younger version of Barbie, conjured up out of Barbie’s dreamlife. Oh and also, she’s the Cuckoo. She proves that she’s part of Barbie by showing her the scar on her own knee from when Barbie jumped off the roof as a child. [No wonder she ended up with a scar. Whoever sutured that knee did a piss poor job. That laceration calls for at least three more sutures.]
The Cuckoo goes on to explain that Barbie was born into a boring family and had a boring life. She herself had a vivid imagination and, in the manner of little girls everywhere, used it to create a dreamlife in which she was a Princess. And she populated her realm with her toys; we are introduced to the playthings who would become Martin Tenbones, Wilkinson, et al. This dreamscape was a perfect home for the Cuckoo, who settled right in and started to take over.
Barbie doesn’t look so hot as she listens to this. The Cuckoo keeps talking to her as she slowly slumps to the floor and succumbs to the power of the Cuckoo’s voice. She agrees that yes, the Cuckoo is cute, and that cute, cute little Cuckoo should be able to kill Barbie if it makes her happy. [This also seems Tolkienesque to me, and calls to mind the voice of Saruman. Not for nothing do we see Tolkien on Barbie’s bookshelf.]
A satisfied Cuckoo leaves the citadel and instructs the Black Guards to take Barbie to the Isle of Thorns. Sounds charming.
We catch a brief glimpse of a storm-battered New York City (where the moon looks awfully close to the surface of the sea) before joining Hazel, Foxglove and Thessaly on the Moon’s Road. Their identities blur, reminiscent of the triune manifestations of the goddess-head we’ve seen many times already. We learn that Thessaly is a “witch-woman of the Lowlands,” that she is older than she looks, and upon arriving in the Land that it is much older than Barbie.
Off they go to find the Cuckoo, only to find the corpse of Wilkinson. A little bit more blood magic later, and his voice from Beyond tells them where to find her. As they walk on, Foxglove and Hazel have a conversation full of bitterness and regret that nevertheless ends in reconciliation.
And with that, we’re back to New York City, Wanda and the world’s ghastliest wall art. The weather has only gotten worse, and Wanda looks out to see a woman pinned under a toppled garbage bin. She goes out and helps the woman into the apartment building.
Aaaaand back to the Land. The Cuckoo, Barbie and Luz are on a narrow strip of land, where preparations are being made. [As the Cuckoo talks with Luz, we get an answer to a question raised last week. It seems Luz wasn’t a double-agent, and was turned to the Cuckoo’s side when she talked to her.] The Cuckoo wants out of the Land, and to invade bigger, brighter worlds. They stand at a large polished monolith with weird symbols, the Hierogram, as old as the Land itself.
Just then, they are joined by Thessaly and Co. The Cuckoo tricks Thessaly into killing Luz (who gladly sacrifices herself), and then talks the three of them into sitting quietly while her plans unfold. As Barbie wakes, the Cuckoo explains that she is going to destroy the Land by destroying the Hierogram and the Porpentine.
Back in New York City, Wanda talks to the woman she’s rescued and realizes she’s the same dog-fearing street woman they encountered earlier. As they chat, the woman tells Wanda she had a grandson Billy, who was also a preoperative transsexual, but was found murdered in a motel room. [From the brief description, I think it’s pretty clear he was a victim of the serial killer from “The Doll’s House” who described himself as a “connoisseur.” * shudder*]
On the Isle of Thorns, Barbie strikes the Hierogram with the Porpentine. There is a blinding light, and they both vanish. An exultant Cuckoo dances around and sings giddily about all the worlds she will implant with her eggs. (In New York, the stone vanishes from around the neck of sleeping Barbie, and the weather gets worse.) The stars in the Land start to fall – enter Morpheus. The Cuckoo does not seem to have expected him. He brings everyone back to their senses, then tells them he is going to uncreate the Land.
Barbie watches and listens as he speaks. She watches as he brings Luz back to life, and as she disappears into the blackness of his robe. She watches as a great procession of fanciful creatures emerge from the distance and follow into the black oblivion of Dream’s cloak. Some she knows, like resurrected Prinado and Wilkinson. Many more she does not recognize. [The entire scene reminds me of the conclusion of “The Last Battle,” the last of the Chronicles of Narnia.]
The last is a lone, sad woman. She has a scar and wears a white gown from a bygone era. She is Alianora, and Dream calls her “old love.” That is all we learn about her, except that the Land was created for her, and has since been occupied by many others. [Fur jvyy or oevrsyl zragvbarq bapr be gjvpr gb pbzr.] She vanishes.
Dream holds the Land in his hand. It blows away like so much dust. It is gone.
Barbie observes that Dream looks very tired, and alone. She pities him, and asks if he is okay. He assures her he is.
Dream speaks to Thessaly and Co. He tells her he remembers her, back from when there were more of her kind. He is surprised she is not dead. Long story, it turns out. He is not pleased that she has trespassed. They cannot get back using the moon. They are in trouble.
In New York, George tells Wanda he can no longer sense the Land. Or the people who went there. He makes ominous reference to the storm outside and the age of the building they’re in.
It promptly collapses on them all.
I Woke Up and One of Us Was Crying
Barbie is in a bus station bathroom, wearing a little black dress and applying make-up. She begins to remember…
The assembled company of Thessaly, Hazel, Foxglove, the Cuckoo and Dream are all standing on what remains of the Isle of Thorns, now just a strip of land suspended in nothingness. As they all talk, Dream reveals that he has in intention of killing the Cuckoo, and he is not best pleased with Thessaly and Co. for trespassing in the Dreaming. The Cuckoo, after all, was only acting according to her nature. Dream also says that if anyone is to blame for her being trapped in the Land and what happened next, it is Barbie and Rose Walker. [I assume this is a reference to the dream vortex, but don’t recall any hint of the Cuckoo’s plight in that episode. Did I miss something?]
Dream plans to leave the trespassers where they are as punishment for their transgression.
However, he explains that the Land was created for Alianora as a compromise of sorts. [Perhaps something to do with the prohibition against his having any romantic entanglements with mortals?] The compact came with a boon, which was not claimed by her and now belongs to Barbie. She can ask for whatever she wants, so long as it is within Dream’s power to grant it.
Barbie ponders. She angrily rejects Thessaly’s suggestion that she ask Dream to kill the Cuckoo, and instead asks for everyone to get back home safe and sound. Now free to go, the Cuckoo transforms from little girl into magnificent bird and flies away.
Back in the bus station, Barbie is drawing a veil on her face with eyeliner. And continues to remember…
Dream departs after offering cryptic words of advice to everyone.
In the bus station, Barbie fears she smells like said station. But she knows Wanda won’t care. One last memory of them waiting around to leave the Dreaming, and we’re back in our reality for good. Specifically, in Kansas. She leaves the bathroom and enters a diner, where a woman named Dora is waiting to meet her. She recognizes her as “Alvin’s friend.”
The two of them sit and talk. We learn that Wanda used to be Alvin, and that Dora’s best attempts at broad-mindedness aren’t particularly impressive. Wanda, sadly, is dead. Barbie remembers…
When she woke again after leaving the Dreaming, she was under the rubble left after the building’s collapse. Masie and Wanda were killed, and Barbie ostensibly survived only because Masie was on top of her. [Do people think she sacrificed herself? Why? Or did Dream just plant her there?] George was, of course, already dead, though it seems his tongue has survived the whole ordeal. As Barbie is taken from the rubble, she sees the body of her friend. She begins to cry as she tells Dora how she felt.
Dora seems a decent sort. Together they travel to Alvin’s funeral.
Alvin’s family? Not so decent. They have nothing comforting to say about their dead son, and in a muttered conversation Alvin’s mother tells Dora not to bring Barbie back to their house.
[I have some trouble with Alvin’s funeral, and with the fact that Barbie is sexually harassed by a couple of louts in the diner immediately after we are informed that she’s in Kansas. It smacks of regional chauvinism to me. The way Wanda’s mother speaks to Barbie is also little too on-the-nose, as far as I’m concerned. I was raised in an evangelical church one state over from Kansas surrounded by people who had nothing nice to say about gays at almost exactly the same time that “Sandman” had its run. I cannot imagine a single one of them saying something so unkind as what the mother says, no matter how much they may have thought New York City was full of sinners. I get what Gaiman is trying to say here, but I think he is painting with too broad a brush as is being unfair.]
As the family departs following the funeral, Barbie lingers and spends some time at Wanda’s grave. She relates the experience of buying a comic for Wanda that she would have enjoyed [and I’ll grant that Gaiman apparently wants to depict big-city comic book merchants as sleazy, too]. And she uses a tube of shocking pink lipstick to strike through “Alvin” on the headstone and write “Wanda.”
As Dora drives Barbie back to the bus station, she has one more memory of a dream. She sees Wanda as she really was inside – a beautiful woman, genuine and elegant. In the dream, Wanda is joined by a friendly Death, and they both smile and wave at Barbie.
And with that, Barbie goes off to take another bus… somewhere else.
[So why do I love this story? Why did I want to claim it for our discussion?
First of all, there is the truly beautiful, compassionate ending. Letting Barbie have one last goodbye with her friend, and getting to see the “real” Wanda… well, for all that “Sandman” is a horror comic, Gaiman has a kind heart in there somewhere. Those panels also serve as an additional answer for me for my own Stupid Tuesday Question this week.
But what I think is really awesome springs from a minor plot point from issue #35. I think the Tweeners are brilliant. What follows is entirely my own theory, and those of you more familiar with “Sandman” arcana are invited to correct me if I have it wrong.
Who are the Tweeners? They are the beings who have sprung up from the Land between its many occupants. They are of the Land, and have grown ever more malevolent and resentful as outsider after outsider came and took control of the skerry. Theirs are not the shared spaces where the rulers of the Land have their business, but the murky forests. And they welcome nobody but their own.
I just think it is marvelous that Gaiman would make the Dreaming such a fertile place that dreamforms like the Tweeners would spring up, uncreated and unbidden. That even a tiny little corner of Dream’s realm has its own life and story, even one he did not devise for it. Just fantastic.]