Our assignment was to read the third and fourth issues of Fables and Reflections (issues 39 and Sandman Special, Convergence – Soft Places and The Song of Orpheus, respectively). Katherine has recapped the first, she will be able to recap the second later.
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!
The story commences with Marco Polo, following a trend in this book of following historical personages and events. He is lost in the desert on the way to the Orient, separated from his caravan. The art of the desert for the first five pages is excellent, conveying a world composed entirely of sand. After a sandstorm, he rises to a landscape entirely changed, with no hint of where his companions may be. The sand in his eyes recalls his mother’s tales of the Sandman who sends dreams.
Strains of anachronistic music tell us that this is now no ordinary desert, and identifies it as a place where time is a meaningless concept; throughout the story, the chronology of events remains obscure.
Marco encounters the man who would later write down his travels, Rustichello of Pisa, who is dreaming of him, and Rustichello gives us our introduction to the Desert of Lop, from Marco’s own dictations later in life. Voices, spirits, riders appear and draw men away from their companies, leaving them to wander eternally.
Not only time but identity are unclear in this place; Marco is nonplussed by the idea that he is a dream rather than a person, and brushes it off. He and Rustichello find the fire of another traveller in the desert.
And it’s Gilbert! Lovely to see Gilbert again. He is delighted to drink wine and talk with travellers, being on a much-desired vacation from his work. Morpheus is in love, and apparently acting excessively sentimental, and Gilbert is weary of it. There’s no indication of what woman Morpheus’ love is. This could be occurring either before his imprisonment or after the events of The Doll’s House, but I’d bet on the latter as Fiddler’s Green shows familiarity with the ordinary world. Perhaps it doesn’t matter; it’s simply another indication of the contradictions of Morpheus’ character, a general attitude of detachment combined with the tendency to fall in love frequently (well, fairly frequently, for one of the Endless) and passionately. Well, he is the inspiration of writers and poets, and so many of their works are about love; perhaps he could not inspire such if he did not feel it himself. None of the other Endless seem so inclined to make romantic connections, not even Desire, of whom it might be expected.
Marco gives the account of his travels, and the reasons for them, while Gilbert makes some interesting interjections on miracle-working saints. I wish I recognized who he was talking about – Gaiman loves to drop this little historical tidbits – but the names and descriptions he gives are entirely unfamiliar to me.
After Rustichello gives some praise of Marco’s narrative ability, a ghostly host of men stops by to ask for directions. Again, I’d love to know if there’s some mythological connection here – who are these men?. The line that they have been in the Dreaming for “many thousands of years” would be a hint if it weren’t that time there doesn’t accord with time in the normal world.
Gilbert finally explains what ‘soft places’ are, with the delightful line, “When I was just a young vicinity…” They are where the Dreaming crosses over with reality, and only exist in places that are not well known, not mapped, not written down and detailed and specified, and that explorers like Marco are therefore making less of them. It’s a fascinating conceit, but I find it troubling. I’m sure some of the Chinese and other Asian traders who followed the silk and spice roads wrote down and described their travels before Marco did it; Europe was a backwater at this point of history compared to Asia.
Gilbert’s description of Marco as “history, seven hundred years gone,” and his time as 1992 confirms my earlier guess about this being post-Doll’s House for Gilbert. More interestingly – it appears that the “field in Ireland” Gilbert mentions as a soft place actually Fiddler’s Green, so Gilbert himself is (in his identity as a location) a ‘soft place’.
Rustichello departs, continuing to insist that Marco is a dream, and Marco encounters our titular character, who wonderfully responds to the inquiry “Are you a dream?” with “Yes, I am Dream.” Morpheus is newly escaped from his imprisonment, and greatly weakened. Marco gives him some of his scant supply of water – perhaps out of kind-heartedness, perhaps he realizes that this is the only person who can get him out of here. Fiddler’s Green’s description of the future is mentioned and dismissed: “forewarned is seldom forearmed”. Dream’s appearance “depends on who’s watching” – it seems his different forms are not at his own discretion, but based on the viewer – a pale and dark-haired man to Europeans, Kai’ckul to Africans, an alien entity to Martian Manhunter, a giant cat to cats.
Dream considers leaving Marco where he is, a fairly dickish move considering that Marco shared his water, but is recalled to compassion by the memory of being ‘trapped’, as Marco is. In an indication that his imprisonment has wrought some fairly immediate changes on him, he uses the last of his strength to send Marco back to the real world. When he awakes, the memory of the soft place fades. As if it were only a dream – but we know, unlike Marco’s father, that dreams are far from being things “of little importance.”