I was looking for a nice little poem about sea serpents, and then serpents, and then snakes and I couldn’t find something really awesome to quote three or four lines from before getting into the next two Sandman issues but I did find D. H. Lawrence’s “Snake” (which is too good to not share, even if it doesn’t have a perfect handful of lines for what we’re going for here).
Anyway, enough of that. Onto this: Katherine will be give us #53 Hob’s Leviathan and Reformed Republican will give us #54 The Golden Boy.
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.
Fables and Reflections recaps here: Ken and Jaybird reviewed the preview plus the first two issues here. Mike Schilling and Jaybird did the next two issues here. KatherineMW did the next issue here. Glyph, Ken, and Russell did the Sandman Special issues here.
Brief Lives recaps here: Jason Tank recapped Chapter 1 and Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 2 here. Reformed Republican recapped Chapter 3 and Jaybird recapped Chapter 4 here. Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 5 and Glyph recapped Chapter 6 here. Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 7 and Glyph recapped Chapter 8 here.
World’s End issues #51 and #52 reviewed here by Jason Tank and James K.
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 next story comes from a boy named Jim, and is a sailor’s tale, in the old style of sailors’ tales from the days of tall ships. Jim first wants to know what place Worlds’ End is, and after receiving an unclear and unsatisfactory answer he tells how he ended up here when he was shipwrecked. One of the other sailors thought the place is Fiddler’s Green, but Jim considers that “all nonsense”. He doesn’t learn anything about the place’s location from the other patrons, but we do learn that it’s a place unattached to normal time – Jim’s from 1914. He drops the discussion and goes on with his story, though.
One of Gaiman’s strengths is the range of writing styles he masters; Jim’s narration in this story feels genuine, like a sailing story written around the turn of the century. The art for the story is also excellent, one of the reasons it’s among my favourites in The Sandman; even the small details, like the rope, shell, and mermaid border on the first page of Jim’s narration, add a lot too it, and when we get a story-within-a-story later on the art and the borders shift to suit it.
To return to the story. Jim ran away from home at thirteen, driven by a yearning for the sea. He had had some adventures on his first couple ships, but the real story start in Bombay when a English passenger comes aboard; the captains not pleased with having passengers at all, but the reader’s sentiments are very different, for the passenger is none other than our old friend – and Morpheus’ old friend – Hob Gadling. So this is the third of three stories to have some connection with Morpheus, although in this one he does not personally appear.
We get some brief but colourful introductions to the crew, and the words and narration work together to evoke the joy of sailing, and the sadness of time past and joys lost; this ship is already a relic of past days, with steam travel the way of the future.
An Indian stowaway is found on board, and the captain is ready to force him off at the next port when Mr. Gadling steps in and – after a conversation we don’t hear – gets the captain to allow the man to stay aboard. Hob is clearly not only well-off but influential at the moment, enough so to get a captain who hates passengers to take on two.
The Indian gentlemen feels a little stereotypical for my taste – more the way a British (or Australian) author might imagine an Indian gentleman to be, and his name, Gunga Din, doesn’t sound like an Indian name to me. But the whole story’s a little stereotypical, or archetypal – exactly what you’d expect a sailing story to be like.
One night on the voyage, Gunga Din tells the story about “the fickleness of women”. The borders of the panels change to parchment scrolls, with centrepieces of elephants, cobras, and lions, to match the story’s location and era. A holy man gives a king a fruit that confers eternal life (including invulnerability), and the king gives it to a wife whom he loves “more than life itself”. His wife, however, is unfaithful and gives it to her lover, the captain of the palace guard, who gives it to a courtesan that he loves. The courtesan, being a cautious person, returns the fruit to the king, who has both his wife and her lover murdered, and leaves his kingdom to walk the earth, eating the fruit of immortality as he goes.
Jim doesn’t think much of the story, and Hob agrees with him: women aren’t more unfaithful than men; in fact, it’s closer to the latter because men have more opportunities to be unfaithful. Even within the story, the fallacy is notable: it features two people who are unfaithful to their lovers, one male and one female – the king’s wife and the captain of the guard – and thus doesn’t say what Gunga Din thinks it says. Jim’s problem with the story is a different one, though: he’s seen death and so doesn’t believe in eternal life. Hob notes Jim’s depth for his age, and repeats the question he had asked Gunga Din – what things are under the sea that we know nothing of? Hob and Jim become friends, although we’re reminded that Hob hasn’t always been as decent a person as he is now by his tales of slave ships, which we know he tells from experience. Hob knows a lot, and he’s got a piece of advice on how not to drown – don’t drown. Jim finds this less than helpful.
After a storm, the ship is becalmed, and a range of superstitions are employed in an endeavour to bring the wind back; the idea of myths and superstitions and unseen things underlie Jim’s story. And now we see that these ideas are more than myth and legends. Thousands, millions of fish flee in panic past the boat, filling the sailors’ nets and continuing on. And behind them comes something else…not land, though it seems so at first…a giant, massive sea serpent, dwarfing the ship. The splash page of it is truly spectacular, with smoke and fire and light behind and around it. The sailors weep, and stare in awe. But they can’t tell anyone of it, and don’t even want to speak of it among themselves; no one would believe them if they did.
At Aden, Job and Gunga Din say their farewells. We learn that Hob in fact owns the Sea Witch. And, more interestingly, from his comment of “there’s few enough of us around”, Gunga Din is another immortal – and therefore may even be the king in his tale. He also mentions Morpheus as an aside. Hob has also figured out some secrets himself – Jim is a girl. It’s a mark of how good the art is in this story that I didn’t even suspect this until Hob mentioned it, and yet when I page back through the story Jim’s appearance doesn’t look out-of-place for a young girl in sailors’ clothing. Peggy (her actual name), for her part, knows Hob’s secret based on a photograph she saw in his cabin, and Hob’s willingness to reveal it to her now.
And Peggy – or Jim, as she still prefers to be called for the moment – knows that her life on the sea is ending, both because of her own age and the end of the era of sailing ships. (And as it’s 1914, she’ll very soon have reason to be glad she’s not a boy, once she gets out of Worlds’ End and back to her own place and time.) As we’ve seen before in The Sandman, wonders seem to go out of the world, to some degree, with the advent of the modern era. But for all that, there’s still a lot about the sea we don’t know.
The Golden Boy
Following the harrowing sea serpent tale, we move on to The Golden Boy; the tale of a Messiah (no religion) Boy President (no politics). We begin in the Inn of the World’s End, which is emphatically NOT a bar, though its geometry appears to be subject to change at any moment. Brant has gone upstairs to sleep, and woke to find food waiting. He tried to head downstairs, but the staircase was now a library. After having his attention taken up by disappearing people, he is surprised by an Asian man in the library. Unlike most of the other patrons, this fellow seems to be passing through, unaware of the storm that is carrying on around them. The stranger is excited to find out that Brant is from one of many Americas, but Brant earns his pity when he shares that his America had Jimmy Carter as President. This man is a seeker, and he begins the tale of the one he seeks.
Unto us a child is born, . . . and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called “Prez–It’s short for President.” Unlike most children his age, the Pledge of Allegiance is more than meaningless ritual. He knows when he says it, he is pledging himself to something more. Prez grew to know “Two Big Things,” America and Time. At 13, his mother lost him. He had made his way into Town Hall where is was instructing the city leaders, like a young Jesus instructing the leaders in the Temple. A few years later, he single-handedly adjusted every clock in his hometown, so they were in steadfast agreement. That same year, the voting age was lowered to 18, leading to a youthful takeover of the Senate and Congress, and the eventual lowering of the Presidential age limit to 18.
But every Messiah needs his Adversary, and so we are introduced to Boss Smiley, the Prince of Prez’s world (who looks like a Grotesque from Dick Tracy). His iconic face is worn on clothing or carried as decoration, though few actually know of his existence. Boss Smiley comes to pick up Prez. Since the teen has not been fasting, he is not tempted to make bread from stones, nor does Smiley attempt to get him to fling himself from a cliff to see if he will be miraculously saved. However, he does take him to a very high mountain and show him all the kingdoms of America and their splendor. He offers to give Prez his namesake job if he will serve Boss Smiley, but Prez is determined to become President on his own. Boss Smiley just smiles as Prez walks away.
Prez’s work in local politics gets noticed, getting him featured on Newsweek and mentioned by Carson, leading to a visit from President Richard Nixon, who informs Prez that he will be his successor. Nixon has a very cynical view of his position, informing Prez that nothing he does in office will matter. He will be hated in office, then loved when the next, worse guy takes over. Nixon seems shocked that Prez actually wants to make a difference and is not just chasing power, money, or women.
Election Day is a day of miracles-a baby with a birthmark in the shape of America, every slot machine in Caesar’s Palace simultaneously awarding their jackpot, the blind see, the deaf hear, and terminal patients are healed. It is an auspicious day, and Prez is elected President of the USA, just shy of 20 years old.
Prez goes on to be a great president. He starts peace talks in the middle east, oversees a reduction in gas prices, and reduces the Federal Deficit and the National Debt. He appears on Saturday Night Live, inspiring John Belushi to quit using drugs. He unilaterally begins to disarm nuclear and biological weapons, expecting the scared, hungry Russians to do the same. He is a beloved President who can achieve anything he wants, and he actually wants to make America a better place.
In his third year, he meets Boss Smiley again. He has found no records of Smiley’s existence, and Smile explains that is how it should be. Prez has only made a start at fixing America, and he intends to run again. Smiley makes it clear that would be a dangerous decisions before flying away like a deflating balloon. Prez is elected for a second term. He unsnarls the Japanese-American trade agreement, imprisoned corporate heads for industrial pollution, made education the highest priority, and began dating and later became engaged to his high school sweetheart.
After a few months, their storybook romance is brought to an end when as assassination attempt kills Prez’s fiancee instead. The killer is a disturbed woman who is obsessed with former boxer Ted Grant (also the superhero Wildcat), recalling John Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster. Prez is upset, but he hold no anger. He offers his forgiveness, and later offers the killer clemency which she refuses.
Some time later, an exhausted Prez is in bed, watching TV, and trying to sleep. Boss Smiley appears on the screen, offering to return Kathy if he will serve him for the remainder of his final term. Prez rejects the offer and falls asleep crying. He finishes his second term, and he makes no attempt for a third term, though some would have tried to make it happen. He retired to Steadfast where he worked on watches, and America lost its luster. The new president tried to get him to come out of retirement and advise him, but refused. Later, he disappeared. Nobody knew where he went, though rumors sprang up across the country.
One day, Prez died.
The whole world knew he died, though nobody knew where or how. It was just a part of the collective unconscious. Our storytelling disciple shares his thought on what happens next, based on hearsay and faith. Prez meets Death, who he vaguely remembers meeting once before. She gives her usual speech, that different things happen to different people, and they never learn what happens to anyone else. Prez, however, is special. He has been summoned by the figure he assumes is The Watchmaker. He is retrieved by beings that appear to be angels and lead to golden gates in the clouds.
Sitting on the throne is Boss Smiley, who greets Prez “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Prez denies working for Smiley, but the Boss assures him he was the Boss the whole time. Now, Prez will be rewarded with a seat at his right hand, where he can sing Smiley’s praises. Prez has other ideas. He realizes there are other Americas that he could fix, and he plans to leave to do just that. Boss Smiley is not letting Prez go anywhere, but Morpheus (oh yeah, this is his book, isn’t it?) shows up and lets the Boss know what’s up. Smiley makes a very unconvincing bluff, but Prez has become a myth, so he now belongs to Dream. Before Prez heads out into the worlds, he gives Morpheus the watch he received from his father.
The storyteller closes the story, letting Brant know that he believes Prez still walks between the worlds, helping America where he can. The man is both a seeker and a prophet, travelling in hopes of finding Prez, and spreading his word to those who have not met him. Sustained by his faith, he waits for Prez to return.