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.

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, Jaybird 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.

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.

A Game of You recaps here: Mike Schilling reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank and Mike Schilling tackled the next two issues here. Russell Saunders gave us the last two issues 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!

Hob’s Leviathan

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.


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. 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).

    Is that the reference? He reminded me of Wal-Mart.

    The mix-and-match religious elements of The Golden Boy creep me out. I’m not entirely sure what it’s trying to say about Christianity and God, but I have the sense that it’s not anything positive.

    • I took Smiley as a tribute to the iconic smiley face button from Watchmen – another alternate American history story featuring Nixon, and one in which the godlike figure (Dr. Manhattan) was the son of a watchmaker, who originally intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. Except Prez actually still cares about humanity (though Manhattan eventually sort of comes around).

      Prez is the messiah and President we wish we had, Jesus and mythical youthful JFK/Obama/”HOPE” symbol all in one. (No politics/religion)

      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.

      This reminds me of a Ray Bradbury (I think) story where a man or men keep traveling in their rocketship from alien world to alien world, trying to catch Jesus’ appearance on each. They always miss him – sometimes by hours, sometimes by years, but they keep trying; of course, they are missing the point by trying to catch him this way.

      This is almost a weird mirror version of that. The storyteller is NOT missing the point; by spreading these (possibly fictitious) ideas/stories (and therefore hope) wherever he goes, he is the “real” Christ (or at least “Christian”) figure.

      • It was Bradbury, it was called “The Man”. I may be getting some details wrong, I read it when I was a kid.

    • It’s kind of gnostic. Boss Smiley’s a demiurge, running the local franchise (as Death puts it) and trying to persuade people he’s God, but if you can see past the lies you can get away from him.

      • Well, that blows MY theory out of the water.

        Still, the parallels are kinda weird.

        You were not kidding about “stoned”.

        From that wiki link:

        Prez fought legless vampires, a right-wing militia led by the great-great-great-great-great-grandnephew of George Washington, “Boss Smiley” (a political boss with a smiley face), and evil chess players.

        Legless vampires?! PLURAL?!? That doesn’t imply merely an injured or disabled vampire, but something far more surreal and sinister.

        Great, now I am never getting to sleep. What does that even mean? Is a gang of them rolling after me, or dragging themselves by their arms?


        • I have tried to find digital versions of the original Prez comics, but I have not had any luck. They just seem so crazy.
          This is also a great example of Gaiman’s ability to do interesting things with throwaway characters.

  2. It’s time for adventure
    Hot Dog, some fun. Oh Joy
    With Cecil the seasick sea serpent
    And good old Beany
    Boy, boy, boy, boy, boy.

      • Adventure Dog alertly puts her nose in the crack and applies 600,000 pounds of force to the door.

        There is no number that would be funnier there than “six HUNdred THOUsand”. The guy’s a genius. Seriously.

        • Adventure dog, Adventure Dooooog / Kinda big, kinda strong / Stupid as a log

          I never forgot that theme “song” (and like I said, it just took seeing those two words close together to “trigger” it), and was able to find the column in seconds by typing that phrase into The Google.

          He really was really funny for a really long time.

  3. Two small points:

    1. There’s an error in Prez’s chronology. He s elected president in 1976, “three months shy of his 20th birthday”, which puts his birth in February of 1957. Yet we’re told that he was six at Kennedy’s inaugural, when he would have been three or perhaps just turned four.

    2. Only the captain calls the Indian man “Gunga Din”; it’s an epithet, like calling a Native American “Tonto”, not his name. (The poem was reasonably current, having been published in 1892.)

    • Only the captain calls the Indian man “Gunga Din”; it’s an epithet, like calling a Native American “Tonto”, not his name. (The poem was reasonably current, having been published in 1892.)

      …Oh. Thanks, that clarifies one thing.

    • 1.) Sheesh, mathematicians, always such sticklers for correct calculations…;-)

  4. Prez reminds me a bit of the Carl Hiassen character Skink, who shows up in about half of his books for adults. Skink, nee Clinton Tyree, was an English professor, a war hero, and the only honest man ever to be governor of Florida. The day that the crooks who had tried to bribe him to let them develop a nature preserve were let off with probation and the legislature voted unanimously to award the preserve to a different set of developers, Tyree disappeared, to re-emerge as Skink, backwoods hermit, who fights greed and corruption armed only with unshakable integrity, near-psychotic intensity, and spectacular badassery.

    • I’ve only read a couple Hiassen books, but they are perfect airplane/beach reads. They sort of sit at a midpoint between Elmore Leonard and Dave Barry.

      • If you haven’t read Sick Puppy, do. You have a greed-simple villain, a stupid but lovable labrador, a lot of action from Skink, and even more from Skink’s even less inhibited apprentice.

  5. I never considered Gunga Din to be his real name. I always thought it was more of a slur because he was Indian.

  6. The funny thing about Jim is that I only see a girl on subsequent readings. The brain really sees what it expects to see.

    • Yeah, that’s my experience too… when I went back and re-read this time, I saw a boy until about a few pages in and said “no… wait…” and I remembered and I couldn’t unsee.

      Awesome point.

  7. And now I’m thinking about Prez again and I’m boggling at exactly *HOW* crazy some of the assumptions were.

    “Dude, what the problem is is that old folks are in charge of stuff. We just need some young’uns to be in charge and next thing you know, whammo! Middle-East Crisis Averted! Hell, Middle-East Crisis *SOLVED*.”

    At least we can discuss “how does Superman carry a submarine in the middle without it breaking in half over his head” with discussion of subtle manipulation of electromagnetic fields (which also allows him to fly, for example) but you can come up with any number of vaguely good enough (if handwavey) explanations for Superman’s super-cooling breath (he’s manipulating electromagnetic fields, but subtly) but there’s nothing that gets you to solving the crisis in the Middle East.

    “Oh, this time the President is a really awesome guy. Also, he manipulated the electromagnetic fields.”

    • Yeah, stuff like that really breaks my suspension of disbelief. Because the only way Prez could do what he did was mind control, and that changes the kind of character he is considerably.

      • It’s wish-fulfillment, not mind-control: If this one guy had all the gifts of the best politicians, plus was completely sincere about wanting to do the right thing, he could shame all the other politicians into doing the right thing too. Captain Carrot of the Watch has a lot of that going on too, to the point where his friends are not wholly sure whether he’s consciously using his total honesty to manipulate people.

    • So, how does Superman fly? It can’t be a ballistic result of his super-strength, because he can turn and swoop and stuff. Even in space, so it’s not like he’s using differential air resistance. And the X-Ray vision thing: are his eyes emitting X-rays? And how would that work since there doesn’t seem to be a requirement that there be something in back of what he’s looking at to make the X-Rays reflect back to him. What does he cut his hair or clip his nails with?

  8. This is a funny week for me, in that I looooooove “Hob’s Leviathan” and roundly detest “The Golden Boy.” It is the single “Sandman” issue that I find dumb and silly. Not only is the Jesus-parallel aspect ham-handed and on-the-nose, the ridiculous assumptions that Jaybird mentions supra are insulting to the intelligence of anyone who actually pays attention to how things work in the world. I am veering dangerously close to breaking the “no politics” rule, so I’ll leave it at that, but I just find the whole issue rife with silliness in a way that I see nowhere else.

    • If I have time in the weekend, I might start up a front page post on The Golden Boy, so we can discuss it without breaking the rules here.

    • Huh, didn’t know this one was so divisive. I don’t mind the story at all, and I think it’s weird that it’s THIS story, in THIS arc, which is part of THIS type of OVERALL story that is ITSELF about stories and myths and lies (and how they work and what they are for), that strains credulity.

      IOW and IMO, the genius and beauty of the overall conceit of the Sandman universe, is that it inherently covers a lot of storytelling sins.

      • I mean, Sandman doesn’t take place in the “real” universe to begin with; and Prez’s universe-within-a-universe (at least….there may be several more layers there) is explicitly acknowledged – lampshaded even – to be not “real” – in that we are told that instead of Jimmy Carter for a president, it had a 19-YO wunderkid whose adversary has a SMILEY FACE for a head.

        I’m not sure why we’d take *anything* about the story we are being told here as “real”; we are way, way down the rabbit hole – nearing China – and through multiple panes of looking glass at this point.

        Sandman is fractal narratives. I don’t think that it’s coincidental that the Prez story, in which a character who seems to be able to do whatever he sets his mind to within his own realm/world (even well past the point of plausibility), is offered the chance to give up all that responsibility – right after Morpheus has essentially refused a similar offer from his sibling.

      • This is one of the things that Rose talks about from time to time… the camels we’re willing to swallow in conjunctions with the gnats we strain at.

        Gary Larson has a good example in The Far Side where a male mosquito walks through his front door, putting his hat on a hatrack and tells his mosquito wife (presumably making dinner) “Golly! I musta spread malaria around half the country today!” and he got letters explaining to him that it’s *FEMALE* mosquitos that do that sort of thing.

        Not a single letter about mosquito habits related to monogamy, domesticity, or haberdashery.

        So it’s one thing to read a story about an Inn that gives travelers shelter from the storm in which they tell tales of Lovecraftian cities that wait, dreaming, or of Elves who travel to cities in order to give a Doom to a Pope/King, or of a girl hiding on a ship who is blessed to see the Serpent…

        But have one of those travelers say “oh, yeah, a teenager solved the Middle East problems in another timeline because he was awesome” and you’re going to have to read a comment pretty much exactly like this one.

        • Right, I get that…but what I am saying is (I think) slightly different.

          The Asian storyteller is a religious disciple, in the midst of telling a story about his Buddha or his Mohammed or his Jesus, in the person/myth of “Prez”.

          Why would we expect his story to be any more “realistic” than the stories we have of those other Messiahs?

          Please note: I am not trying to insult anyone’s religious beliefs here.

          I am trying to say that the storyteller’s story’s plausibility should be interpreted in THAT light – not the light of what we think is plausible in our universe, or EVEN in Sandman’s.

          It’s metaphors in metaphors in metaphors.

          • And one point is, even though he could make all these amazing accomplishments, nothing really changed. After his two terms were up, the world went back to going to hell the same way as before.

          • Also that after he died, he met the new boss, and it was the same as the old boss.

          • I also should say, it’s entirely possible that I am forgiving or overlooking serious flaws in this story because of the fractal nature of this arc in particular.

            This arc is so densely layered in its nested storytelling, that it comes close to losing its heart – it’s almost “showy”, like Gaiman is really pulling out all the stops and pushing the Sandman conceit and storytelling style as far as it can go, before we launch into the final stretch “proper”. I think he manages to stop just short of “too much”, but it’s understandable that people’s tolerances for what they are willing to accept differs.

            Sort of like the way some people think Charlie Kaufman scripts are “clever for clever’s sake”.

        • Did Larson explicitly say that one was male and the other female? Or did people assume because of the hat and the cooking?

          • Damn, I can’t find it online.

            Larson had some stereotyped ways of drawing men and women, particularly middle-aged ones, which made it clear which mosquito was which.

          • Yeah, they were drawn sort of like “The Honeymooners”, basically. The joke hinges on the old “You wouldn’t BELIEVE the day I had at work” trope.

          • It was also the 80’s. Gender Norms were generally taken at face value in single-panel cartoons back then.

          • Oh, I’m sure he intended them to be the man and the woman, but he could have flipped the critics on their head with such a response.

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