By Andrés Muñoz
Here’s a confession: I had never been in touch with Neil Gaiman’s works, ever. It was possibly due to my fixation with JRR Tolkien and his work, or perhaps I had just never given Mr Gaiman a sporting chance.
Either way, I’ve just binged the entire Sandman series on Netflix and am browsing for my next fix of Neil Gaiman. But… what is the deal with The Sandman, you might ask?
Why is Gaiman asking his fans to watch the series through his social media channels? And why are there already rumours of a second season making the rounds on the internet a mere month after its release? Let’s dive into The Sandman while revealing as little about the story as possible.
Background (Light Spoilers Ahead)
The series is a gripping take on the supernatural and dark fantasy genres. Based on a comic book created by Gaiman and DC Comics between 1989 and 1996, the Sandman is a fascinating collection of famous motifs such as heaven, hell, the dream world and the “waking” world and how reality meshes between both, exorcisms, and obviously, magic.
The series begins by telling us that there are many worlds, each ruled by an entity known as an Endless. Two of those worlds, where most of the story takes place, are the Waking World and the Dream World, also known as the Dreaming. The series’ protagonist is the Endless Morpheus, king of the Dream World and master of all Dreams and Nightmares.
He travels between these worlds until a human occultist captures him and robs him of his powers. As Morpheus begins his quest to recover the items, a chain of events unfolds that will alter individuals in both waking and dreaming worlds.
A Melting Pot Of Influences
The character of the Sandman itself comes from a short story by German author E. T. A. Hoffmann. Gaiman takes traits of the Hoffmann story and grants them to different characters in the series. This turns them around and adds personality and flair to each of them.
While many elements of classic and Western mythology are behind the series, Gaiman’s approach is different from any other works I’ve seen. We see biblical characters interacting with those from Greek mythology along with others from the DC Comics universe. All these different influences paint a familiar yet eerie landscape, a hallmark of the dark fantasy genre.
Furthermore, the personification of dreams and nightmares opens up a vast and new way of leading a narrative. It’s the most exciting storytelling of dream exploration I’ve seen since Inception.
A Dream Cast
One of the best elements of Netflix’s The Sandman is the cast. Tom Sturridge plays the title character with a coldness and detachment that is eerie at first but evolves wonderfully as the series progresses. Narcos’s Boyd Holbrook also delivers a fantastic performance as the villainous Corinthian, a Nightmare that has escaped the dreamworld and terrorises humans in the waking world. Cool, calm and composed yet chilling, The Corinthian is one you must watch.
While these characters span the whole length of the series, there are guest stars that shine during the smaller moments they appear on screen. Yes, each episode adds a layer of depth to the overarching narrative, yet each one of these is a powerful microstory on its own.
These were some of my favourite episodes, as the characters showed brilliant displays of emotion and insight. Don’t be surprised if some Emmy nominations pop up during awards season!
David Thewlis plays a fantastic role that explores the entire concept of truth, Kirby Howell-Baptiste kills it when playing Death, and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie is one of the best versions of Lucifer Morningstar in recent memory.
Gaiman The Great
What drew me the most about Gaiman’s work was the ease with which he alternates between the grand schemes and stratagems of almighty characters and the everyday, heartfelt conversations between ordinary individuals. He doesn’t let us forget that while critical elements may alter the fabric of existence, these elements are chosen by individuals who feel and react through their emotions, just like anyone else.
Vital motifs such as the search for purpose and ambition are all encapsulated within the characters. When all of these collide, it makes it a truly fascinating watch. The Sandman takes a little while to start, but as with all good stories, it draws you in little by little.
Perhaps some of the series’ darker turns might ward off some who might be looking for a lighter experience, but that’s the dark fantasy genre for you right there. This series perfectly captures it and then some.
And so, this is why I’m looking forward to reading more from Mr Gaiman. Now I want to read his books and watch his shows, so what other of his titles would you recommend? Please let me know in the comments section below!