The Sandman bonus notes: Interviews (3)
Here are some of the most interesting facts found in the interviews with Neil Gaiman in the “Sandman Companion”.
Instead of covering two tomes as usual I will only cover one - mostly because I take those interviews from the French compilation of the Sandman comics, and the third volume, instead of having two tomes in one book, rather had “A Game of You” alongside other bonuses and additional stories taken from outside the main Sandman series.
A GAME OF YOU
# Sandman was conceived so that it would alternate between male and female stories. “Preludes and nocturnes” is a male story (male protagonist). The Doll’s House is a female story (Rose Walker as a protagonist, speaks about women and their relationships). Season of Mists is once again focused on Dream, and thus is a male story. Now, A Game of You is about women and their identity.
# The idea for “A Game of You” originated when Neil Gaiman conceived “The Doll’s House”: he wanted Rose Walker to live in a boring, plain, realistic world by day, and in a world of fantasy quests by night. However, Neil Gaiman discovered the novel “Bones of the Moon” by Jonathan Carroll which used the very same structure, so he threw the idea away (though he had it appear in the dreams of Barbie - which was also an homage to “Bones of the Moon”, especially because both have a huge canine creature related to bones). Hopefully later the two men contacted each other. Jonathan Carroll revealed he had read Gaiman’s comic “Signal to Noise” and found it scarily similar to a novel he hadn’t finished writing yet, “The Rainbow Child”. In return, Neil Gaiman revealed how he had a story planned for Sandman that was eerily similar to the “Bones of the Moon” and so they agreed that they were like “two different radios on the same station”, and that their job was not to write different stories, but to write them down in a new way.
# The theme of “A Game of You” is how nobody is a stereotype, no one is what they appear to be on the surface, everyone has inside of them entire worlds.
# The dream of Hazel is one of the rare cases where Neil Gaiman used one of his own dreams for Sandman: he dreamed one day about a very old and dead baby he found in a box, and he took it out and then looked at it as it crawled away to devour other babies.
# Scarlett, mentionned several times, was supposed to make an appearance: her character was the one of a very small and very fat drag-queen that sang in shows with Hal (from The Doll’s House).
# When asked about him receiving a price from the GLAAD for his “positive representation of gay and lesbian characters”, Neil Gaiman explains he never had any political agenda - at least with the characters of Hazel and Fox. All he wanted was that Sandman would reflect people he knew in everyday life - and in fact that was what was considered “progressist”, to just show any kind of woman without any consideration about her sexual orientation, as someone cool, sane and sympathetic. Tradition in comic books at the time was to represent women as either damsels in distress, or a “man with boobs”. He hoped that characters such as Rose Walker, Barbie, Hal, Fox, Hazel of Wanda would “break the rules”.
# The character of Wanda was inspired by a brief encounter Neil Gaiman had with the friend of a friend in London, “one of the most beautiful women” he ever met and that just happened to be born with a penis. She was terrified of surgeries, and thus refused to have any part of her body cut - and he was seduced by the contradiction of such a situation, and by how deep the decision and question of the gender could go. The character of Wanda was also quite controversial in Gaiman’s entourage: his older friends perceived her as a caricature, while the younger friends saw her as an example and a model.
# Many fans assumed that Neil Gaiman expressed his personal opinion when he depicted the Moon as refusing to let Wanda walk her path because she was not a “real” woman - but Neil Gaiman says he always made it clear that, in his eyes, the gods could well “put in in their holy rectum”. George makes it clear that neither Thessaly nor the Moon believe gender is a choice, and while many readers thought it meant that it was an absolute fact (since it was given by a very ancient witch and a moon deity), Neil Gaiman points out that Wanda considers herself a woman and that so does Death, and for him it is all that matters.
# When asked about how he came to create Thessaly, Neil Gaiman mentions he had noted in neo-pagan circles a new reinterpretation of historical witchcraft as a pleasant religion, not at all bloody and gory, where women were empowered. In truth however, the Greeks and Romans were terrified by the witches living in Thessaly - so he thought it would be interesting to present one of those women in modern days, and to have her continue to act in a gory and deadly way. Not by flying on a broomstick with a black cat, but by following a Greek code of values that is three thousand years old. Neil Gaiman also confirms that Thessaly is at least three thousands years old, though she could also be twenty thousands years old: when she says “I was born the day of the greatest shadow, the year where the bear totem was broken”, it is not a reference to a specific mythology, but for Neil it puts her birth somewhere in the Neolithic. And while she had a name once, she now is more comfortable wearing the names of places she lived in - hence why she calls herself Thessaly (a region in Greece) and later Larissa (a city in Thessaly). The character of Thessaly was also heavily inspired by the Golden Ass of Apuleius, and the stories about witches by the author Lucian - for example the scene where Thessaly uses the face of George is based on a scene from a story of Lucian and another from The Golden Ass, where witches try to steal the face of a dead man.
# Neil Gaiman did not invent the wordplay on Morpheus and Murphy - it came from the Oxford English Dictionary, where Murphy was listed as a perversion of Morpheus and was used already in 1890 in expressions.
# Neil Gaiman says he should one day tell the story of Alianora, the former lover of Dream for which the fantasy world was created. He says it is a beautiful story, and a very sad one.
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The Sandman: A Game of you (A summary of the plot from someone who actually read the thing...)
I have seen a lot of misconceptions floating around Tumblr about the plot of The Sandman: A Game of You, mostly thanks to an old Mary Sue article that seemed to deliberately take the plot out of context to make it look transphobic. Some people on Tumblr have even said “I love Sandman but I won’t read A Game of you because I heard about what’s in it.” Neil Gaiman, himself, even received an ask here on Tumblr about the story’s “problematic” content because the person who wrote the ask legitimately thought the story said trans women cannot use magick in The Sandman universe. I have even seen transphobes claim Neil Gaiman is on their side for this reason.
According to Neil Gaiman he wrote A Game of you while being consulted by trans friends, one in particular, who heavily became the basis for the character Wanda.
The first version of The Dreaming (Sandman spin-off comics) and The House of Mystery Volume 2 (Also a Sandman spin-off) were written by Caitlin R. Kiernan. (a transwoman). That’s right. Neil Gaiman left The Sandman franchise in the care of a transwoman.
Now, let’s begin...
The Sandman: A game of you (summary)
First we need to go backward into The Sandman. The main character of The Sandman is Morpheus AKA Dream of The Endless. The Endless are a family of anthropomorphic personifications. That means they are living embodiments of certain concepts. For example Morpheus, also known as Dream has an older sister who is Death. She’s essentially the Grim Reaper.
Note: Death is older than Dream (Morpheus) but looks younger by at least a decade. The family consists of Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and little Delirium (She used to be Delight but she went mad). Most of Sandman is the story of Morpheus and what happens to him. The place to begin is Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes.
The first story to feature Hazel and Foxglove (though Foxglove’s other name, Donna, is given much earlier in the series) is The Sandman: A Game of You. Donna AKA Foxglove had been in an abusive relationship with a girl named Judy. After their breakup Judy had been murdered (issue 6 of The Sandman, within Preludes and Nocturnes, the issue is called 24 Hour Diner).
Donna took the name Foxglove as a stage name as she wants to be a rock musician. She falls in love with Hazel. The two are housemates with Wanda (a transwoman who ran away from a very transphobic hillbilly family), Barbie (a pretty and slightly eccentric makeup artist and dreamer trying to rebuild her life after a failed romantic relationship with a man named… I kid you not, Ken), and Larissa, also known as Thessaly, a nerdy looking and stand-offish woman who turns out to be a powerful and slightly-homicidal witch from ancient Greece. There’s also an old man named George who turns out to actually be a Nightmare spy for a creature called the Cuckoo (more on that later.)
I’ll give the plot of The Sandman: A game of you first and then tell you the full plot of Death: Time of your Life. The two connect.
In The Sandman: A game of you we learn that Barbie had a Labyrinth-esue fantasy world (Think of Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth) that she would escape to and lucid dream of all through her childhood and early adulthood but she had not been there in a long time. We (readers) met Barbie earlier in The Sandman: The doll’s house when she had been dating Ken and in that story we see the first glimpse of Barbie’s fantasy world.
Now her childhood anthropomorphic animal friends miss her and worry about her and were terrified of the activities of The Cuckoo (The main “bad guy” of her fantasy world). One of the creatures (who greatly resembles Ludo from Labyrinth but is articulate) enters the real world where he is unfortunately killed. He tried to warn Barbie of the bad things happening in her fantasy land.
Things start to get weirder. That night everyone has anxiety based nightmares. It turns out Hazel is pregnant from a one night stand that she regretted and didn’t know how to tell Foxglove so this is the basis for her nightmare. Foxglove has nightmares about her abusive and deceased ex, Judy. Wanda is having nightmares about transphobia. She has not medically transitioned and she worries that others feel she does not count as a woman unless she has the surgery. She’s actually terrified of surgery and affirms herself in the dream that even without the surgery she IS a woman.
After everyone has terrible anxiety dreams and most confront their nightmares they wake up to find things are strange in their home. First Hazel confesses her indiscretion to Foxglove. Foxglove forgives her and they decide to raise the baby together.
Larissa finds George, realizing he was the cause of the nightmares, and kills him. She uses his remains to find out what is really going on.
Barbie, however, will not wake up. She has been sucked back into her Labyrinth-esque fantasy.
The friends, finding out that Larissa is really an ancient and powerful witch known as Thessaly, decide to go on a rescue mission into the realm of dreams (known as The Dreaming) to save Barbie.
Thessaly gets revealed as being a TERF (this was written in the 90s so the term didn’t exist yet), claiming her magick will not work for Wanda since she’s not a “real woman” and besides, someone needs to stay behind to protect Barbie’s body.
Thessaly opens a way by the moon’s magick to get herself, Hazel, and Foxglove into Barbie’s fantasy world.
While that’s going on a storm is unleashed by Thessaly’s use of magick. The storm causes heavy winds and trees to uproot. Wanda sees a homeless old woman in trouble. It’s a woman who had previously been nasty to her. Wanda saves her life but dies in the process.
In Barbie’s dream the heroes find a magical gemstone called the Porpentine (actually a rose quartz dreamstone, a magical stone that Dream AKA Morpheus uses as a conduit for his power. His main one, for a long time, was a ruby. Think of it like a magick wand). They destroy the porpentine, which is actually what the cuckoo wanted.
The Cuckoo had accidentally gotten trapped in Barbie’s dream many years before and though they feed on imagination she wanted her freedom. The destruction of the dreamstone alerts Morpheus (Dream) who comes to see that the skerry (The island that was Baribe’s fantasy world) is no longer needed.
The island had actually been created many centuries before for a former lover of Morpheus’ known as Alianora. Alianora could not return to her old life but wanted a place of her own when they broke up so Morpheus had given her the island. The dreamstone powered its magick. The island would exist so long as the dreamstone did. For many centuries after Alianora passed away the island had been the plaything of many young woman dreamers.
Morpheus absorbs the island and all its characters back into himself. And has a brief private conversation with Alianora’s ghost, comforting her by assuring her that her island had been home to many dreamers after her.
Morpheus allows the Cuckoo to fly away (which is all she really wanted), but Thessaly had wanted to kill her for all the trouble she had caused them. Morpheus prevents this.
Morpheus tells Foxglove, Hazel, and Thessaly that they should not have physically entered The Dreaming. That this is against nature. Barbie may wakeup but the rest are trapped. However, he does owe Barbie a boon for destroying the dreamstone- giving the power back to him that had long since been stored away in the jewel. This is a bit of a con on Morpheus’ part, because he got her to ask that her friends be returned to the waking world as her boon. This was Morphesus’ sneaky way of getting out of being in debt to her.
One by one they are returned to the waking world. And Morpheus and Thessaly become lovers (but she later dumps him, saying he cares too much about mortals, which surprises him because he used to be a very cold, and aloof bastard and he doesn’t like facing that he’s changed.)
Barbie attends Wanda’s funeral but unfortunately it’s hosted by Wanda’s redneck family who keep misgendering her. Cut off Wanda’s hair, put her in a suit, and deadname her on her headstone. Barbie writes Wanda’s real name on the headstone in lipstick.
Barbie also has a very strange dream where she sees Wanda with the delicate, feminine, features she had always wanted but was too scared to get the surgery to have (bone structure related), and another girl she doesn’t recognize. This is Death.
Death waves to Barbie, thus assuring her that Wanda is happy and safe where she is going and that yes, Wanda was ALWAYS a woman. This was written in 1992 so this was a big deal. A lot of people here on Tumblr mistake the story as transphobic and legitimately believe it was saying magick won’t work for a transwoman. No. This scene was to prove Thessaly and Wanda’s parents wrong about that and to show cis het readers that trans women ARE women right down in their soul.
Death: The High cost of Living.
In Death The High cost of living we learn that every so often Death takes human form as a means of self-humbling. She used to be very cold and mean until one day a soul she was collecting asked her how she would feel about it. So to remind herself of why she should show compassion she turns herself mortal for one day and lives as a human woman.
I won’t give the full plot of this story here but know that she attends a Foxglove concert and proclaims herself a fan.
Death: Time of your life.
Hazel had the baby and they named him Alvin. This was meant to be in honor of Wanda even though that was Wanda’s deadname and she had hated the name. They couldn’t figure out how to make a male equivalent of Wanda’s name so they just used her deadname. I don’t think this is a great idea, personally, but at least they tried to honor her memory.
By now Foxglove is a bit of a celebrity But she is stuck in the closet. It’s the mid-90s and her manager is worried that if she comes out as a lesbian it could ruin her career.
Foxglove thinks she’s falling out of love with Hazel because while on tour, she (Foxglove), has been sleeping around while on tour and knows she hasn’t been spending enough time with Hazel. She’s also getting burnt out. Being a celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be and she misses being obscure.
It turns out baby Alvie (Alvin) had an accident and Hazel offered up herself within a year if Death would not take Alvin. Death apparently listened but she warned her, she had to take someone when the time comes.
When Foxglove learns what has happened she rushes home and then to The Sunless lands (the land of The Dead) to save Hazel. Her handler comes with her. When she learns the deal Hazel made with Death she’s ready to offer herself to save her, realizing she DOES still love Hazel after all. The handler, however, offers himself instead.
It’s HEAVILY implied that Death was actually going to take him all along and the rest was just a rouse to save Hazel and Foxglove’s relationship because she liked them, and wanted them to realize what was important. It also assured the handler a chance to die a hero, doing something noble and good, which he secretly wanted anyway.
Foxglove goes back to her pre-music career name of Donna and settles into a private life where she is openly with Hazel and their son. And they live happily Ever After.
I figured it was important someone who actually read the comics summarize it since so many people here on Tumblr mistake The Sandman: A Game of you as transphobic and some have even called Hazel and Foxglove AKA Donna homophobic simply because they both have had affairs and forgave each other for it and Donna’s previous relationship had been abusive. There was an article from The Mary Sue a few years ago that deliberately took things out of context to make the story of A Game of You seem problematic and too many people trusted that as being accurate.
Also I had been wanting to write out the summary for some time since there are Sandman fans now who out-right refuse to read the arc because they were told it has problematic content, and some that badly misunderstood what it was trying to say. i.e. legitimately thinking feminine magick wouldn’t work for poor Wanda when in reality the whole point of Wanda’s arc was to tell the reader that transwomen ARE women.
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