A dark tale 'of enduring charm'
'The Sandman: The Dream Hunters'
DC Comics, $29.95
Review by L.D. Meagher
December 23, 1999
(CNN) -- Ten years after Neil Gaiman closed the book on "The Sandman," he has re-opened it. Inside, he has found an old Japanese folk tale that resonates with his creation. "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters" is that tale re-told.
Perhaps the best way to describe the book is to begin by explaining what it isn't. First and foremost, it's not a comic book. That may be disheartening news to fans of the Sandman series, but it shouldn't be. Nor is it a "graphic novel," a comic book of traditional novel length. And while it is billed as an illustrated novel, it's not really that, either.
What it most resembles is a children's book, a short story illuminated by pictures. "The Dream Hunters" is not intended for children, although some might find it enormously appealing. There is a fairy tale quality to the prose, and a sense of fantasy imbues the illustrations.
The story is a clever tale involving a fox and a Buddhist monk. It is set in some indefinable past, when the world was a simpler and more magical place. It begins with a wager between the fox and a badger about which of them can chase the monk from his temple. But as the story unfolds, the badger disappears and the relationship between the fox and the monk takes center stage.
In "The Dream Hunters," Gaiman casts the Sandman as the mythic Japanese Mikado of All Night's Dreaming. He uses a postscript to explain how he came across the story and how its original form bore some "almost disquieting" similarities to his Sandman series. Indeed, he has managed to make his most famous character fit seamlessly into the tale, thanks in part to the evocative illustrations of Yoshitaka Amano. The paintings are beautifully rendered and range from the expressive to the abstract.
Readers who have followed Gaiman's work may be surprised by the turn he takes in "The Sandman: The Dream Hunters". They should also be delighted. The format allows him to beef up his prose and frees him from the constraints of the panel-by-panel structure imposed by comics. And the Amano illustrations breathe new life into the character of the Sandman while providing an appropriate context for the story.
Readers who haven't been following Gaiman's work might well decide "The Dream Hunters" is a good place to start. The story has a dark edge, but it is sheathed in a tale of enduring charm.
Neil Gaiman: Adults deserve good fairy tales, too
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