Gaimain’s Sandman series is built as much in image as in word, the artistic renderings of characters and places adding texture and depth to the story–as is the nature of a good comic series. And the material is what Gaiman and the artists excel at: constructing fantastical worlds.
We are always aware of *where* we are in the series. Setting matters, and it’s exquisitely rendered. Sometimes, the space is terrifying: it’s the depths of Hell or the worst of nightmares. But sometimes it’s beautiful, intoxicating, and uncanny. Here are some of my favorites in the series:
1. Fiddler’s Green.
Fiddler’s Green is both a place and a person (you’ll find him as Gilbert on my list of favorite Sandman characters). As a place in the Dreaming, Fiddler’s Green recalls the maritime folklore of a place for sailors, a beautiful, pastoral resting place for those who’ve sailed the seas.
2. Dream’s Library.
As a book lover, there are few things in the world of the Dreaming that have more pull for me than Dream’s library. Inside the library are all of the books that have been dreamed but never written, and they are cared for by Lucien. I’d love to pick a cozy chair and just read and read and read.
3. World’s End: A Free House.
In the frame story for World’s End, travelers are drawn to a mysterious inn and, like Chaucer’s Canterbury travelers, they begin to tell tales. The inn itself is a sheltering place during reality storms–this one ushered in by the death of one of the Endless. The array of people and the old-world feel make this one of my favorite spots in the series.
4. The Boarding House.
In The Doll’s House, the second Sandman collection, we spend much of our time in a boarding house with an eclectic set of inhabitants: the dream vortex Rose Walker, Gilbert (aka Fiddler’s Green), the Havisham-like Chantal and Zelda, Hal (who is both the landlord and a nightclub performer), and Barbie and Ken. The boarding house works as a way to bring together a diverse and fascinating set of characters.
We don’t actually see much of Faerie, but what we do see is beautiful. It’s largely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Titania as its queen and gift-giving as its currency. Like the best of faeries, the realm and its inhabitants are magnetic and dangerous.
6. The White Horse.
In 1389, Dream met a man named Hob Gadling who swore never to die . The White Horse became their annual meeting place. We see the place change, take a few new names, and eventually deteriorate, reminding us of the breadth of the story and the longevity of the enigmatic Hob.
7. Dream’s Castle.
Dream’s throne room is beautiful—and so is the rest of his home. It’s guarded by a gryphon, a wyvern, and a hippogriff, and it is the heart of the Dreaming. Like its owner, the castle is but an aspect of dreams, if a beautiful one.
8. Death’s Apartment.
Death is perhaps the most human of the Endless, and though we don’t see her domain, we do see her apartment. Yes, Death has an apartment. There’s a floppy hat collection, goldfish named Slim and Wadsworth, and a big comfy couch. It sounds a lot like a place I’d want to have coffee.
9. Barbie’s Dream World.
Barbie is one of the residents of the Boarding House. Later in the Sandman run, in the collection A Game of You, the rich fantasy world that Barbie creates in her dreaming takes front and center. Barbie’s dream world is a fantasy land threatened by the villainous Cuckoo and inhabited by some of the most interesting characters in the series.
10. The Soft Places.
Soft places are spots where the boundary of dreaming and waking are malleable. They are places where Marco Polo can encounter inhabitants of the Dreaming, where historical figures meet dream figures and nothing is terribly certain.
11. The House of Mystery.
The House of Mystery is both in the Dreaming and the waking world, somewhere just north of Louisville. The architecture of the house and its interior change from time to time. It’s the home of Cain, and it sits close-by The House of Secrets, the home of his brother Abel.
12. The House of Secrets.
The House of Secrets is the domain of Abel, and like his brother’s home, it exists both in the Dreaming and the waking worlds. The house moved itself to the other end of the graveyard where The House of Mystery sits, and the two houses are mirror images of one another.
13. The Garden of Forking Ways
This is Destiny’s realm, and we’re not there often—but when we are, it’s phenomenal. Blind Destiny walks the labyrinthine paths of the garden continually, and there seems to be no end to its paths.