In the thirty-fifth issue of The Sandman, Barbie sets off across the Land to find the Cuckoo with her animal companions, only to discover a dark force has settled in her world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
“Beginning to See The Light”
Growing up as a bookworm, I found that fiction provided me with a fantastical escape from the life I had in suburban Southern California. While I certainly entertained some ridiculous ideas about the world as a kid, I don’t know that I was ever the kind of reader who believed that fictional worlds were definitely real. Well, except for The Silence of the Lambs, but to be fair, I’d only seen movies that were animated up to that point, so that movie looked so real I thought it was a documentary. (How did I then believe that the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a documentary, too? There are days when I’m embarrassed by my own brain, and today is one of them.) I wanted them to be real, and sometimes, I accepted certain facts as honest-to-god reality, but I always knew I was reading something that was created. I started writing my own stories by the time I was eleven or so because I was so fascinated by this idea. If other people could create entire places, why couldn’t I do the same?
I admit that I didn’t really have the best of ideas, but I was eleven. Shut up. I am going to be in Riverside in about six days after I finish the AIDS ride, and I am determined to finally dig through my old chest in my room to find these things. I swear to you, there is a laminated novel in my old room. Well, in my head, because it had eighteen chapters, that meant it was a “novel.” I’m pretty sure it’s no longer than forty pages, and it’s all handwritten on wide-rule paper. That’s not the point. I remember writing that book, about a world where skeletons could come back to life and torment their family members, specifically as a way to get revenge against my sister. No, for real, the entire point of the story is that some sister loses her older brother because she pushes him into oncoming traffic, and he comes back as a skeleton to do the same thing to her. Clearly, this was a three-dimensional, layered story, right? So many subtle plotlines to work with! Even if I was motivated by the hatred I had for my own family members, I still wanted to create that world. Note that this happened after my younger sister really did shove me in front of an oncoming car. Obviously, I didn’t die, but this was based on true events. Oh fuck, I should have put that at the beginning of the book. It would have made it so much scarier.
My ideas evolved from that, thankfully. I wrote half of a novel about a man whose dreams all blended with his waking life because of ~something mysterious in his past.~ I remember trying to write a story after finishing The Chronicles of Narnia series about a secret world of anthropomorphic underneath a house. That was original. But I think that’s something quite a few of us liked about YA fiction or children’s stories when we kids. There’s something magical and comforting about the idea of animals being able to talk to us and possessing qualities and traits that we have. It’s still an appealing concept to me. Why do you think I liked His Dark Materials so much? Why else do I screech and scream at my cats as if they can talk back to me?
Okay, that’s a different issue altogether, but LET’S SAVE THAT FOR ANOTHER TIME. “Beginning to See The Light” feels like this wonderful exploration of this common trope of found in fantasy novels. Barbie visited the Land as a child because it was comforting. And wouldn’t you be comforted by creatures like Prinado, Luz, or Wilkinson? But beyond that, there’s a totally fascinating commentary on how these sort of stories unfold. There’s always the threat of some sort of danger; the main character is lead there by the creatures she trusts, who each possess some special talent or knowledge; they travel through a dangerous and strange land, often assaulted by either the beings that live there or agents of the evil force; there’s always a moment where SHIT GETS REAL and the journey becomes VERY DEEPLY SERIOUS; and then the final confrontation arrives.
Here’s the thing: this issue sort of follows this path, but Gaiman writes in a way that’s quite self-aware of this narrative flow. This isn’t so much a commentary on children’s fantasy as a deconstruction of it. But it’s not just to deconstruct it for the sake of it. I feel like we’re walking Barbie destroy her own childhood in a way. She’s returned to this Land as an adult, and with that, she brings the knowledge, the sadness, the despair, and the rage of experience with her. She looks upon the Land with nostalgia as much as she does with love.
There are only two brief interludes that take place outside of the Land. Nuala comes to Dream to admit that she may have interfered in the “Skerry” to help Barbie. What the hell is the Skerry? I know Prinado and Wilkinson both say that the Land existed well before Barbie arrived, but why? What is this place? Anyway, I really love the last two panels of this aside. Dream assures Nuala she did the right thing, and then we see a look of pure glee on her face. Why did this make me so happy??? Probably because Dream validated someone, and we don’t see him do that often.
There’s another bit where we see a conversation between Wanda and George’s face. The whole constant misgendering/transphobia thing is getting kind of tiresome? Like, does the text need to constantly do this to Wanda? I’m glad she asserts herself and flips a middle finger to whatever George and the gods think, but does this character constantly need to have this argument in the pages? It’s not fun to read, and I imagine it’s massively triggering, too. Aside from this, I still don’t see how the moon is connected to this at all. And why does George warn Wanda about the weather? Is that related to the Land? Is he talking about the Land or the Moon?
It’s not long after this that the story becomes incredibly disturbing. After Prinado is seems to get lost and they later find him dead, strung up in a tree, it’s a rapid descent into terror. I don’t know what the fuck the Tweeners are, but I do not want to see them at all. But as the group passes out of the dark and snowy part of the Land and into a world of warmth, color, and beauty, I knew it was a trick. What I didn’t expect was for Luz to betray Barbie. Is that meant as a commentary to? That the things we love can betray and hurt us terribly? Barbie has certainly experienced that before.
But then one of the soldiers slices Wilkinson’s throat and then drives a spear through his midsection, and I just can’t. I know this isn’t real, but it’s so heart-wrenching to see it illustrated like this. It’s the death of this fairy tale, and it’s the disintegration of this land. How could you ever have another good memory in this place? I don’t know who or what the Cuckoo is, but why is the Land falling apart like this? Who the hell is in that house???? WHY IS IT BARBIE’S HOUSE WHEN SHE WAS LIVING IN FLORIDA? Oh my god, I AM TERRIFIED.
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