In the thirty-ninth issue of The Sandman, a young Marco Polo accidentally stumbles into the Dreaming. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
I know I’ve said this multiple times at this point, but I can’t get over this wonderful sensation that this series is just so different from everything I have ever read before. It’s like no novel, no series, no comic, or no story that I’ve experienced, and I know that’s a big reason why I’m enjoying it so much. It feels so new, despite that most of this was written twenty years ago or so. I’ve stumbled into this fully-imagined world, and every day that I read a new issue, I get another piece of it. That’s so exciting to me as a fan of fiction.
But I also don’t think that this is a gimmick that Gaiman rides on to create an intriguing world. Like, that’s not the only reason I am growing to love The Sandman so much. I think it’s incredibly risky for Gaiman to devote an entire issue to such a subtle story, especially one where not much happens in the grand scheme of things. But I don’t always need my fiction to be grand, emotionally destructive, and thrilling. I enjoy the small moments, too, and “Soft Places” works best as an emotional reward for those of us who have been reading every issue. It’s another take on the past, this time largely focusing on Marco Polo as a young boy, but the second the Fiddler’s Green showed up, my heart leapt with excitement. I LOVE HIM. Where has he been all this time? I wondered. Why is he in this place?
I loved the idea that there are pockets around earth where time doesn’t operate in any linear fashion, that folks can just walk in and out of a dream world and interact with each other. But that meant I was making a mistake in how I interpreted what was happening between Fiddler’s Green, Marco Polo, and Rutischello. I assumed this was taking place long after the events that opened the novel, but just because the issue came later didn’t mean that this occurred sequentially, either. Instead, it fits just after the events of the very first issue. So what I’m getting is a glimpse of Fiddler’s Green as he travels about in the form of Gilbert, and then a scene of Dream after he finally escapes being imprisoned for decades.
I suppose what’s so fascinating to me is seeing Dream’s ability to be good even in a moment of weakness. He had a very justifiable reason for not helping Marco Polo get back to his own world, but he did it anyway. Out of everything, though, I think there’s one solid reason why “Soft Places” is a necessary part of this series: we get those two gorgeous panels about crossing the desert. I adore the lettering, and I love the complex shading and line work. But I also love that it tells another tale in and of itself, independent of the small story that we get from the other characters. In a way, it’s neat to me because Gaiman is keeping these stories alive, recycling and reusing them in new ways, and it keeps the world of storytelling turning over and over again.
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