In the fifty-third issue of The Sandman, a young cabin boy struggles with the nature of truth on board a ship in the early 20th century. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
I don’t ever really research any behind-the-scenes information for any project I’m doing for Mark Does Stuff. Aside from the fact that it can be a GOLDMINE OF SPOILERS, I don’t like to let external factors affect the way I feel about whatever I’m reading or watching. I just want to enjoy the fictional universe as it is, and share my thoughts and feelings based on that. That can be a difficult thing to do, and I remember how hard it was to enjoy LOST when there was so much external shit going on at the same time. The Writers Strike, cast firings, fan service stuff… man, that was a rough show to watch if you paid attention to any entertainment news source.
So I don’t know anything about how this volume or past ones were collected. I don’t know if they were written specifically to come out this way, though I can guess from issue numbers and framing devices that Worlds’ End was always intended to be grouped together like this. For that reason, I find that volume eight flows so much better than the previous volumes that collected one-off stories. The fact that it’s framed in a Canterbury Tales style certainly helps, but “Hob’s Leviathan” wouldn’t be so fun to read if it weren’t stuck in the midst of a bunch of fantastical stories.
We often hear that truth is stranger than fiction, and as cheesy as that saying might seem, I’ve always had an affinity for it. The truth is that our world really is a weird fucking place, and each of the stories in Worlds’ End is about the concept of truth in a story. How much does it matter? How much should it matter? If a story lies to us, does that mean it has no value to us? What if tells us a truth about life by lying to the reader?
The Sandman as a whole is a fantastical story, but the tales we here specifically in this book are all framed by one character or another calling the truth of the story into question. Do cities really dream? Mister Gaheris insists his story is true. Cluracan even starts his story by insisting he is telling the truth, and then he later admits embellishing certain parts for dramatic affect. But does that matter? (Obviously, in the cases of non-fiction or journalism, this matters a great deal, but we’re talking about fiction.) I wouldn’t be surprised, then, if every story in Worlds’ End began with a different character begging folks to believe them.
Even the story that Jim tells, concerning Hob Gadling (!!!!!! OH MY GOD I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT HIM BECAUSE IT’S BEEN SO LONG), is about truth. Was the small Indian stowaway the immortal in his own story? (Actually, I think he is, since Hob later tells the man, “There’s few enough of us around.” SEE I CAN UNDERSTAND THINGS EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.) Hob himself lies to nearly everyone onboard, passing himself off as a passenger when he owns the ship anyway. And Jim is really Margaret, a young woman so in love with the sea that she dresses as a boy just so she can do what she desires.
But “Hob’s Leviathan” centers around that one moment right in the middle: an actual leviathan appears and rises above the ship, and despite that the whole crew witnesses it, no one is willing to discuss the truth of this experience. Actually, first of all, can we talk about how FUCKING AMAZING that two-page spread is? I did not see it coming, and when I turned the page to reveal A GIANT SEA MONSTER, I just started laughing because I was so shocked. LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT IT. God, what an amazing moment to come across period, let alone in this book. What Jim struggles with, then, is the resistance of others to accept a truth they clearly experienced. It’s actually a common trope in science fiction and fantasy, and I’ve come across it on The X-Files, Buffy, and Angel. People are willing to ignore the truth if it is uncomfortable. They’re willing to be dishonest to save themselves, to give a certain appearance, or to bring joy to their lives. Ultimately, I think “Hob’s Leviathan” chips away at the idea that we must always have truth, especially in the stories we tell. Says who??? I’m okay being lied to by a storyteller if it’s a good story, you know? Jim could have made up every second of his tale, and that wouldn’t make it any less brilliant.
Keep lying to me, Neil Gaiman.
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