This short tale is part of the collection ‘The Sandman: Endless Nights’
For the uninitiated, between 1988 and 1996 Neil Gaiman earned his chops writing a comic series called ‘The Sandman’. If you read that sentence as it stands you’re bound to have a dismissive reaction. After all, what the hell is a Sandman? The whole situation is not helped by the cheesy character in a suit, fedora, gas mask and cape that Kirby used to draw.
Gaiman’s Sandman is a sprawling yarn than incorporates mythology, history, sociology and a whole lot of other concepts that I am not smart enough to recognise. What you need to understand for the purposes of this review is that Sandman is the embodiment of dreams. He is one of the Endless, beings who all embody (and are named) Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium.
‘Going Inside’ is a tale of Delirium.
Reading the story is a lot like being delirious. I’ll get to the art in a minute. The tale opens on a girl who is catatonic as a result of sexual assault, and her attentive mother. The scene changes and we meet a homeless man who clearly suffers from schizophrenia as illustrated by his fragmented, paranoid thoughts.
“If you paint this message over 1334 Seventh Street will suffer physical damage from who was behind it? The Catholics? The Templars? The A.M.A again?”
This is the start of a curious quest narrative. The five heroes have in common disorders of the mind but seem to be led on by a dog and a raven, familiars of Destruction, Delirium and Dream and the rational anchors of the story. Without the animals ‘Going Inside’ would spin out of control, flung out into boring territory by the authenticity of the streams of consciousness. Being a short story there is little I can say without revealing the plot. The beauty of the writing is in chronicling the fractured reality of the questers while maintaining forward momentum at the same time avoiding the ‘freakshow’ element. This is not as easy as it seems. How do you make people with mental illness protagonists without a. making fun of their disorder or b. using the disorder as entertainment. One way to do that is to avoid using the mentally ill in fiction, but that is absurd and discriminatory. The laziest kind of story uses invented madness rather than researching actual illnesses.
Dream is behind the story, of course, pulling the strings and saying little. This is a rescue mission into territory that even Dream would not dare enter. Negotiating their various psychoses is not easy, but the thread that runs through is the idea that a girl is hurt and they must help.
If you are unfamiliar with Sienkiewicz’s work shame on you. In this story he is in his element with explosions of colour, surreal juxtapositions, black-and-white sections and panel distortions in a mixed-media phantasmagoria. He uses a motif of fishes to lead the reader through what could be a potentially confusing series of images.
I can’t tell you what this story means. In the introduction Gaiman does not say, although he mentions a different story he had planned to do with Sienkiewicz also based on madness. You could attempt a loose interpretation by saying it takes the mentally ill to help the mentally ill. The worst thing that can happen to you reading this tale is you’ll learn what a carcharodon carcharias is.
I would buy ‘Endless Nights’ for this story alone.
No star scoring here; just go read the damn story.
Originally posted on 01/12/2012 in ‘Random Headshots’