Dream Country consists of The Sandman issues #17-20.
This is the story of a frustrated author, Richard Madoc, whose first book has been released to critical acclaim but who simply cannot write a page of the promised follow-up. He strikes a deal with an elder writer, Erasmus Fry, for Calliope, one of the Muses of Greek mythology, whom Fry had captured earlier in his life, in exchange for a bezoar. Fry kept her imprisoned and regularly raped her, while her presence provided the inspiration for his successful novels.
Madoc also takes her captive and has great success in writing, but Calliope calls upon the triad of witches known by many names, such as the Furies, the Kindly Ones or the Gracious Ladies, for help. They direct her to Morpheus, who we are told was once her lover (this relationship is elaborated on later in the series), and who is currently similarly imprisoned. Upon his release, he comes to rescue Calliope and visits a terrible punishment upon Madoc. He complains that without her, he will have no ideas, so Morpheus causes him to never stop having them, which drives him to madness.
Though the story of "Calliope" was not criticized for unoriginality at the time of its release, its concept has apparently become a very popular one since; a list of overused story ideas at Strange Horizons included "Creative person meets a muse (either one of the nine classical Muses or a more individual muse) and interacts with them, usually by keeping them captive.".
Madoc's Book Her Wings appears in a few other stories by Neil Gaiman including The Last Temptation as a sort of inside joke. Rose Walker is later seen reading Fry's book Here Comes a Candle. In the library of Dream, an unfinished book by Erasmus Fry, The Hand of Glory is seen in Season of Mists.
One of Madoc's works, The Spirit Who Had Half Of Everything, takes its name from an unused chapter title in an early draft of James Branch Cabell's Figures of Earth.
A Dream of a Thousand Cats
This tale begins with a small, white cat being called by another cat to sneak away from her house one night. They speak of an event in a graveyard that they don't want to miss. When they arrive, they see that many cats are already there. A Siamese Cat comes to tell her story.
A long time ago, the Siamese cat relates, she met a Tom-cat, who became her lover. Eventually, she gave birth to several kittens. Her human owners were not pleased, and the male owner put the kittens in a bag bound to a rock and threw them off a bridge into a river. Traumatized by the callous murder of her kittens, the Siamese becomes disillusioned in human beings and ultimately rejects the life of a pampered pet. Her cause is strengthened when she has a dream that she has entered a boneyard in the Dreaming. In the dream, a raven with no skin on its head informs her where she can find out exactly why the humans killed her offspring: a cave inhabited by the Dream Lord. At the entrance to the cave that the raven told her off, many fearsome animals tell her to leave. She responds by saying that she will only state her business to Dream. Inside, she finds Dream in the form of a cat.
Dream presents her with a vision of an alternate reality where cats are huge and humans are merely their playthings, tiny servants which groom their bodies and which the cats can kill at their leisure. A man ruined that world by informing the humans that their dreams will shape the world. Enough humans listened to make the vision a reality. Upon waking, the cat undertakes a spiritual quest for justice. She preaches her vision to motley assortments of house cats around the world, hoping that if she can make enough cats believe in and dream of this reality, the world will change to conform to their dreams.
The cat from the beginning of the story heads home. Her friends were slightly disappointed, though they admitted that what they heard was interesting. The white cat, however, was fully taken by the tale. She returns home and heads to sleep. Over breakfast, her owners remark on what a cute stance she's in: it looks as if she's hunting something, or someone.
Although seemingly a complete diversion from the basic story of the Sandman, it, in fact, illustrates some of the core themes of the series: the idea that reality is shaped in the most literal sense by the dreams, beliefs, and expectations of humans (and, in this case, of other animals as well). The story also portrays the theme of change and its relation to an individual's nature. The humans found that they were unhappy with their role and were able to harness the power of Dream to instigate a change of the nature of reality, whereas when cats found themselves in a similar situation their apathetic, independent, and fickle nature kept them from changing. This idea of the capacity for change reemerges throughout the book, most notably in the conclusion of The Kindly Ones.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
This is a core issue of the Sandman series, sometimes cited as the best in the series. It depicts the premiere of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed on the hills near Wilmington before an audience of bizarre creatures from Faerie, including the very characters who appear in the play: Titania, Auberon, Peaseblossom, and Robin Goodfellow (Puck).
Puck greatly enjoys the play and repeats the theme of the story that while the play does not directly reflect history or even some of the personalities of the characters it is still considered a true reflection of "reality"; toward the end of the play, he disables the actor representing himself, and represents himself on stage. Meanwhile, Titania takes an interest in Shakespeare's son Hamnet, who plays a small role in the play.
This is another odd issue, featuring one of the methods Gaiman played with in the first, and to a lesser extent in the second, collection: it takes one of the neglected characters from the DC Universe, this time Element Girl (Urania Blackwell, a female version of Metamorpho), and shows her in a completely unexpected situation. A reluctant superhero at best, she has now retired and lives a meager existence, rarely leaving her flat due to her self-loathing of her "freakish" appearance. She goes by her nickname "Rainie".
The plot revolves around a phone call she receives: an invitation to have dinner with an old friend, Della. She concocts a fake face to wear so her friend doesn't know of her "skin disease". As Della explains a problem she's having, Rainie's "face" falls into the plate of spaghetti bolognese that she ordered, revealing her true face. She runs away, and to her apartment, where she wonders how she can kill herself, despite being invulnerable. Fortunately, Death, who was dealing with a woman who'd slipped on a stepladder, enters her room, explaining that the door was open, and she had heard her crying. She tells her how she can talk to the sun god, Ra, and beg for a merciful death.
An extraordinarily poignant piece dealing with identity and, subtly, the gap between the world portrayed in the more naïve of DC Comics' superhero comics and the true reality of everyday life, it ends on a curiously happy note, with Death answering Rainie's telephone and informing the caller that "she's gone away, I'm afraid."
|17||Calliope||Neil Gaiman||Kelley Jones||Malcolm Jones III||Robbie Busch||Todd Klein||Tom Peyer||Karen Berger|
|18||A Dream of a Thousand Cats||Neil Gaiman||Kelley Jones||Malcolm Jones III||Robbie Busch||Todd Klein||Tom Peyer||Karen Berger|
|19||A Midsummer Night's Dream||Neil Gaiman w/ material from William Shakespeare||Charles Vess||Charles Vess||Steve Oliff||Todd Klein||Tom Peyer||Karen Berger|
|20||Façade||Neil Gaiman||Colleen Doran||Malcolm Jones III||Steve Oliff||Todd Klein||Tom Peyer||Karen Berger|
|Collections||Preludes and Nocturnes • The Doll's House • Dream Country • Season of Mists • A Game of You • Fables and Reflections • Brief Lives • Worlds' End • The Kindly Ones • The Wake|
|Novellas||Midnight Theatre • The Dream Hunters • Endless Nights • Overture|
|The Sandman Universe||The Dreaming • House of Whispers • Lucifer • Books of Magic • John Constantine: Hellblazer • The Dreaming: Waking Hours • Hell & Gone • Nightmare Country|
|Other||The Dreaming • Death: The Time of Your Life • Death: The High Cost of Living • Lucifer • Book of Dreams|