Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sandman Volume One by Neil Gaiman

In yesterday’s post, I lamented over my rather cumbersome and disjointed reading of Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes, Volume I in The Sandman.  For the entire first half of the story, I figured graphic novels were just beyond my comprehension and wondered what was wrong with me.  I so fiercely wanted to enjoy this collection because I wanted to adore Gaiman as he’s a super hyped author I’ve never read, but always figured I’d love without question.

Preludes and Nocturnes tells the story of the King of Dreams, younger brother to Death.  In the beginning of the tale, he’s trapped and held captive by an occultist and later, the occultist’s son.  Once he escapes, he begins a journey through dreams and nightmares – across countries and continents – among many pop culture and literary allusions in search of the three lost tools he needs to regain his power.

What you’ll now embark on is not a review, but my rather awkward attempt to struggle through my reading experience – consider yourself warned.

My initial problems were not the illustrations themselves (they are dark, sharply featured drawings capable of subtle twisting and transforming from the ordinary to the grotesque), but rather the flow from one drawing to the next.  I got lost so many times and I’m still sure I misread on several occasions.  Most of my struggles are my own – not Gaiman’s – as this medium is just not something I’m used to.  I’ve learned that graphic novels are not silly drawings that require very little thought or attention.  Instead, the structure of graphic novels actually insists upon a certain level of focus I often don’t find in the normal structure of literature which threw me for a loop and held me captive at the same time.  Once I got the hang of it, the second half flew by and was immensely enjoyable.

All that bitching and moaning aside, I was rather humbled, book snob that I admittedly am.  So for anyone who has ever seen me scoff in the general direction of graphic literature, today I eat crow and offer my sincerest apologies.

As for the story, I loved the three witches in Imperfect Hosts (Macbeth – and perhaps a bit of Hocus Pocus as well), gasped at a particularly shocking moment in Passengers, and was enthralled by the madness of my favorite issue, 24 hours.   But it wasn’t until Death shows up at the end to guide her little brother out of his moroseness that I actually finally felt emotionally involved – like perhaps there was a point to the whole collection and not just moments of brilliance.  Upon some research, I discovered that many readers don’t like this first installment, generally agreeing that the cohesion was lacking – Gaiman himself admits to cringing upon rereading Preludes and Nocturnes.  So I’ll keep going.  Not sure when or how long it will take (there are 10 more volumes!), but I’ll persevere just as Dream did.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this as a place to start for those who aren’t accustomed to the graphic genre.  I believe there are probably many smoother and impactful introductions, Maus – most precisely.  But if you like Gaiman, enjoy a little creepiness, are intrigued by the ambiguousness of dreams and nightmares, perhaps you should give it a look.  I look forward to exploring many graphic novels in my future so if you have a favorite to recommend, please let me know in the comments! And thanks to everyone who left me their recommendations yesterday!


6 thoughts on “Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sandman Volume One by Neil Gaiman

  1. I’m a huge graphic novel lover but something about this book did not work for me. In fact, I didn’t finish it. I’ve enjoyed a great deal of Gaiman’s straightforward written prose, but this just didn’t jive! Oh well. It’s probably still one I’d try again because I see so many good reviews of it.

    • I think the first volume is just one you have to soldier through or skip entirely. The second volume sounds excellent and I’m having to restrain myself from ordering.

  2. I’ve grown into a graphic novel lover in the past couple years. Maus is one of my absolute favorites. I had a few problems with this one, but I enjoyed some aspects. I’m a big fan of Gaiman’s, but the drawings were just so dark.

    • The drawings are very dark, but I noticed that towards the second half of the book they get a bit lighter – or really, the colors used become brighter and less bleak which probably helped my attitude quite a bit.

  3. I have really wanted to read this series for awhile now, and need to try to find it locally. I am not bothered by a bit of wandering and a certain lack of cohesiveness in the initial books, and hope that I can get to them soon. I will be interested in hearing your opinion as you move forward!

    • Everyone should give it a go since it is quite the graphic novel classic. I can’t wait to continue on as the second volume sounds like so much fun.

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