The sixth volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is a collection of short single-issue stories. Most of them have no bearing on the overall story arc, but a few of them are required reading. It’s an interesting blend of characters. There are werewolves, characters from the Bible and Greek myths, and real historical characters like Marco Polo and Emperor Augustus Caesar. Somehow they all have a place in the Sandman universe.
Of the nine short stories, only The Song of Orpheus and The Parliament of Rooks affect the overall plot. Orpheus is the son of Morpheus. Currently he’s a severed head. In the Song of Orpheus you find out how he got all decapitated. The Parliament of Rooks involves Daniel Hall, who ends up being very important in the series.
The other stories involving Marco Polo, Lady Johanna Constantine, a family of werewolves, and a Roman emperor with a dark secret are all impressive in their own way, but the highlights of Fables & Reflections are Ramadan and Three Septembers and a January. Ramadan is about Caliph Harun al-Rashid, a real historical ruler of Baghdad. His city is the greatest city the world has ever known and he wants it to be remembered that way. He makes a deal with Morpheus and his perfect city becomes immortalized by becoming a legend.
Three Septembers and a January is one of my favorite Sandman stories. It’s one of my favorite stories period. It involves another actual historical figure: Joshua Abraham Norton. He’s in the history books for being a crazy guy who declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. He lived in San Francisco, the only city in the world that was nice enough to say that he could be Emperor if he wanted to be Emperor. Neil Gaiman takes real facts about Emperor Norton’s life and twists them to fit seamlessly into the world of The Sandman.
Fables & Reflections is a good read. The independent shorts are interesting and relate thematically to the storylines, even though they don’t affect them directly. Three Septembers and a January stands out and is reason enough to start reading the series. I might be slightly biased because I live in San Francisco, but it’s a great story regardless.
Critically Rated at 14/17
Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young