Fables and Reflections is the sixth graphic novel collecting the works of the comic The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman
. Here I offer a rather detailed synopsis of the plot, so if you wish to be surprised when reading it, stop here. Most major and some minor plot details have been included.
Todd Faber is a playwright and director who's afraid of his play flopping . . . and equally afraid of its possible success. He is considering cancelling it, and has a dream one night that he is climbing a mountain even though he is acrophobic. When he gets to the top, Dream of the Endless is waiting for him. Todd describes a dream he had as a boy of falling off his house and being unable to wake up. That is where his fear of heights comes from. Dream says that if you dream of falling, sometimes you wake up and sometimes you die, but there is one other option. And Dream makes the lightning strike the mountain and fling Todd into the air, and he learns the hard way that the third alternative is flying. Todd is okay to direct his play after this dream.
Next are short stories about emperors. In the first, Caius Octavius, a.k.a. Augustus Caesar, nephew of Julius Caesar, spends a day in the market disguised as a beggar, with a dwarf named Lycius accompanying him. Caius reveals in talking to the dwarf that his uncle used to sexually molest him, promising power if he obeyed and didn't put up a fight. This comes true; Augustus Caesar rules for years, brutally but successfully. But more than anything, Caius loves Rome, and wants it to last forever. He studies the prophecies and knows that there are two futures for his beloved city: Rome lasts a few hundred years, or Rome lasts for tens of thousands of years as the empire of the whole planet. In a dream, he has learned that in order to avoid the wrath of the gods, he should become a beggar once a year to hide from the gods as he plots to make prophecy of Rome's fall come to pass--he does not like the perpetual conquest.
Another short story called "Thermidor" tells the story of Maximilien Robespierre, who was the driving force behind the French Revolution. Robespierre loathes anything connected with the past rules of kings and monarchs and seeks to destroy it all . . . including a past relic and occult phenomenon manifested as a talking, thinking disembodied head. This is the head of Orpheus, who is Dream's son, who has not been allowed to die even after he was decapitated. Johanna Constantine is the head's keeper, and she seeks to keep it safe from Robespierre. While attempting to get Orpheus to someone who can keep him safe, Johanna is captured, and will not reveal where she has hidden the head. Finally they find the head in a pile of heads that had been chopped off by the guillotine. When they are about to steal the head, Orpheus starts singing a song, making all the other dead heads sing with him; it is a song about the stupidity of killing, and Robespierre's followers refuse to follow him anymore after that, having been shown their guilt. Johanna escapes with the head, and in a few days everyone turns against Robespierre and he is beheaded.
The next story, "Three Septembers and a January," is the story of Joshua Norton, who proclaimed himself first Emperor of the United States. This really happened in history, but this story brings Dream and several siblings into the mix. Norton had lost all his money when his business died and so "belonged" to Despair's realm. Despair decides not to drive him to suicide, however, because she seemed to think he was worth something. So she, Desire, and Delirium issue a challenge to Dream, just to see if he can do it; to keep him out of each of their realms until he enters Death's. Dream agrees, and inspires Norton to crown himself emperor of America. Norton announces in a newspaper that he's got this new title, and after parading as such, he is locked up for being crazy. The judge frees him, though, on the grounds that his "craziness" was never dangerous, and he is let to continue proclaiming himself emperor. People find him amusing and actually pay him U.S. money to have some of HIS money, sort of as a souvenir. This is how he makes his living, and he actually has devoted followers. Bercause he appears mad, having delusions of grandeur, Delirium seems confused that Norton is not "hers." But because his thoughts are not disordered, he is considered sane, just kept going by a dream. When Norton has a heart attack, Death comes for him and recognizes his title, and says she likes him; Dream has won this little bet.
Next, a story called "Ramadan" takes us through the twists and turns of Caliph Haroun Al Raschid's palace. It is the holy month of Ramadan in Baghdad, and he is disappointed in the fact that his subjects are not being properly religious for Ramadan. He becomes obsessed with preserving his city as it is so that people will remember it, because it is so beautiful. Haroun walks around his palace, going into secret places only he knows about; places so secret they were built and then their creators were killed to keep their existence and whereabouts secret.
Many obstacles and password-protected entrances later, Haroun ends up holding a special crystal that supposedly houses many magical and otherworldly beings, beings that have taken an oath to destroy mankind's minds--and their dreams. He uses the threat of the spirits' release to summon Dream of the Endless. Haroun asks Dream, when he arrives, to help him preserve his city forever. Dream agrees and shuts it in a glass jewel, and Haroun loses his memory of the whole ordeal and what the city once was. But it is as he asked; the city is forever preserved and never forgotten, because Dream repeats the story in the dreams of humanity. The story ends with a crippled boy hearing the story from a storyteller and going home, his mind alive with the truth of the city's existence blazing in his mind.
Following are more short stories. First comes a story of a werewolf man named Vassily who wants to see the Princess he has become aware of because of a gypsy woman's locket. This story is told by an old man to his slightly impudent and mostly disbelieving granddaughter; she interrupts with questions or wise-ass comments throughout. Vassily finds the old gypsy woman dead one day, and takes her possessions. He comes to an inn to sell them, but the innkeeper tries to kill him in his sleep, so he makes a meal of him. He meets Lucien, one of Dream's servents who wants the book he took from the old woman. Vassily demands that Lucien deliver the Princess on his locket as the price for the book. Lucien comes back and offers gold for the book, but Vassily refuses.
Then he hunts a deer, only to be beat out by another hunter, a female of his people. The hunter leads him to her people, and Vassily has a meeting with Baba Yaga. In exchange for the heart of Koschei the Deathless (another treasure that was in the bag), Vasily receives an air chariot to go to the Duke's palace after the Princess. He knocks on the door and is led to a "waiting room": a dungeon. He stays there for weeks, getting weaker and weaker, until Lucien arrives, asking for the book. He takes Vassily through The Dreaming to find the Duke's youngest daughter. (They accidentally bump into Dream who wasn't supposed to find out that Lucien had lost a book, but he ends up helping Vassily reach the princess.) He looks upon her as she sleeps, wakes her up, and gives her the locket. Then Dream takes him to feast in the Dream realm. Vassily awakes afterwards in the forest, and goes to find the wolf-woman he wanted; they are married and are happy until Death takes one of them. Then the Grandpa telling the story reveals that HE was Vassily, by saying that her grandmother never let him forget that she beat him to the deer.
The next tale is about Marco Polo, the explorer. He finds himself lost in a desert. He wanders aimlessly and begins wandering into dreams all the time; the desert he is exploring is "a soft place," being that it is not yet defined by human minds, dreams are allowed to wander there. Dream makes an appearance, and Polo shares his water and gets out of the desert alive.
And another short story, "The Parliament of Rooks," introduces us to Lyta Hall's baby, Daniel. Daniel was carried as a fetus in The Dreaming for two years and so has a special connection to The Dreaming. Lyta complains about her child on the phone to her friend, Carla. Daniel goes down for a nap and arrives in The Dreaming.
He follows Matthew the raven to Cain and Abel's house. There he stays as the brothers give him (and us) something of a tour. Matthew tells a story of the rooks who flock to one spot and let one rook caw for a while until either they all take off together or peck the lone rook to death. Daniel also meets Lilith, the first woman, who tells the story of Adam and his three wives. Lilith was first, but she was so masculine she was expelled from the garden. Next God made an unnamed creature for him, but her body scared him, so he wouldn't touch her. And finally God created Eve, and Adam liked her. They fell from grace together, and the legend continues as Genesis says. Lilith mothered many after she was expelled, and the one without a name wasn't heard from again. Eve lived on.
Abel tells a story of Death and Dream when they were little; and how Dream took Abel when Cain caused Death to come to Abel, and how the brothers came to live in the Dreaming.
After all the stories, Daniel goes back to the waking world . . . with a raven feather in his crib.
The Orpheus saga is included in this--the story of Dream's son. Orpheus has a precognitive dream of his head floating in the ocean calling for Eurydice, whom he is supposed to be marrying when he awakes. His friend Aristaeus helps him prepare for the wedding when he wakes up. Orpheus introduces Aristaeus to his mother, Calliope, and his father, Dream. Then the rest of the family arrives, and Orpheus takes that opportunity to introduce his bride-to-be to the others: Death, known as Teleute; Despair, known as Aponoia; Delirium, known as Mania; Desire, known as Epithumia; Destiny, known as Potmos; and Destruction, known as Olethros. This is Destruction's first appearance, though he has been mentioned and referred to before, though not by name.
They attend the wedding and Orpheus and Eurydice are married. Aristaeus drinks too much wine and becomes aroused by Eurydice, and attempts to rape her when they are alone. In attempting to flee him, Eurydice gets bit by a serpent, and dies of the poison.
Orpheus mourns and plays his lyre. Then he goes to beg his father to get him into the underworld and say goodbye to his love. Dream will not help, so Destruction advises him to try talking to Death. Destruction opens a way for Orpheus to see his aunt, who lives in a very modern little apartment. She changes the scenery to look more appropriate for Death. He demands a "wedding gift," and insists on going to Hades's kingdom. Death agrees to let him seek out his dead love. Death promises not to take Orpheus when he goes to the land of the dead, and he visits Hades and Persephone. Since his father is Dream and his mother is Calliope (a Muse), he is quite good at singing ballads, and sings one to the King and Queen of the Dead to ask for his wife back. They agree to free her and say that she will follow him out of the Land of the Dead if he just does not look back until they are out. But he does look back, and sees her there . . . and she is taken back to the world of the dead.
Orpheus is driven insane by it, and refuses to flee when barbarians attack. They rip Orpheus to shreds, but his head lives on, because Death promised not to take him. His head washes up on a shore and meets with Dream, who reminds Orpheus that he will show no mercy because when Dream refused to help him, Orpheus disowned his father. Dream arranges for his son's head to be cared for, but says they won't meet again, and Calliope dispproves of Dream's attitude, so they separate.
See the next Sandman book: Brief Lives