Paging through William Joyce’s new Guardians of the Universe picture book, two words rang through my head like a great bell: luminous and transcendent.
Perhaps the most deceptively simple installment of Joyce’s vast cosmology of new childhood folklore, it would be a mistake to dismiss The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie, as nothing but a bunch of pretty pictures and sketchy origin story. What Joyce is really serving up is something akin to an incantation – a spell that redefines while it revives a figure who to many is little more than a name, the Master of Sleep, the Sandman.
Here is how Joyce opens the story: Of course you know the Guardians of Childhood. You’ve known them since before you can remember, and you’ll know them till your memories are like twilight. The very first guardian was the Man in the Moon, and it was he who found the others.
The Man in the Moon watches over the children of Earth. Like a giant nightlight in the sky, he keeps nightmares away. But when the moon is les than full and bright, who will keep the children safe at night?
If you will, listen to the cadence of some of that. You’ve known them since before you can remember, and you’ll know them till your memories are like twilight. Perhaps, someday, much of the Guardians will be set to music (a Boy’s Own Ring Cycle!) because so much of it aspires to the quality of music.
In many ways, the Sandman is the most beguiling and powerful Guardian of them all. Though he lacks the “star power” of such legends as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, think upon what the Sandman does – promising sweet repose and sweeter dreams. The Sandman stands for all that refreshes, enriches and empowers. The entire world of dreams is his bailiwick, and, as such, his capabilities are not tied to a single holiday event or season. More so than the Man in the Moon, the Sandman is the Guardian by your side … every night.
In a series of beautiful imagery, the Sandman book may have the most exotic and intoxicating images of all. Dreams take shape around the Sandman in streams of magical, golden sand, taking the shape of dinosaurs or golden floating bubbles or … well, anything in the imagination of the dreamer. Because Sandman story takes place solely at night, Joyce is able to contract rich blues with muted yellows and glorious, glowing pale-whites (mostly the moon and its light). Fittingly, the Sandman is mute – but his baby-like face is extremely expressive and he is, in many ways, the most accessible Guardian of all.
As always, the supporting characters are half the fun. Sandy has a retinue of mermaids, warrior clams, sea turtles, and a wonderfully realized base-of-operations, Dreamsland, made entirely from the remnants of a fallen star.
The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie is highly recommended, not just for children on your holiday list, but for anyone who appreciates beautifully illustrated children’s books. More important, it is a key component in the Guardians series, which is shaping up to be the first great, American fantasy epic since the Oz books of L. Frank Baum.
Tomorrow, the film Rise of the Guardians.