Neil Gaiman first came to my attention as the author (with Terry Pratchett) of Good Omens, on which the television series of the same title is based (a second batch is on the way). That’s a Miltonic tale, and so is The Sandman, but it has more flounce and visual flair — a fantastical landscape where CGI brings the imaginative freedom of the comic strip to the small screen. There is also a talking crow.

Stories that take place on the plane of Gods break the narrative frame of fiction. If anything goes, outsize happenings are cheap. X-Men started a long run of bombastic cinema (though the ones with Patrick Stewart in are not bad). At this point might begin a disquisition on the roots of imaginative decline in cultural apocalypse, but the reader knows that’s not my style. Last night I watched episode five of Sandman, which besides its scarlet beauty encased a cameo of psychological realism to match anything in Hemingway or Chechov. A mortal has Morpheus’ ruby, which bestows on its keeper kindred morphological powers (I can’t grasp the backstory of the larger frame); with it he seeks to change the world by bringing truth to it. While he sits in a diner with the talisman glowing in his hand, the hidden truths of the couples who frequent it tear their relationships and lives apart. As the tenor of each situation hardens and the mask is torn off, the characters lurch into uncivil torment, like Yugoslavia.

This is not realist narrative; events don’t unfurl and crumble like that in the real world (though such a story could be framed, the tipping-point into divorce or adultery, perhaps); but the relationships, caught in the amber of the possibility of their undoing, are seen sharp and true.

I once began a fiction with the Devil as a character, but I didn’t see the trick of it, which is to allow the Miltonic cosmology without troubling with its underpinnings, and explore the human world it creates.

The devil, like Hume, plays billiards.


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