World’s End is the 8th volume of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series “The Sandman”, but does not focus on any direct story-arch of the series as a whole. Similar to the 3rd and 6th volumes of “The Sandman”, World’s End is essentially a collection of short stories, this time being told by a collection of various characters that find themselves all in the same place at the same time. All of the tales are related in some way to one another, but in the most minimal sense. Each story on it’s own is quite interesting, yet the volume as a whole is slightly lacking when compared to some of the previous installments of the series. That’s not to say that it’s not a good, speedy read, but there is something less than satisfying about it when all is said and done.
The story begins with a man named Brant Tucker, as he drives his sleeping friend, Charlene, back to Chicago, when they hit a sudden summer snowstorm. Being driven off the road and injured, the two manage to make their way to an Inn called “The World’s End,” which is full of various mythical creatures and characters that all ended up stranded there by some type of storm or accident. One of the workers of the Inn suggests that something big has come to pass in one world or another, or that a certain world has recently died, sending ripples of consequence throughout the many realms, thus creating the raging storm. To pass the time until the storm clears up and they can leave, many of the visitors choose to tell stories to one another. They include the following:
“A Tale of Two Cities”: This tale focuses on a man who loves to wander around his city, taking it all in and seeing all the people, only to one day find himself trapped inside what he is told to be the dream of the city. Unsure of how to find his way out, the man begins to fear what may happen if the city every stops dreaming.
“Cluracan’s Tale”: A story about a young Faerie, Cluracan, sent as an emissary to the city of Aurelian to represent the interests of his people during a time of political upheaval. After causing a stir with a terrible prophecy, Clarucan is in for more trouble than he bargained for, but is helped out by a familiar dark face and his magical powers of disguise, which he uses to sway the people of Aurelian to best suit his own race.
“Hob’s Leviathan”: A young girl poses as a boy named Jim in order to become a sailor. A passenger on one of her journeys from Singapore to Liverpool tells her a tale about an Indian King and a gift of immortality (a story within a story!). Before the end of the journey to England, however, the ship encounters a great sea monster, and while Jim wants to tell people of this danger, she starts to wonder if, like her true identity, some secrets are best kept to oneself.
“The Golden Boy”: The rise and fall of what is considered to be the greatest president of one of the “Americas”. This story takes place in what is presumably an alternate universe version of the United States, and is incredibly illusory to Jesus Christ and the various Gospels, including the Temptation of Christ in the form of a figure known as “Boss Smiley”.
“Cerements”: A young apprentice of the necropolis, Litharge, tells a tale of one of his first encounters with the ceremonies of “air burial,” which includes the telling of different stories on the parts of all the other people involved in the ritual (more stories within stories!). The people of Litharge are devoted to the dead and the burial rituals of all the different realms; the stories they choose to tell during their burial process strongly reflects the ritual, secrecy, and value that is encompassed in this life.
At the end of it all, the party bears witness of a strange event outside through the Inn’s windows, and the storm clears, leaving people to choose where they want to go from there. While each tale focuses on something different, there is often a notion of secrecy within the stories that are told: despite sharing with one another, there is always something left out or left unsaid, which makes the whole undertaking have a slightly more serious air than you would imagine a troop of storytellers might have.
Each tale on it’s own is extremely effective, but in the final act of everyone trying to determine what exactly is going on at the Inn, the feelings presented in each story start to unravel, leaving more questions than answers. Although this is often what makes “The Sandman” tales so effective, in that the reader can use their own imaginations or find clues to help them connect the dots, this one just has something missing that makes it a bit less cohesive feeling than what one might want. Regardless of this fact, World’s End is still an enjoyable novel that fits with the rest of “The Sandman “series, it’s just not one of the best ones, in my opinion.