Yes, stories - not comics. This list, while dominated by much of his Sandman work, also features the odd prose or illustrated novel. It is also not a "best of" list. This is merely my favourite stories, which may or may not fall onto a definitive Best Of list. Also, this is simply in alphabetical order, but I'm sure you can pick out which stories fill out the top three or four spots.
As Neil Gaiman's entire bibliography reads like one big Best Of list, I imagine everyone could write down ten of their favourite stories from the master and we'd all come up with different lists and I'm dying to hear what stories, or dreams, fill everyone else's lists, so be sure to let me know in the comments.
With that said, hit the jump to see Kirk's 10 Favourite Neil Gaiman Stories!
Art by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess & Paul Johnson
Before Harry Potter became the juggernaut that it is today, Neil Gaiman penned this 'magical' tale of a young, bespecticaled boy named Timothy Hunter, who has the potential to be the greatest magician the world has ever known.
So, my day is done. How strange. We called ourselves the Endless, but only two of us are left, here at the end of everything. It sometimes seemed as if I would never turn the final page; never close my book for the last time. It is a relief to lay down my burden, my sister. Thank you. Goodbye. - DestinyThe story followed Tim's adventures as the Trenchcoat Brigade, a group of mystics, made up of John Constantine, Phantom Stragner, Dr Occult and Mister E, try to guide and protect the young magician from the Cult of the Blue Flame, unsure whether or not Tim will be a force of good or evil in the world of magic or if they should just leave him alone in hopes he goes on to live an ordinary life.
The story ended with Tim deciding the cost of these powers was too high and an attempt to walk away from it all only to find out that his newfound knowledge and abilities make it impossible for him to do just that.
This is pure Neil Gaiman and he is in his element in this story.
Interested in reading more about The Books of Magic? Purchase the trade and help support the Weekly Crisis!
Art by Andy Kubert
Marvel 1602 was an eight issue mini-series which teamed Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert in Gaiman's first new comic work since The Sandman had ended and saw all of the Marvel heroes transplanted into the Elizabethian era - specifically into the year 1602.
The series explores a universe where the heroes of the Marvel Universe started to appear 400 years earlier than they should have, their new roles in this era and, subsequently, the return of these heroes to their proper timeline.
While probably not the best work Gaiman has done, it still holds a special place in my heart for the unique and imaginative portrayal of my favourite Marvel heroes in an Elseworlds style tale uncharacteristic of most Marvel projects.
I think the biggest fault this book has is that it came after Gaiman finished his comic book work and critically acclaimed run on The Sandman, which lead to expectations for 1602 that no book could possibly measure up to.
Interested in reading Marvel 1602? Purchase the trade and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN #8
"The Sound of Her Wings"
Art by Mike Dringenberg
I've seen many a person pick up my cope of the first Sandman trade, Prelude & Nocturnes, start reading it and then start questioning why this series gets all the praise that it does.
While they are correct in that the first several issues of The Sandman is relatively average fair, primarily due to the fact DC was trying to keep the Vertigo line grounded in the DCU at the time, I simply tell them to read the trade to completition and then get back to me on what they think.
It's like clockwork. Inevitably, these people reach the last issue collected in the trade - The Sandman #8 - and turn to me and ask, "Where's the next trade?".
I walk by her side, and the darkness lifts from my soul. I walk with her, and I hear the gentle beating of mighty wings... - DreamIt never fails to impress me just how big a turning point in the series, "The Sound of Her Wings", and Death's first appearance has on people's opinion of this series. And with good reason, as this issue introduces the loveable upbeat, goth version of Death that turned people's perception of how they view the personification of death on its ear.
It also signals a shift in style and tone for the series, as a whole, and distanced itself from the DCU, allowing Gaiman to spread his storytelling wings and bless us with the critically acclaimed series that we have today.
Interested in reading The Sandman #8? Purchase The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN #18
"A Dream of a Thousand Cats"
Art by Kelley Jones
A much overlooked and underrated Sandman story, "A Dream of a Thousand Cats", is one of my favourite one-shot stories from the series.
Little one, I would like to see anyone — prophet, king or God — persuade a thousand cats to do anything at the same time. - A cynical catIt's a powerful story that illustrates the power of dreams. It features a cat that goes from town to town telling other cats of a world where cats ruled and how humans "dreamed" themselves the most powerful creatures on Earth. The humans' dreams were so great, that it changed the very world we live in, reducing the cats to a lowly pet. The cat believes that if enough cats dream it so, they will,, once again, become the dominant species on Earth.
Imaginative and thought provoking, it is a story I pull out and read again and again, making it one of my favourite single issues and Neil Gaiman penned stories of all time.
Interested in reading "A Dream of a Thousand Cats"? Purchase The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN #19
"A Midsummer Night's Dream"
Art by Charles Vess
Only Neil Gaiman could take both the history of William Shakespeare and the rumours surrounding the origins of his plays and combine that into a masterpiece of modern storytelling with his version of, "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
In Gaiman's version of the story, Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, has commissioned a young Bill Shakespeare to direct a play for him in exchange for more ideas and dreams to fund his playwright mind and allow him to pen the dozens of masterpieces he is credited for today.
Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot. - DreamThe catch, however, is that the audiance for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is the entire kingdom of Faerie, mystical creatures of all kinds and of whom the play is based upon.
It's a wonderful experience with which, like "A Dream of a Thousand Cats", I keep coming back to over and over again, my enjoyment of it increasing with each subsequent reading.
Interested in reading "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Purchase The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN: SEASONS OF MIST
As originaly told in The Sandman #21-28
Art by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg & Matt Wagner
The Sandman is made up of numerous stories, ranging from short arcs to single issues to some stories that do not even revolve around Morpheus at all.
"Seasons of Mist", however, is what I would call the best Morpheus story Gaiman ever wrote, as opposed to the actual series, The Sandman, he supposedly stars in.
It features Morpheus' return to Hell to free Nadia, a woman he onced loved, yet condemned to Hell when she refused his advances by committing suicide, destined to eternal torment until Morpheus forgives her.
The last time Morpheus was in Hell, Lucifer vowed to destroy him if he ever saw him again. Prepared for a battle he does not expect to win, Morpheus journeys to Hell in search of Nadia only to find all of Hell emptied and Lucifer, literally, closing up shop. He has expelled all of the demons, sinners and residents of Hell. No one ever told him he had to stay in one place forever, especially Hell, and he has had enough of the place and simply leaves.
To absent friends, lost loves, old gods and the seasons of mists. And may each and everyone of us always give the devil his due. - Hob GadlingFollowing through on his vow to destroy Morpheus, Lucifer hands over the key and control of the realm of Hell to the Lord of Dreams. What follows is a series of events whereby numerous other deities and factions try to curry favour with the Shaper of Dreams in exchange for the key to Hell. One party is even willing to offer up the soul of Nadia - the girl whom Dream journeyed to Hell to free in the first place.
The different pantheons on display in this arc are a sight to behold and what eventually becomes of Nadia and the key to Hell all do, in fact, lead to the eventual destruction of Morpheus, just as Lucifer prophesized. A wonderfully crafted tale that stands on its own, yet who's appreciation only grows with further readings of The Sandman series, culminating with death of Morpheus in The Kindly Ones.
Interested in reading "Season of Mists"? Purchase The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN #50
"Distant Mirrors Ramadan"
Art by P. Craig Russel
Given the choice of having one comic to hold me over for all eternity, I would choose The Sandman #50's story, "Distant Mirrors Ramadan". There's a reason this is the highest selling single issue of The Sandman ever produced and words cannot describe how much I love this story.
The Caliph Haroun, al-Raschid, rules the greatest, most magnificient and prosperous city, Baghdad, the world has ever seen. It is literally the city of gold and filled with wonders beyond mortal imagination, including, but not limited to, magic carpets, genies, djinns and more.
You have called me here, Haroun. It is unwise to summon what you cannot dismiss. - DreamHowever, al-Raschid is vexed and fears that this perfection and greatness could never last and seeks an audiance with Dream, himself, in hopes of preserving his city's greatness. al-Raschid offers up the entire city of Baghdad to Morpheus in exchange that he ensure its wonder and greatness endures for all eternity.
Morpheus agrees to these terms, "after a fashion" and the city is sealed away in dreams, to forever be told and retold, living on in vivid imagination and dreams, leaving only the delapatated and dreary version of Baghdad that we know today.
Interested in reading "Distant Mirrors Ramadan"? Purchase The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS
Illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano
My fascination and wonder at Japanese culture, which extends beyond mere anime and manga and into their culture, history and lore, notwithstanding, "The Dream Hunters" is still a wonderfully crafted and imaginative tale in the vein of other one-shot Sandman stories featured on this list.
However, "Dream Hunters" differs from these other stories in one crucial detail - it's not a comic book! "Dream Hunters" is an illustrated prose novel. Simply put, this means it only has the occasional picture, not sequential panels like the standard comic.
While this may be off putting to some people, the story and beautiful illustrations more than make up for it with a Japanese folk tale, which Gaiman crafted based on various Japanese stories and lore, yet has no direct origin or reference like his Shakespeare or Arabian tales.
It follows the story of a fox and tanuki spirit and their attempts to drive a Buddhist monk out of his temple and claim it as their own. After both failing to do so, the fox finds itself falling in love with the monk and appears before him as a beautiful woman, who apologizes for all the trouble they have caused him. What follows is a series of events that see the monk giving up his life in order to save the fox spirit, who goes on to avenge him.
While it is difficult to summarize, the story combines my favourite aspects of Japanese magic, folk lore and legends and is one of my favourite Sandman tales, despite Morpheus' limited role in the story.
Interested in reading "The Dream Hunters"? Purchase The Sandman: The Dream Hunters and help support the Weekly Crisis!
THE SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS
Chapter 3: "Dream - The Heart of a Star"
Art by Miguelanxo Prado
While all of Endless Nights was incredible, one story easily stands above the rest and that is Chapter 3's, "Dream - The Heart of a Star".
The story recounts a tale of a meeting between the lords of the universe, from the lowliest of stars (yes, actual stars) to the Endless, themselves, shortly after the birth of the universe.
What's most interesting about this tale is the different portrayals of the Endless, including a very morbid and dark Death, in stark contrast to her regular light hearted personality. It also features the origin of the Desire / Dream feud as Morpheus' female Oan (yes, of Green Lantern fame) companion falls under desires sway and falls in love with her solar system's star.
Easily the best story in the collection, "Dream - The Heart of a Star", is also one of the best Sandman stories ever told.
Interested in reading "Dream - The Heart of a Star"? Purchase The Sandman: Endless Nights and help support the Weekly Crisis!
STARDUST: BEING A ROMANCE WITHIN THE REALMS OF FAERIE
Illustrations by Charles Vess
If you have never read Stardust, forget everything you know about the movie. While both fun and imaginative, the movie pales in comparison to the illustrated novel. You may have heard Stardust described as a modern day Princess Bride and that is a very apt description for the book.
Adventures are all very well in their place, he thought, but there's a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain. - TristranWhere most post-Lord of the Rings fairy tales embraced the epic Tolkien-like storytelling, Gaiman put to use much of the time he spent reading fantasy stories in a library as a child to work with this classic fairy tale styled story that excites the imagination by making you feel like you are a child again and that all these wonderous and unbelievable things could actually exist behind some mysterious old wall at the edge of town.
Few prose books capture my attention or imagination as well as Gaiman did with Stardust and I can't recommend the book enough. Recapture your childhood with a tale can do nothing but put a smile on your face and suck you into a world of fantasy you've never dreamed of.
Interested in reading the original novel? Purchase Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realm of Faerie and help support the Weekly Crisis!