In the prologue to The Doll's House (The Sandman #9 "Tales in the Sand"), Gaiman tells the story of Queen Nada. Neil Gaiman is not African, nor (as far as I could tell) were any of the people who worked with him. Therefore, I wonder if the story of Queen Nada has a parallel in traditional African stories. If not that particular story, I'd still like to know whether the form of the story (outlined below) is a traditional one. (TL;DR section below)

  • The tale is told only once to each man, as part of a manhood ritual:

    Two African men in traditional garb, standing side by side, holding spears. A narrator's box says "One tale is only ever told once."
    page 2

  • The story-teller and the boy travel together into the desert, and the story-teller commands the boy to find something.

    The old man, talking to the young.
    page 3

    Old man: Now you must go and find something, and bring it back to me. And when you have brought it back to me I will tell you the tale. While you are looking, I will make the fire.

    Young man: But Grandfather...what must I find?

    page 3

    Old man: You will know when you find it.

  • Another form of the tale is told by women, in a language that they keep from the men.

    Narration box: There are tales the women tell, in the private tongue men-children are never taught and older men are too wise to learn, and these tales are not told to men.
    page 1

    The two men walking back from the desert.
    page 24

    Narration box: There is another version of the tale. That is the tale the women tell each other, in their private language men-children are not taught, and the old men are too wise to learn. And in that version of the tale perhaps things happened differently. But then, that is a women's tale, and it is never told to men.

Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing the tale:

[...] the tragic love between Dream and Queen Nada. Fearing the consequences of loving an immortal, Nada spurns Dream. In anger, Dream sends Nada to Hell, where she remains to the present day.

My Google searches for "Queen Nada" only returned pages dedicated to the comic book character. I did manage to find a page criticizing the gendered storytelling and the depiction of Africa by non-Africans (even though that author admits that they story told is told well even through these unlikeable means). That page does not contain any information about the specific tale, or its form.


So, my questions are:

  1. Is the story of Queen Nada one that is told in an African oral tradition?
  2. If yes, is there another, known version of the tale that was specific to women?
  3. If not, is the form of storytelling portrayed in "Tales in the Sand" loyal to traditional forms of storytelling in Africa?
  • Meta: I included these questions in a single post because they are so closely related. If you think they are sufficiently distinct so as to require separate posts, or you think that you can answer only one or two of the questions, but not the other(s), I will gladly split these questions into another post.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 2:52
  • I'd like to apologize in case anything I said or quoted in this post was insensitive to the people of Africa. I don't know that much about cultures not my own, so please forgive my mistakes in representing them. If there's something here that needs to be fixed, please do let me know :-)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 3:50
  • I'm not sure why you say that this webpage criticizes The Sandman. My impression of the page was that the author was saying that The Sandman successfully avoided problematic representations found in other books.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 4:29
  • @Hamlet I'm no longer certain. I read that quickly when I was writing this question, to see if it talked about what I wanted it to (and it didn't really). I got a negative vibe from certain sentences there. Eg "once I got past my initial “Ack! Non-African writing about Africa!” response, “Tales in the Sand” didn’t bother me, despite doing some things that usually set me a-ranting and a-raving: creating a generic “Africa” and filling it with generically “primitive” people.," [cont.]
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:33
  • and "What “Tales in the Sand” shows, though, is that even the techniques most likely to lead to pure awfulness can be used thoughtfully and purposefully to good effect." To me, it sounds like Cheney feels that although Gaiman was culturally insensitive, the tale turned out okay even so. I'll give that article a closer read later.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:35

1 Answer 1


Quite conveniently, Neil Gaiman answered this in his interview with Hy Bender for The Sandman Companion. In chapter 4, which is devoted to Doll's House, Hy asks Neil whether he was inspired by anything in particular for this story:

HB: The first story proper, "Tales in the Sand", reads like a true African fairy tale. Given its authentic feel, I was surprised to learn that you didn't do any research for it.

NG: I didn't do any research specifically for the story. However, I'd been reading African myths and folk tales for years - like the ones about Anansi, the trickster spider god - and lots of them stuck in my mind.

HB: What about the intriguing tales you allude to on page 1: "The Lizard Who Lost His Male Member" and "The Trickster Who Sold Ape Dung to King Lion Telling Him It Was the Soul of the Moon"?

NG: I made those up, too. [Laughter.] Among the joys of this issue was that it was my first attempt in the series at pure pastiche - that is, openly imitating an established style of storytelling. I'd played around with pastiche previously in terms of mood, but this was my first try at wholly imitating the voice and spirit of an anthropological and ethnographical folk tale.

I was also excited about tackling something from an oral tradition, because I love the rhythm and language of such stories.
The Sandman Companion, chapter 4: "The Doll's House", page 50. Emphasis mine.

Thus to answer your questions:

  1. "Tales in the Sand" is not based on any real story; it is a pastiche of African folk tales. Note that this doesn't mean there is no predating similar story, it's simply that Gaiman didn't know of any.
  2. It's not a traditional tale, so there won't be a version of the story that is specific to women.
  3. According to Gaiman, he tried to imitate the form of storytelling of traditional African folk tales.

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