I have to confess that the Cluracan is one of my favorite incidental characters in all of The Sandman. He’s a complete scoundrel, and pretty much every time he intersects with Dream’s story it’s in a way that’s more or less inconsequential. “Cluracan’s Tale” is a fun side story that is totally devoted to following Cluracan’s misadventures in a city that’s vaguely reminiscent of Rome dominated by a religion that’s basically Catholicism (file off the references to the twin gods and change the esoteric terminology for the spiritual leaders, and you honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference in this story). After being sent as an envoy to this city by Queen Titania with the express purpose of undermining efforts to unite the city states of the Plains (that’s the realm where all these events are happening; it’s not really clear how this realm relates to Faerie, the Dreaming, or the waking world), Cluracan learns that the head of the local faith has also laid claim to the city’s throne, inhabiting both offices in order to consolidate his power even though it’s been established that the temporal and spiritual leaders of the Plains are supposed to be distinct from each other.
All of these internal politics strike me as more than a little interesting, but the humor of the story stems from the fact that Cluracan adopts an air of boredom with his own story (in his framing narration, he constantly apologizes for the tale barely being worth the telling). He pretends that there’s nothing noteworthy about being sent to derail an illicit power grab, which is both infuriating because it’s a total humblebrag and incredibly charming as a character trait (like I said, I really like Cluracan). Protestations aside, Cluracan’s story is full of intrigue and unexplained bits (for no apparent reason at all, the story ends with a deus ex machina in the form of a corpse rising from the dead to punish Mairon, the guy who’s trying to consolidate his power) that are delightful because they’re relayed with the added layer that we know Cluracan is a scoundrel who can’t be trusted to tell a straightforward story; he even admits in closing that he added a few bits to the end for the sake of excitement.
Essentially, Cluracan’s final thoughts on his story serve to demonstrate that while the story, which is perfectly fine, doesn’t really carry with it very much import at all (like I said, we’re never going to see these characters again), the more interesting aspect of this issue is Cluracan himself. Gaiman’s deliberately presented an unreliable narrator who admits at nearly every turn that he’s unreliable, and invites us to watch him play with a story. The general conceit of all the tales at the Worlds’ End is that they’re supposed to be true in some part of the wider multiverse. We’ll see before the arc’s over that each narrator was either a direct participant in their story or is acquainted with the person at their story’s center. This whole arc’s a sort of meditation on why we tell stories and under what circumstances, and Cluracan’s turn is fun because it is, on every level, meant more or less simply as entertainment.
The next story in the set is told by a young man the name of Jim, and recounts his adventures as a sailor. It’s a lot more interesting than you might think, and it’s not a Treasure Island pastiche.