Death of a Dream – “The Kindly Ones” Conclusion

The Kindly Ones ends much how it starts. There is a haunting momentum that drives the story forward, and yet it is clear how this narrative energy is spilling over from the entirety of the series. Several of the supporting cast members like Alex Burgess, Lucifer, Rose Walker, and Loki reappear unexpectedly. Their presence feeds the expectation that something far-reaching is occurring within the universe and, just like the Nordic cataclysm Ragnarok, looks towards a twilight of the gods. This grand finale imparts a mystical clarity of vision: that Gaiman originally intended to write a story about endings, one which was winding down before it even began. Such a gesture thwarts the expectation that stories need to resolve in grand conflict. Sometimes the battle is finished in silence, with no observers, and little fanfare. The impending doom the reader senses gives way to a catharsis that is profound, being the product of sixty-nine issues. Sundry threads are tied up in a way that would make even Guy Ritchie blush at the intricacies. Clearly, The Sandman never was intended to be simply a comic book, but a modern mythology written as an illustrated novel.

The reader has many opportunities to witness the cohesiveness of the narrative laid out by Gaiman. Issue #47 (Brief Lives Chapter 7) of Sandman depicts a panel amid a sequence where Destiny is flipping pages through Dream’s story. In the context of the issue, it depicts points in contact with Destruction’s departure from the Endless. Considering the final moment of Dream’s journey, his suicide, this moment is understood as Destiny looking through the moment’s of Dream’s life. After failing to discourage him from seeking his brother Destruction, which inevitably will lead to Dream killing his son Orpheus and set into motion the wrath of the Furies, Destiny looks ahead to see Dream’s death. This detail in passing is completely useless in the context of the journey at hand in issue #47 without Dream’s desire to commit suicide.

These little eye opening reflections appear multiple times throughout the penultimate issues. Why would Alex Burgess be summoned back into the narrative? It is because he reminds the reader of the time Dream spent living in captivity. Dream is given time to think about his nature, his immutable quality. He remarks to his sister in passing, “I could have waited until the earth crumbled to dust. But still, I waited.” Many of the tales in Sandman concern boundaries and borders, and the concept of terminus ad quem. Sashaying with dying Gods and reformed deities, Dream confronts others who are slowly fading from influence. Bast, who once enjoyed healthy followings in ancient times now struggles to gain food. Her contemporary, Anubis, is the one who demands Hell in the Season of Mists cycle to rebuild its influence and tribute, but these actions are seen as pathetic attempts to cull favor from the mortals. Sandman #30 shows a pensive and contemplative Augustus Caesar understanding the nature of power and the glory of Rome. His interactions with Dream decisively change the course of his life as he plots the fall of Rome to spite Julius Caesar, who had taken him, raped him, and made him into a monstrous dictator to preserve the dream of Pax Romana. All things come to a final end. Even Dream’s empire cannot continue. These are just a few examples, for there are many others interspersed throughout the series.

Cluracan’s words in the court of Titania, during which he reflects upon the predictability of the Faerie, suggests another reason why Dream ultimately commits suicide. Cluracan’s primary argument is that the Faerie engage in hedonistic living and wild fits of passion because it is their nature. This nature, when set alongside other natures, is conceived as subversive and abnormal compared to other cultures. This identity contextualizes the relationships between the Faerie and the other realms (namely the humans). Cluracan’s point is clear: what is inherently subversive about being subversive? To be subversive and characteristically wild requires another mode of behavior that will contrast such subversiveness against normalcy. Cluracan’s point is that the Faerie are so characteristically hedonistic that there is no longer anything about it that is shocking or particularly abnormal. Dream’s nature, which was marked with repetition and normalcy up until his capture, was characteristically routine, but when that routine was broken Dream was forcibly confronted with his cyclical nature. Circumventing the cyclical nature of habit and routine is transgressive and ultimately ends in forced exile of some form or another. In Nuala’s case, she desires to leave and do something new, reflecting on her time spent doing nothing important. Dream simply wants to die, to escape the “death” the Faerie awake to every day: doing the same old thing, nothing new.

The intrinsic freedom of being alive is a motif developed by Milton’s Satan, serving as the prototype to the Byronic antihero. This mode of Satan, which appears as a supporting character in Sandman, reveals to Delirium in conversation that he told Dream once, “there was always the ultimate freedom. The freedom to leave. You don’t have to stay anywhere forever.” What this means as a concept embodied by Satan culminates in the pure expression of human agency and freedom. Satan’s choice to leave Hell catalyzes Dream’s ultimate plan of suicide during the Season of Mists, when Dream lets Loki escape the clutches of his prison. This initially foreshadows Loki’s eventual involvement in Ragnarok, but given his integral role in The Kindly Ones, it is really Dream setting into motion his final death. Whether or not Puck’s involvement was voluntary is never revealed (at least in his conversation with the Corinthian), but he too plays a particular role in abducting and distilling the mortality from Lyta’s son Daniel, all which which initiated Lyta’s psychosis and her petitioning of the Furies in the first place. All these things considered, Loki and Lyta were both stooges in Dream’s ultimate, devious plan. Indeed, Dream could have simply left his station, as Death suggested, but his love for his creation was too strong and it is Dream’s nature to plum the depth of vision and creativity. To leave the Dreaming would have been too painful and inconsiderate to his creations, but also it would have violated his core nature: self discovery. The ultimate freedom and final frontier, death, is what Dream seeks. After achieving it one must ask, did Satan truly get his revenge? Lucifer’s downcast expression and listlessness implies an envy he feels to simply vanish once and for all. Dream is finally a peace, while the devil sojourns on forever.

At the beginning of the series, Dream’s actions imply that he is on the course of growing steadily more human. Compared to his capriciousness imprisoning of Nada and his indifference at Destruction’s departure, his actions show him reawakened to the considerations of others. He becomes gradually more empathetic over the series, using his powers to mediate conflicts and intervene for old friends. These human emotions are propelling Dream to become self-aware, and therefore human. By the end of his tale, Dream is broken, weary, regretful, somewhat confused, and yet he is determined as well. He is no longer monolithic and blasé about the feelings of others. Matthew asks Dream to say “please,” as Dream confers to Matthew his remaining effects. Humbly, Dream asks Matthew to take his gear not as a master but as a friend, and Matthew leaves to go back to the castle. Yet even if Dream were to have found a way out of the Furies’ blood debt, all the sum events of the story would not have been enough to convince the reader that Dream was truly human. It was necessary for Dream to die, to be finally so self-aware that he was able to take his own life. This motivation is hidden so well by Gaiman that by the end of the series it is the final spread of Dream’s destruction, reminiscent of Michaelangeo’s The Creation of Adam, that reveal Dream’s self-made Ragnarok, planned from the beginning.

The coda, aptly named The Wake, constructs the final pages of the present Sandman mythos. Before it begins, we are reminded that Dream’s cloth weaved by the Fates is being put away and Daniel’s, the new Dreamlord has his begun. Putting the last frame in perspective reveals that the Endless are not the Endless they were made out to be at the beginning of Sandman. They are terminal, just like the humans they watch over. When they interact with humanity, they often cause more grief than joy. Delirium’s position that the Endless exist to tamper with humanity rather than represent their beliefs and feelings creates a precedent in themselves to be a paradoxical microcosm of humanity. Each of the Endless love and hate, laugh and cry, and are just as fragile as any human, as they should be. Ultimately, Dream’s journey finds completion and solace, once which Gilbert longed for on at his death, Dream has died, yes, but he has lived a lifetime. That’s time enough.

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Stuart Warren is the former managing editor and webmaster for Sequart Organization. Stuart earned a BA in English with an emphasis in Early Modern Studies at University of California Santa Barbara. An avid reader and historian, Stuart researches Nordic mythology and paganism and is self-taught in the Norwegian language (Bokmål). He is a novelist and comic book writer. Spirit of Orn, his breakout Science Fantasy epic is now available for purchase via Amazon Kindle and iBooks.

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