The final, enigmatic issues of the Sandman emulate a diverse response to the death of the titular Dream. Though there are still two issues left to go in the Sandman series proper, this here is the final entry of the Kindly Ones arc, which concludes in a four issue coda entitled The Wake. Contrary to what may have been expected at the end of the series, there are not many secrets to be revealed. Gaiman seems to purposefully conceal some of the deeper mysteries of the Endless. There is no mention of the identity of the voice heard in the catacombs of the Necropolis. Neither do we learn the identity of the original Despair, or the man responsible for ending her life. It suits a Gaiman story to have a little of the tale unresolved at the conclusion, and ultimately leaves the reader feeling satisfied that the journey was made as well as consequently over. What is so facinating about the final pages of the Sandman is not the wide array of characters that are reintroduced into the narrative, who have come to remember and relive their moments with the departed Dream King, but their stories and their reactions to his death. Moreover, the tale consists both of a funeral and a wedding simultaneously, showing the death of an aspect of the dreaming, but the wedding of a new aspect to a new family. The tale is finished, but not before some final words and reflections.
The Wake instills the permanence of death. Despite what the ending of The Wake implies, as Hob sees Dream in a dream, it is important to recognize that Dream, the one we know and love is dead, never to return. (At least this is the assumption the reader must make.) This flies in the face of comic book convention, where mainstream and marketable characters are brought back from the dead. Julian Darius once remarked to me in conversation that the most interesting thing that ever happened to Hal Jordan was him dying. At least before the reintroduction of the character, initiated by Geoff Johns, Hal was truly dead. Similar instances were the deaths of Superman and, earlier, Robin who possessed entire legacies and legions of fans. Their subsequent resurrection only thwarts the permanence of death, which Gilbert argues with the new Dream King upon his partial resurrection. Without death, life is robbed of meaning as well as the reason why someone died. Gilbert is correct in saying that were he to be brought back, his death would be absolutely pointless. Just like Gilbert, Dream too is dead, and the result is a satisfying conclusion, the end of an era. When Superman returned from the grave, his death explained away by an odd comic book-esque convention of Kryptionian coma, the reaction from the fanbase was nothing short of ridicule for DC. The heroic, selfless death of the Man of Steel was nullified and cheapened. Were Dream to return from behind a curtain as Matthew suggests before the funeral ceremony begins, it would cheapen the impact of the Sandman’s cathartic, heartwarming conclusion.
Matthew’s reaction then to the resurrections of some of his friends in the Dreaming provokes interesting caveats to this thwarted reign of death. Mervyn, who goes out bravely before the furies only to be brutally killed, is now alive and well, smoking and drinking away the time of Dream’s wake. This infuriates Matthew who denies that the Mervyn standing before him is indeed the same that went out and died in glory before the Kindly Ones. The opposite is true of Cain, who on a regular basis is the source of antagonism and brutality in Abel’s life. Without Abel, Cain’s purpose and existence is meaningless. Rather than be permanently dead, Abel must remain alive forever in the throes of his brother’s malevolence. They represent conflict and strife among living creatures. Without their entanglement, existence would have nothing on the line. Gaiman is disputing the metaphysical utility of death as a literary device in comicbookdom through these character conflicts which showcase the value of death in literature. Without the death of Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway, she would have to die herself (not that anyone would have objected. She was a bitch, you see.). Without the death of John the Savage in Brave New World, there would be no triumphant denial of the world’s shallow utopian existence. At the conclusion of the epilogue, Hob Gadling remarks that in his dream he saw Morpheus standing with Destruction, and the three walked into a picturesque sunset. He calls it “the end of the story,” the happily ever after. He finds this to be true in the context of death and misery, and it works. “Happily ever after” is not just the enduring love of two people; it can likewise be the end of someone’s long, rich, fulfilling life, and there is beauty in that end.
That isn’t to say that the death of a person doesn’t conjure feelings of loss and regret either. There are a handful of candid interviews concerning those who knew Dream in life. Three of them are conducted with the character breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the reader. These are Thessaly, Calliope, and Titania, each lovers to Dream at some point in life. (Why Nada is not present could be perhaps because she was reborn into a new identity at the conclusion of her arc.) They express their love, their bitterness, and their pity on Morpheus. Calliope admits that Dream had died long before his plans to commit suicide, having not the ability to change and grow into modernity. Thessaly admits that she never truly loved Dream, but is seen crying, having been emotionally attached to him all along. Beside these two, Titania’s reservations to share her opinions of Dream complement the two presentations of Dream’s candid moments. By pulling back, Dream’s private life remains intact and still up to the imagination of the reader. Why then is Dream remembered in heartbreak? The most probable reason is that love is the only emotion with everything at stake. Even a casual friendship can boil over into heartfelt sympathy upon the death of either individual, let alone a strong or romantic one. Dream’s memory with each woman will endure and transform their lives in some facet or another. Including these confessions enhances the catharsis of death, as well as the meaning of Dream’s life to those who knew him best.
Despite all this, there is some joy to be found in Dream’s passing. A funeral isn’t the only thing taking place at the conclusion of the Sandman, but something much greater, and far more profound. Daniel is being wedded to his new family. Dressed in white, Daniel awaits his new family sequestered inside the castle of the Dreaming, nervous and scared. The emotions he feels are commonplace in weddings. Social anxiety, hoping to make a good impression, and worry are among the few things he experiences before meeting his new family, en event which is tastefully left out of The Wake to emphasize the power of the first encounter on the final spread of Chapter 3. Matthew acts as the new Dream’s best man, giving soulful advice on what to say and how to say it, while they await the arrival of the Endless. A wedding also presents a moment of clarity followed by one of terror. Life is about to change forever. Just like a funeral, a wedding gives the participant a time to reflect on life and adjust accordingly. Dream, who has never met his family before and watches the funeral ceremony unfold at a distance, comes to terms with his mortality and temporal nature.
But this is not the end. There are still two more issues left of the Sandman. Gaiman’s end to his groundbreaking series is yet to come, but like the thief in Hob’s parable on death, Gaiman is slowly taking away aspects of the Sandman that drive the narrative as the plot winds down. Everything is falling into place, and in two more issues the end will come. Though this is pure speculation (as the author of this essay has not yet read the end of Sandman), ending the Sandman with an issue entitled, The Tempest is promising. In the words of Miranda, in act five, scene one, the coda is fitting:
“How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!”