8 August 2013

Season of Mists

The Sandman graphic novels are intended for mature readers and though this post doesn't go into explicit detail there is discussion of events in the collection, including grisly depictions of Hell and demons. Just so you know.
Sorry if the layout looks a bit odd. I had some trouble getting pictures where I wanted them and at the right size.

Destiny of the Endless encounters the three Fates in the twisting paths of his garden. He calls a family meeting, because it is written that he will, and the Endless siblings gather, except the prodigal brother. The interactions between them are wonderfully awkward; they're unsure what to talk about, but feel like they should make an effort. Death cheerfully tries to get everyone to talk, Desire slyly provokes others for fun and Delirium is all over the place. Desire needles Dream about his lovelife, especially sending Nada to Hell. Angered, Dream steps outside, followed by Death, who is more sympathetic but agrees with Desire that Dream was out of line. Listening to Death, as he might listen to no one else, Dream resolves to return to Hell and free Nada, even if it means his doom.
Dream prepares for his journey and its dangers. Unlike a certain Aragorn, Dream's kingdom was nearly destroyed by his absence and he is still rebuilding it. He gathers his subjects and candidly explains the situation, warning them of his potential doom though not wishing to worry them. Season of Mists shows how much Dream adheres to, and defines himself by, his responsibilities. Returning to Hell might destroy him or lead to his capture, but he'll do it because he must, though he doesn't want the Dreaming to be harmed again. Cain is sent as an envoy to Hell to announce Dream's intentions to Lucifer, who seems amused by the news. Dream visits Lyta Hall and her newborn son, claims the baby as his own and names him Daniel. Lyta still blames Dream for her husband's death yet she accepts the name. Finally Dream visits Hob while he's sleeping to say farewell to his friend.

Arriving in Hell Dream is shocked to find it empty. Lucifer explains that he has decided to abdicate and thrown the demons and damned out of Hell. Dream follows Lucifer as he locks Hell and expounds on what he disliked about his position as the Devil. It seems that the damned come to Hell themselves, Lucifer himself has no interest in souls and resents people blaming him for their actions. Dream has trouble understanding a ruler who willingly abandons his responsibilities. Lucifer gives Dream the key to Hell, possibly intending to destroy him, or make his life harder.

Dream returns to the Dreaming without Nada and with an unwanted key to Hell. He talks to Death about it, but she's busy because the dead have started coming back. Matthew the raven worries about his boss, but Eve (who shares her cave with him) says that Dream's had worse moods before. Meanwhile various gods and supernatural beings descend on the Dreaming to petition for the key to Hell. Norse and Egyptian deities arrive, as do envoys from Order and Chaos. The now-homeless demons, led by Azazel want their realm back, and use Nada as leverage. Two angels are sent from the Silver City to observe. After being anti-social Dream relieves his overwhelmed gatekeepers by allowing his guests in and being a gracious host.

Part 4 is an interlude in the main story, following 13 year old Charles Rowland who's stuck at boarding school during the holiday with the Matron and Headmaster. The dead with nowhere else to go return to the school and make life unbearable for Charles, especially when he's attacked by murderous pre-war bullies. Charles is helped by Edwin Paine, who was killed in the 1920s, he tries to help but cannot stop Charles from dying. Death comes for Charles, but he refuses to leave Edwin. She's too busy to stop and says she'll be back for him. Charles and Edwin leave the attic as ghosts and venture into the world in high spirits.

Dream hosts a supernatural banquet for his guests; Cain provides entertainment and dreamers serve. Loki -temporarily released from imprisonment- is watched by Thor and watches the other diners for Odin. The Norse deities are not like the Marvel characters, especially the loud, oafish and drunken Thor. Cluracan of Faerie and his sister Nuala ask Dream to keep Hell empty in order to spare the fairies who are sent to Hell as part of a tithe. After the banquet Dream speaks privately to various petitioners who threaten, bribe and cajole to get the key to Hell. One of these his old friend Bast, Egyptian goddess of cats, who offers information about his missing brother.
Dream comes to no decision about the key. The angels visit him with the news that their creator wants Hell reinstated as a place of punishment. To their sorrow, the angels are appointed as the new rulers of Hell, cast from the Silver City though they have committed no crime. The war between Heaven and Hell is finished. Dream announces this and the demon Azazel renounces Dream's hospitality and threatens to eat Nada's soul. Dream saves Nada and imprisons the Azazel. The guests leave, accepting of the outcome, if not happy about it. Cluracan leaves his sister Nuala in the Dreaming, because she was sent as a gift from their Queen. Loki, disguised as a Japanese god, escapes Odin and Thor, but is found by Dream, who makes a deal so that the Trickster doesn't have to go back to his torment. Dream reunites with Nada, who is furious about what he did and his half-hearted apology. The pair come to an agreement, she still will not be his Queen and he will not leave his realm, and so Nada reincarnates as a boy in Hong Kong. The angels settle in to their new role in Hell, claiming the torture and fire are now redemptive. Meanwhile Lucifer sits on a beach and watches the sunset.

This was the 3rd Sandman graphic novel I read and I was really impressed by the blending of different mythologies with the original characters and story arc, nothing felt out of place. This shows the scope of the series, that it can move comfortably between different time periods, mythologies and realities. Seeing the Endless together was great, the awkward family dynamic worked even in a family of immensely powerful beings, in fact that makes it somehow more fun (I was reminded of the different views of the Greek gods seen in different parts of Homer's Iliad). The hints about the missing brother were tantalising.
The relationships between other characters, gods and humans and envoys, are as important to the story as the events that take place. The banquet in particular is full of nuances. There are also short scenes that say a lot, for example when Morpheus visits Lyta. At first she is so happy to show her new baby to her friend, this changes instantly to fear and anger when she sees the man she blames for her husband's death. Dream is impassive in the face of her emotions and bluntly lays claim to her baby without sympathy or explanation. Here we see how grim and aloof Morpheus can be. Another great scene is between Dream and Nada. The apology seems to test him more than travelling to Hell and facing down a demon, and he is awkward and half-hearted. Nada's angry response is pitched perfectly, as is the way he instantly matches her anger before relenting in the face of her good sense and a renew sense of shame about the terrible thing he did to her. Once they are on equal terms again the pair show a little of the old spark and tenderness they must have once had.

Season of Mists shows Gaiman's attitude to the traditional Judeo-Christian view of Heaven and Hell. Lucifer complains that mortals blame him for their actions, when he has never made anyone do anything. He complains that the damned act as though they're in Hell against their will, when in fact it seems that they dictate their own torment. Lucifer also suggests that his rebellion was not the act of disobedience he intended but simply part of the plan. This is bourne out by the message that Hell is necessary as a shadow or reflection of the Silver City. Then when Remiel delivers the news that he and Duma are the new rulers of Hell he is appalled by his undeserved exile. He believes it to be wrong, probably the first time he has doubted his creator. The position he's in is made clear as he contemplates rebelling against the decision but realises that doing so will also seal his fate. Both angels descend to the floor in tears as they fall, or (as the title suggests) are pushed, from grace. This attitude to the divine war is also apparent in Good Omens (which Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) and in the short story Murder Mysteries - which appears in Gaiman's collection Fragile Things and is available in graphic format (which I recommend).

The six Endless all look very different, which makes sense as the text describes them as "ideas cloaked in the semblance of flesh". They are seen emerging from formal portraits in Destiny's gallery, then each is further introduced in their own half-page column containing text and stylistic/representative artwork.
The panels above show the attitude of each Endless very well. Death smiles between the sterner brothers, both formal and described in terms of their responsibilities. Destiny expects Death to wear formal attire despite her protests, yet the younger three aren't required to change their appearance. I'm not sure whether it's because the older three have different standards or simply because Destiny knew that was what happened. Dream compliments Death on her formal appearance, and -being Death- she sticks her tongue out at him.
Desire seems bored and a little scornful above. It entertains itself by asking snide questions and riling its siblings, especially Dream. Despair is more positive than you'd expect, sincerely wanting to talk and avoid the arguments started by her twin. Delirium is introduced and her mood switches rapidly within coloured word balloons. It's revealed that she used to be Delight, which is clearly a sore point.

The gutters (spaces between the panels) are black throughout the issue that introduces Charles Rowland and the school full of returned dead. Traditional white gutters only appear on the last page as Charles and Edwin leave school and set out to enjoy their afterlives. This is the same effect as that used in Facade (in Dream Country) to create a more oppressive environment.

When Dream meets privately with those petitioning him for the key to Hell his appearance changes based on who he's meeting with.

Dream looks more menacing and less substantial when dealing with Azazel
Dream's star-like eyes go cat-like when talking to Bast
Dream dresses and looks Japanese when conversing with Susano-o-no-Mikoto
When rescuing Nada Dream's features look more African though his colouration doesn't change
As Kai'ckul his appearance is most like Nada's

  • Delirium - youngest of the Endless, Delirium used to be Delight long ago
  • Loki - Trickster of the Norse pantheon, untrusted and trapped in agony beneath the Earth, briefly allowed out by Odin for the purpose of Dream's banquet
  • Daniel - Son of Lyta Hall, gestated in dreams for years, claimed and named by Morpheus
  • Mazikeen - a demon with half a face and a resulting speech impediment, she loves Lucifer
  • Remiel and Duma - sent to the Dreaming to observe and cast out of Heaven to be rulers of Hell against their wishes, Duma was angel of silence and Remiel was (ironically) set over those who rise
  • Bast - Egyptian goddess of cats, friends with Dream in his cat form
  • Cluracan - a fairy who works for Titania as an envoy
  • Nuala - Cluracan's sister, used as a gift and forced to stay in the Dreaming
  • Eve - resident of the Dreaming and possibly the first woman, she lives in a cave and looks after Matthew 

Next week: A Game of You
Last week: Dream Country

Season of Mists is the first time we hear about the possibility of an Endless dying. Morpheus explains to his subjects that if he is destroyed by Lucifer a new aspect of Dream will reassume the role. This is stated fairly plainly but leaves a lot of unanswered questions for the reader. 
There is other information about the Endless that ties in with this, making it clear that things are more complex than they first seemed. Delirium used to be Delight, a change not explained to us except for the cheerful picture in Destiny's gallery that doesn't fit with the Delirium that comes out of it. Plus Delirium's furious reaction to being called Delight.

Dream visits Lyta Hall, claims her baby and names him Daniel. He reacts to Lyta's understandable fear and anger with cold, aloof authority. He says that they should talk later, the suggestion is that he will explain things to Lyta, but he never does. Later it seems that his distant attitude to Lyta might have been intentional. Morpheus's claiming of Daniel, as a child gestated in dreams, is significant for his plans. Daniel is part the plan for if Dream destroyed and is intended to be his reassumption.

Lucifer comments that they've all changed since the beginning, even Dream. Dream looks away and doesn't really comment, clearly discomforted by Lucier's words as well as being confused by the situation.

Dream makes a deal with Loki, who begs on his knees not to be sent back to his torment underneath the Earth. Dream agrees and says Loki owes him. Like Puck in Dream Country, Loki is another trickster let loose, though Loki is known for his malevolence and is unlikely to be grateful.

Nuala is given to Dream as a gift, and fairy gifts are known to be unpredictable. Nuala herself isn't told that she has to stay in the Dreaming. She does her best to make herself useful in her unwanted and undefined role in the Dreaming, but she will inadvertently cause problems for Dream nonetheless.

Abandoned Realms
Lucifer calmly abandons Hell after ruling there for 10 billion years. The unseen and unnamed seventh Endless left his realm and asked his family not to contact him. It's clear from what Bast says that he is still around somewhere, but not fulfilling his role. When Nada and Dream talk she reveals that she once asked him to leave his realm to be with her and makes the offer again. This is not mentioned in the tribal story depicted in The Doll's House - but we never do hear the version of the story told by the women of the tribe. Dream's shock at Lucifer's actions and his refusal of Nada's offer again shows his focus on his responsibilities and his unwillingness to abandon them even though others have.

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