Book Club / Hobgoblins and Tiny Minds

The Sandman
Volume 7: Brief Lives
Written by Neil Gaiman 
Art by Jill Thompson, Vince Locke, Dick Giordano and Danny Vozzo

Join us as we take a trip with Barry Sandman and his Manic Dream Pixie Girl sister in the search for Destruction bumping into the following questions along the way: Do we really need to know the “Real Shakespeare”? Would you like to read some of my poetry? And how exactly does all this Endless nonsense actually work


Yes I know – I’ve given The Sandman and Gaiman a lot of stick as we’ve gone through volume to volume to the point where I’ve kinda been – I dunno – a little bit disappointed in my younger self for being so taken under the influence. I mean yeah: Season of Mists is totally high-concept and has some nice bits but there’s these moments of you know whatever (did we decide on a name?) trite-ness or whatever. And well yeah: just kinda going back through the stuff we wrote for that: there’s a moment right at the start where I said: 
Of course now that we get to this point I’ll admit that I’m a little bit nervous about actually doing that reread. Like – last week I was flicking through Brief Lives and saw this bit when one character meets a girl on a plane and after the mum is like: “Darling? Did that man say something to you?” Girl says: “Yes mommy.” Mum: “Oh. What did he say?” Girl says: “True things.”
And well – just: yuk. And gak. And urg. 
Because that right there is everything that I find just ever-so-slightly icky about Mr Gaiman’s whole magical little spiel. (Like – why couldn’t Preludes and Nocturnes have been called Introductions and Night Music instead?) But then I guess that’s something we’re already touched upon enough already but I guess it still rankles (it rankles a lot).  


But let’s get the shocking twist out of the way now: I really loved the hell out of Brief Lives to the point where it’s probably now my favourite Sandman book of them all (at the point I’m almost tempted to do a list: but lists are pretty a blight on humanity so I’m gonna resist the urge). There’s a very phrase that says happiness writes in white (which is much easier to write than it to say) which basically means that it’s much easier to bitch about things than it is to praise them (and yeah: I’m tempted just to go for a Homer Simpson style: “Brief Lives? That thing is really, really, really… good.” but I should probably try harder). But yeah – as boring as it sounds: going through in chronological order – you can totally see (or better yet – feel) Gaiman developing and maturing as a writer and getting all of his worse cutesy impulses under control to the point where the spell he weaved on me was so complete that when we go to the “True things” bit above – instead of going yuk and gak and urg: I just kinda (and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this) but yeah: there was a part of me that almost nodded. 
So what gives? Or – rather: what makes Brief Lives so good?
I mean: there’s loads and loads of stuff (just to pick one of my favourite bits at random: the receptionist’s face when:”She’s making little frogs.”) – but let’s just grab a few of the big meaty examples:   
1. Delirium aka the ultimate manic pixie dream girl (with the emphasis obviously on the “MANIC”). I mean – part of my issues with The Sandman so far has been the all-pervasive po-facedness of it all (best exemplified by Barry and all his moping and posing): but all of that gets burst like an over-blown balloon by Delirium who is the much-needed antidote to the all of Gaiman’s worst excesses. And – it’s not even the character itself – I mean: it’s almost just kinda her mere presence means that it’s much easier to swallow the rest of the stuff (am I the only one that rolled my eyes when Barry was all like: “An omelette, a light salad, and a glass of white wine for me, Taramis.” URG! He’s such a poser!). You know: her lightness makes Barry’s doom and gloom more palatable. Or – to put it in terms that you can dig: she’s basically the Robin to The Sandman’s Batman. So that when we get that very cool / very funny / very heart-felt opening in Issue 2? Issue 3? (I don’t have the book in front of me): 
She has decided she no longer loves me.”


It’s well – it works
There’s a part of it where you can sympathize but also: you can smile a little at the over-wroughtness of the spectacle. 

And ooooh oooooh: it’s just hit me: there’s a really nice symmetry (and Gaiman loves his symmetries almost as much as Rorschach) with his opening moping and posing where he’s lamenting a lost love (that we can’t really get behind especially as we never even got to meet her) and at the end where he’s upset that well – he kinda killed his son. 
I think this goes back to a constant bugbear of mine: basically – if you want to make a serious work of “art” (as much as I hate the term) then you need to lighten up and crack a smile now and again. I mean: there’s so much wannabe “high art” out there that is all dressed up in black robes and standing out in the rain and well – I just don’t think it’s that helpful and – yeah ok I’ll say it even tho I hate the phrase: doesn’t tell us much of what it’s like to be human (gah). 
But yeah – what did the rest of you guys think? Also: did everyone else manage to puzzle out the answers to the dangling questions: like – why did Destruction leave in the first place? I mean – it seems like he just didn’t want to be responsible for all the stuff that was coming: but then why all the talk about two-sided coins? Or is there something I’m missing? Also: what exactly was it that changed for Barry Sandman? I mean – was it just the trauma of killing his son? Or is there something else? I mean – I guess most of us know what’s coming up in the later books (but hey: be polite and try to keep spoilers to a minimum please / wrap up what you know by being oblique): but how much can you work out just by going on this book? 


To pick just one part out.

I don’t think Barry changed because he killed his son. The fact that he could finally let his son go and give him the closure/death he wanted is a sign that Barry has changed.

Though I did always wonder what happened to the priesthood when they were made redundant. How empty their lives would feel, the vigilance of years, just honorably dissolved, ‘job well done’, and what now?

The bit where you point out that someone standing in black robes in the rain looking morose, is really quite posey, is, as you say, lightened up by Melvin Pumpkinhead taking the piss out of this behaviour. Or at least moaning about how ridiculous it is.


So I’m basing this on my vague memory of the book so don’t expect assertions to be backed up with evidence or anything. But here goes.

One of my constant bugbears with the Sandman is that the duties of the Endless are never explained, and so their significance is hard to grasp (cf. my issues with “The Sound of Her Wings”). If stories are metaphors, this one isn’t very good. BUT! When we get to Destruction’s abdication of his (unexplained) responsibilities, I remember this happening around the time of the industrial revolution? This may be a simplistic view of European history, but many laymen see that 1750-1850 century as having unleashed a wave of change unlike anything since the fall of the Roman Empire. Which got me thinking that Gaiman is playing with the idea of creative destruction, a theory of innovation whereby new scientific and technological advances destroy old ways of life. Am I wrong to think that there is a sense of the tide-gates being opened as a result of Destruction abandoning his post? That the creative energies he has been ‘directing’ (to purposes unknown) have been liberated and democratised?

All of which (obv obv) has implications for Dream. I’ve been warned off spoiling too much of what comes after, but I wonder whether the stories collected in World’s End are not supposed to be the rise of another democratising wave. Sandman’s gift to the reader is the freedom and confidence to go off and make your own stories…

P.S. none of what Joel says abt the manic pixie dream girl excuses the fact that she’s a manic pixie dream girl. Maybe says a lot abt me, but I for some reason find Dream A LOT less annoying.


Disclaimer: Ok – so for the purposes of saying some stuff I’m going to wilfully misunderstand Ilia’s ” but I for some reason find Dream A LOT less annoying.” as “but I for some reason find Dream to be omg the best character ever.” (I hope that’s ok Ilia? Yeah? Ok then).

I mean – seriously: who the hell likes Dream? He is basically the worst.

Like: his whole life basically seems to consist of nothing but moping around and posing and being all “heavy lies the crown” etc. I mean – yeah ok I get that he’s an Endless (and yeah – I totally second Ilia’s point – what the hell is the deal with how the Endless work anyway? Like – are they in charge of all Dreams or Desires or Deaths or whatever? Or are they more custodians? Or what? I mean – it would be a lot more to get involved with “their responsibilities” if you kinda knew that their responsibilities are: or maybe – is that missing the point? – like asking which levers do what in the TARDIS – hmmmm): but if you ever met some like Barry Dream in real life then your best bet would be to get as far away from him as possible. I mean – could you imagine getting stuck talking to him at a party? “Oh yeah – hi. My name is Barry. I’m kinda in charge of Dreams – but it’s like really hard and stuff? Erm. Would you like to read some of my poetry?” (RUN AWAY RUN AWAY). 

If he was a real guy he would be totally self-obessed. Bad at relationships. And terrible in bed. 


But then maybe this is like main character syndrome (maybe someone else has coined a better name for this?). I mean – I’m in the middle of reading Harry Potter for the first time (yeah yeah I know I know: but please don’t spoil it for me please): but yeah – Harry Potter is (by far) the most boring character in it. I mean – apart from when he’s being abused by the Dursleys (which are often the best bits) he’s just so terribly terribly dull. The other major example is Luke Skywalker who is basically the most white bread person ever. I mean come on think about it: wouldn’t Harry Potter be much better if the main character was Hermione or Ron instead? Or if Star Wars was the story of Han Solo? And yeah – Sandman: well – take your pick: imagine if it was about Lucien instead (they could call it The Librarian! and that would make me happy) or – hell – The Adventures of Mervyn “Merv” Pumpkinhead. But no – instead – we’re stuck (as per usual) with a story about royalty and blue bloods (I met the Queen wishes she could introduce herself by saying: “Oh yes. Hi. I’m a member of the Endless. I’ve existed since the dawn of time and am one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Lol.”). I mean – maybe it’s just a hangup from when all the stories where about Kings and Queens (see: Shakespeare) or maybe it’s just the insidious influnce of Star Wars and all that Joseph Campbell stuff (whose never-ending inspiration doesn’t really do any of us any real favours at all). 

But then maybe I’m being too harsh? Like: one of the best things about The Sandman is how – (mostly) – Barry kinda hangs around the edges and lets lots and lots of other people take centre-stage. So yeah – that’s good (and you know: helps to promote a view of the world that is a lot more about: hey – you’re not the only person that exists. And other people have different views and lives and perspectives). But then again – it’s still Barry’s name at the top of things. 


But I think that’s the point of the story and one of the larger themes of the series in general, Morpheus is convinced he needs to be there at the centre of the Dreaming in order for everything to go smoothly, despite evidence to the contrary and despite the fact that everything that happens to him does so because of him, the ‘person’ rather than him ‘the role’ (to skip ahead to the final story in the ongoing series, he tells someone that he gave them the gift of stories because Morpheus will never have a story himself, and in Calliope he uses inspiration as a weapon but anyway). Destruction says, explicitly, that he stepped away from his role and the universe didn’t end, things still die and are born and are created and destroyed and he’s just hanging out drinking Kia-Ora with his dawg. Destruction is, fittingly, destroying the notion the family have of duty. It seems to contradict what happens with Death in ‘The Sound of Her Wings’ or at the midway point of ‘A Season of Mists’. But consistency, hobgoblins and tiny minds and all that.


This is probably one of the stories that Morpheus is most active in, beyond the first one. And there’re questions as to how the family influence each other, Morpheus questions Desire as to whether she made Delirium want to search for Destruction, Morpheus somehow takes on Death’s role to dispatch Orpheus and it could be argued that the automatic processes that Destruction left in his realm to destroy anyone trying to find him did a number on Morpheus too, putting him in a situation where he’s vulnerable to The Kindly Ones by killing a blood relative.


And I have to say, those of us who have met Joel in the flesh, can any of us really say we’re surprised he doesn’t like a character who tends towards observation rather than action whenever possible? I bet you’d want to be in Gryffindor as well.



To Joel: Not at all! Deffo think Dream’s superciliousness is supposed to be mocked / offset by the down-to-earth Death, Delirium, Matthew, Marv etc. In practice, Gaiman treads a fine line between pathos and bathos, which is p much the best strategy when working with superheroes Imo. These are outlandish figures, and deserve to be called out, but at the same time part of the appeal is that they are outlandish, cool, powerful etc.

To Loz: if “consistency, hobgoblins and tiny minds” is you dismissing the problem, I don’t think Gaiman should be let off so lightly. A fundamental aspect of the Sandman universe is unexplained, something that should animate the point / theme of this arc + the overall series arc.

Swinging back to the first point, (and to be an annoying tease) I think the Kindly Ones contains an admission of guilt on Gaiman’s part about how admirable his character really is as well as how smart he has been in trying to tell this story. 


I don’t normally have truck with this kinda stuff – but it’s swimming in my head so: how much do you guys relate to Barry and all the rest of this duty stuff? (shades of: “I just couldn’t relate to any of the characters” = urg. But what the hey). I mean – I think you guys have hit nail on head with the stuff that you’ve said: the notion that the family have to duty and all that: but hey most of us aren’t kings or queens (right?): so why should we care about someone struggling with the burden of rule? I mean – we have jobs which is a whole different. Like: if we were all “I renounce my duties!” and march out of the office then that paycheck is going to stop coming each week and then instead of ranting about comics via email we’ll be ranting about comics on the side of the street (so yeah ok – maybe not that much difference).   

Re: what Loz said about how the family influence each other – I mean: you’re right. But to repeat myself: how the hell does this stuff work exactly? Like – it’s like people said: oh yeah Joel can Joel people into Joeling but what if one day Joel doesn’t want to be the Lord of Joel anymore? (MALKOVICH MALKOVICH MALKOVICH). 
Re: “Superciliousness” – what an amazing word!! Never heard it before but am now going to drop it into every sentence I speak for the rest of the week… 
Re: “To Loz: if “consistency, hobgoblins and tiny minds” is you dismissing the problem, I don’t think Gaiman should be let off so lightly.”
CUT TO: Ilia with an axe asking passerbys if they know where Gaiman lives…
I kinda looking forward for us getting to The Kindly Ones now and getting your opinions about how everything wraps up. 
House Slytherin ftw (I think Rowling gives them a bad rap: they all seem kinda cool to me: I mean – everyone likes snakes right?). 


RE axe-wielding: what I do on the weekends is my own business…
To potentially state the obvious, Gaiman seems to identify v strongly with his protagonist, potench even extending to his emo girl troubles at the beginning of this book. My fave bits of Sandman are where Dream gets verbally beat up (often by the women in his life) – because I like to think that’s all abt Gaiman beating himself up / puncturing his own pomposity etc. Coming from me that sounds like schadenfreude, but that’s not the whole of it. Sandman for me is an elaborate confidence trick, and in those moments where Gaiman is honest with himself and the reader, he partly redeems the series.


A hasty Googling is not helping me find anything for anything about where Morpheus’ personality comes from, just loads of stuff about physical models for the look of the character. To me it’s more like, if you make the character a Goth then Morpheus’ character flows naturally from the stereotype of the boy sitting in his bedroom listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain over and over and over again because only they understand. I’m reading a book at the moment about the whole argument that’s built up in literary and theatrical circles over whether Shakespeare really wrote the plays attributed to him (‘Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ by James Shapiro, only about 80 pages in so far but it’s a cracking read) but one of the themes he’s touched on but not yet addressed directly is this whole subset-idea of the plays being the autobiography of the man (which Gaiman himself will use at the end of the series). Is Morpheus Gaiman, is Prospero Shakespeare, is Jabba George Lucas? I think it’s tricky and difficult to say ‘this point here is clearly the author talking about himself’ or anything.



I agree that it’s tricky and difficult to ever say ‘this point here is clearly the author talking about himself’ with hundred percent solid gold accuracy: but does that mean that we should never do it?  
On the one hand there’s a part of me that thinks that we shouldn’t worry about being solid gold right about things before we open our mouths to talk. I mean – yeah – we could we wrong: but the only way to really get anywhere is by talking about it – no? Plus: even tho you could be saying something totally wrong (“Yeah – I heard that all of Brief Lives is based upon Gaiman’s real life search to find his long lost big ginger brother who apparently ran off to live on a Greek island somewhere…”) it can set off stuff in other people’s minds that will then set off other stuff. 
In fact (and I kinda said this a little at the last Barbican Comic Forum): but I feel like our whole culture has this major (frankly unhealthy) obsession with facts and facts and facts that I think doesn’t really do us any good. For me – all the good stuff comes from what happens when you try to understand what the facts mean – the interpretations – the rubbing of different facts together in order to spark off new meanings….
But then on the other hand: this whole “who was the real Shakespeare?” “how much of Neil Gaiman is in Barry Sandman?” “Is it true that George Lucas’s native tongue is Huttese?” – I mean: god (no offense or anything) but – who cares? Is it really going to change anything? Is it really going to help us understand the plays or the comics or the films better? It’s just more of this facts and facts and facts thing: where you have the impression of understanding (oh yeah x first came out in the year blah blah blah and the the actor was also in etc blah and this panel is actually a reference to snore) instead of an actual engagement with the thing itself (this bit made me feel really sad because reasons).  


“Is it true that George Lucas’s native tongue is Huttese?” – I mean: god (no offense or anything) but – who cares? Is it really going to change anything? Is it really going to help us understand the plays or the comics or the films better?”


I think it depends on whether what is behind the story is interesting. I heard Harper Lee (author of to Kill a Mockingbird, new book out this year!) would get really annoyed by people overinterpreting her book. E.g. someone once asked “what is the deep significance of you naming all the town children after confederate? Civil war hero’s” She replied “those characters were white trash, white trash people name their children after confederate heros” So here the ‘significance’ came from real life, she was reflecting something that already existed, but that thing looked like a authorial flourish for people who had never been to the South.

And I went to an art talk that compared two Madonna and child portraits, pointing out how THAT artist  clearly used a sand stuffed doll to model the child, but THAT artist clearly used a real child as a model.


So on the one hand, the main thing about a story is does it stand on it’s own merits, but on a separate note, the question of ‘where to you get your ideas’ CAN be interesting. Also, something I wanted to ask you all. ‘Richard Steel’ wrote 60s thrillers about Parker, now being rereleased as graphic novels, which I recommend (can the first one go on our reading list?). He said that Parker was born as:

I walked across the George Washington Bridge … surprised at how windy it was out there (when barely windy at all anywhere else) and at how much the apparently solid bridge shivered and swung from the wind and the pummeling of the traffic. There was speed in the cars going by, vibration in the bridge under my feet, tension in the whole atmosphere.

… I slowly began to evolve in my mind the character who was right for that setting, whose own speed and solidity and tension matched that of the bridge. People I knew came and went, but he quickly took on his own face, his own hard-skeletoned way of walking; I saw him as looking something like Jack Palance, and I wondered: Why is he walking across the bridge? Not because he took the wrong bus. Because he’s angry. Not hot angry; cold angry. Because there are times when tools won’t serve, not hammers or cars or guns or telephones, when only the use of your own body will satisfy,  the hard touch of your own hands.

Where have I read that before? Is some other comic book/character inspired by this???

Moving back to brief lives, having read it the other week and just now flicked through it; here is a list of the things that I like, that stand out to me.

  • The architecture of the palace when Dream is standing on the balcony before Delirium arrives (p10). The high terraced buildings with a roof that becomes the garden for the higher buildings, This is what high density living should be.
  • The crazy random food Delirium orders. What would you choose to eat if you didn’t need to and could have ANYthing? My imagination is not really up to this. Skittles would be involved though.
  • The line, and also the facial expression: “She’s making little frogs”.
  • How effective The Etain is in a crisis. Escaping with nothing but the clothes you are standing in, when those clothes are just your underwear but, with her bag and some convenient shops, being able to get dressed and escape, probably in about 10 minutes.
  • All Delirium’s various looks, the way she changes her appearance all the time. 
  • The art style in the nightclub, both backstage and when dancing
  • When Dream and Delirium arrive on the Island the way Andros and Kris hear him speaking Greek/English at the same time. Also the way Kris washed up on the island randomly but expectedly
  • The two page spread of the night sky and the night sky in the rest of that scene. 
  • I like the jolt when we see Orpheus’s dream about his wife and grandchildren, at first you assume he is remembering a happy memory, but of course it was something that never had a chance to exist, she died on their wedding night, there were no children, let alone grandchildren. That one scene brings across the tragedy very well. 
  • The way the blood became the first entirely new flower in some time

I read this after reading the first two books of Swamp Thing, I believe Matthew is Abbey’s ex-husband after he died the second time? (The car crash was the firsttime). This is kind of weird as Matthew seems pretty cool and likeable, especially when helping Delirium drive (well it’s almost the only time he is in this book), which is NOT how he seemed in Swamp thing. Is he drawn differently (inconsistently)? Or are we seeing a consistent character from a different perspective. Do we (I) not like Matt in Swamp thing because he is the spare wheel and we are waiting for him to go so Abbey can get together with the Swamp Thing? or is he much less sympathetic there? I think my dislike for him in Swamp thing IS coloured by Abbey’s dislike for him. So is Matt ‘really’ nicer than we give him credit for in Swamp thing? The whole summoning Beelzebub thing wasn’t very sympathetic, but as I recall he is atoning for that stuff in his raven job (he mentions some of this in the Dolls House).

ALSO when Defoe is quoted talking about the Plague, that Despair was pleased with having engineered, it says he wrote ‘somewhat after the event’ I sort of always assumed the Journal of the Plague Year was a Journal! But Defoe was FIVE at the time. In fact it is a well researched novel. Also his grave is about a 15 minute walk from Barbican in Bonehill (Bunhill) cemetery.

I feel like I should now give some opinion on the whole novel, but in a way I feel like I know it too well and have zoomed in so much that I can’t give a good overview. I like it. I like Delirium, I like seeing Dream not being the only main character, I like the character development and the pieces falling into place for the greater plot. I DON’T think I got Destruction, what he was doing, why he wanted to live on a Greek Island, what his job involved. But hey, you can’t have everything



Hello everyone, how are you, I am fine.

I’m with Joel, ‘Brief Lives’ is one of my favourite Sandman books. Re-reading it though there were a few little things that bugged me.
For me ‘True things’ is still a false note. Kiddy-winks just get it, you know. (I think the girl’s coy knowing glance off-panel makes it worse.) And there’s more of that kinda crap. Although I think replacing ‘Preludes and Nocturnes’ with ‘Introductions and Night Music’ would clunk up the piano-music reference, I think you could still say ‘It gets cold here quickly’ instead of Destruction’s ‘It gets chill here, of a sudden.’ Also, the Gaimany reliance on cute paradox: ‘The city is Bubastis as she never was save… in the dreams of a blind child… who had never seen the city she lived in all her short life.’ Yeah man and what if black was also white. Also I chuckled at the thought that the Sandman series has an anti-evolutionist line: so humans and dinosaurs did co-exist, the creationists were right! At least that’s saved by the Lovecraftian tinge of ancient and old civilisations in their own era before our primitive prehistory. To be honest, some of the art quality varies though. Is it just me or is Dream weirdly shrunk when he’s sat on the plane? And some of the Dream profiles look almost doodle-like bad.
In the main I enjoyed the strip-club sequence – the talk between the women felt realistic, not idealised: they fought as much as they got on. And I liked the meditation on female sexuality. But the climax, hur, of that was overwrought: why did Ishtar explode? She could surely become godlike again if she could still dance with such power… And did the fate of one of the punters remind anyone else of The Gush?


But anyway, with that stuff outa the way…
There are still many things I love about ‘Brief Lives’. The idea of the mirrors in Despair’s realm is not only beautiful and sad but also nicely spooky. Go stare in your mirror now! And I always enjoy it when you get a sense of a greater world behind a world, when you realise that the Big Bad is actually afraid of some off-the-page even bigger bad, when you find out that this universe and story are just a world and chapter. Hence big love for the exchange between Dream and Desire where it turns out the Endless can swear by things greater than even them: ‘I SWEAR BY THE FIRST CIRCLE. AND THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY. AND BY THE SWORD AND THE…’
‘Sandman’ at its best has these kinda ideas sprinkled throughout, half-thoughts, little premises never totally cashed out. The chocolates fucking is one of those; or the idea that all humans can fly but always must forget on waking. Similarly the sad and beautiful meditation on clouds seen from a plane which any one on a plane must identify with – the, in the literal sense, seeming otherworldliness of cloudscapes brought down by their reality (being in boring fog).
Of course, the climax of the story is great too: something appealing about a quest story with all this doomy foreshadowing then ending with a dinner, then a walk in the countryside… and like Christine mentioned: that double-page night sky!
Still, Delirium I found less of an interesting character this time. Maybe I’m getting old but that kinda Phoebe randomness I find not only cloying, but kinda pandering and at worse unhealthy: mental illness is like so creative and shit?


But I think the appeal, or to put in terms of the thread, the annoyingness of any character can only be judged in their relation or interaction with other characters. Dream needs to be pompous and stuffy for any of the comedy undercutting to work. If he wasn’t like that you wouldn’t feel the erk-drama of him telling off prancing Nuala: ‘Stop that.’ In fact, doesn’t that become a running gag, Dream telling people to stop that? And on the flipside, Delirium needs to be quirky and random for Dream’s long-suffering comedy to work. Even her ‘What’s the word for…’ routine gets a pay-off in the joke: ‘Annoying’.
There’s lots of other funny stuff. Already mentioned, the making of a gag out of the pathetic fallacy with the melodramatic ‘she no longer loves me’ rainstorm. I also like the way the waiter was non-plussed by Delirum’s bizarre food order, giving it an impeccable ‘very good ma’am’. Much of the humour comes visually. Merv the pumpkin-head smokes cigs which naturally seep out of all his pumpkin-holes. And one of my favourite over-the-page reveals is the bit with Matthew as Delirium’s terrified driving instructor.

Other reveals demonstrate some nice visual story-telling, the panel by panel way that we see Bernie Capax’s corpse’s hand under the rubble as he, and we, realise that he’s dead.
Not that there aren’t moments of good-storytelling through dialogue. I like the hidden exposition of Bernie Capax’s son mentioning that the top drawer of his dad’s secret stash cabinet was the one with the guns and knives: easily accessible.
Loz / Ilia, I’m on the hobgoblin side: the Endless are embodiments of ideas that hence allow you through stories to explore facets of them. I wouldn’t try to find a systematic sense to them, because there is none. The hook is ‘what if an idea was real?’ Yes there’s been hints before as to what happens when an Endless is for whatever reason absent (the sleeping sickness when Dream was held prisoner) but more to the point everyone still dreams. I do like Ilia your idea of the democratising wave that comes from an Endless abandoning duties. But I think Destruction’s point – and fear – is that as the embodiment and not cause of destruction, he would rather be absent than present for the inevitable and possibly nuclear violence of the 20th century. It won’t be his fault if he’s there, in the same way that it’s still the people’s fault who commit the destruction, not his. But he just doesn’t wanna be around embodying all the bad shit: like imagine him more like a totem that glows when it’s idea is being enacted. He just wants to remove his shankara stone from the fight: a fight that still happens without him.

The idea then of fulfilling your duty or not is not married to a consequentialist idea of ‘…or else’: Destruction abandoned his duties and so x happened, Dream had better not do the same or y will happen. More, it’s duty for the sake of it, regardless of what happens. Deontology if you wanna get all metaethical about it. But in-story, it’s simply to explore this idea of duty.
I disagree that duty is not an identifiable concern. It’s not just royals who have duties, nor is it the case that ordinary jobs have no duties attached. Anyone who works in social care, health care, teaching, whatever has duties that go beyond job-specs. True, duty is not as hard and fast as times when people had specified moral or caste or family duties but the idea is still around: and in a dutiless world it’s interesting to explore a family still caught up for better or worse in the idea of them.
To pick up on another of Ilia’s point, Destruction scepticism towards reason nicely chimed with a book I’m reading The Science Delusion, which covers similar ground about the end of Romanticism and the rise of Materialism / Scientism which leads to nuclear bombs (Newton / Destruction’s ‘conversion of matter into light’), and which in its focus on empirical data, neglects / forgets that there are other ways to think about things, other tools (and which are not, despite being non-scientific, nonsense: things like, as Destruction terms them: ‘instinct, myth or dream.’
Does Dream though know that there’s some reason-inspired destruction imminent on Earth? When Pharamond says ‘There’ll always be a need for travel’, Dream replies, ‘Yes, for a little while to come…’ Or is that really foreshadowing something else… Change is coming anyway.


It’s interesting that Desire is the sorta-antagonist for the series. She swears previously that she will get Dream to spill family blood, but then later claims it wasn’t her doing. But Desire admits desiring it. It’s almost a Buddhist attitude, desire being intrinsically linked to suffering and change. And change being seen as inevitable: ultimately value-neutral.
The idea of duty and keeping or shirking it for me is there to tie into this theme of change. Again to talk about Buddhism in my unlettered GCSE-way, but there’s that seemingly inconsistent notion of how things sorta change but sorta stay the same: Tiffany says wearily ‘Nothing ever goddamn changes’. Destruction’s absence doesn’t change humanity’s destructive destiny. 

But Sandman has changed, several characters comment on it, are surprised by the way he behaves. The only one who notices, or won’t admit – won’t because of what else it might imply – that he’s changed is Dream.


Want to come back on this:

“The idea then of fulfilling your duty or not is not married to a consequentialist idea of ‘…or else’: Destruction abandoned his duties and so x happened, Dream had better not do the same or y will happen. More, it’s duty for the sake of it, regardless of what happens. Deontology if you wanna get all metaethical about it. But in-story, it’s simply to explore this idea of duty.”
The problem for me here is that if the duties of the Endless have no content, they are not strictly speaking duties. I think most Deontologists would say you don’t have a duty to do something if you don’t know what that duty is. If the duties of the Endless are never explained and may not in fact matter at all, they do not correspond to what most people feel to be duties, which are burdensome and sometimes painful to carry out. Portraying the burden without the reader understanding the source of that burden robs it of its weight. It’s a bad metaphor, basically.
I will try to be nice abt Gaiman when we get to The Kindly Ones, I promise.


In erfworld Lord Hamster, from our world, had a duty to walk around the city and inspect it, even though it ran itself. Doing so would provide a bonus each round. He was physically obliged carry out his duties and would disband (die) if he didn’t. But he didn’t KNOW that walking round empty buildings was part of his job. So he didn’t do it, and didn’t die either.

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