Morpheus Mondays: The Kindly Ones and The Wake
I don’t know if you noticed, but sh*t gets REAL in The Kindly Ones. (Massive spoilers ahead.)
After a brief prologue, the story opens on the Fates/Furies/whatever you like to call them having some tea. One of them opens a fortune cookie, and the fortune reads “A king will forsake his kingdom; life and death will clash and fray; the oldest battle begins once more.”
We move on to our old pal Lyta Hall, who’s still a bit unhinged and overprotective of her son Daniel. (You will recall Dream’s rather bizarre “Hey, BTW, your kid’s mine” comment in The Doll’s House, which quite understandably freaked her out.) While she’s away at a job interview, Daniel vanishes. An investigation ensues, but the two detectives on the case return to her with a photograph of Daniel’s burned corpse. As you might expect, Lyta flips out. She seeks out the Furies and wants revenge on Morpheus because she assumes he is responsible for the disappearance and death of her son. The Furies say they can only avenge blood debts. Translation: They can only go after Morpheus if he shed family blood.
And he killed his son, if you’ll recall.
To be fair, Gaiman has already hinted pretty heavily that the killing of Orpheus will have some dire consequences, and we know that the Fates are not to be trifled with – waaaay back in The Doll’s House, they tell Rose Walker in the broom closet, “You wouldn’t want to meet us as the Kindly Ones.”
Morpheus knows a storm is brewing (quite literally) but he’s busy taking care of other business. He goes to visit his friend Hob Gadling, who casually mentions as they’re parting ways that Morpheus has the smell of death on him. Morpheus re-creates the Corinthian, who’s still scary and likes to eat eyeballs but is otherwise quite well-behaved. Morpheus sends his raven Matthew and the Corinthian on an errand, which is finding out where in the holy hell Daniel is and bringing him to the Dreaming. Also, he releases Nuala from servitude at the request of her brother. This scene is a bit of a heartbreaker because Nuala thinks Morpheus will refuse to part with her, which is wishful thinking on her part because she’s in love with him. To her surprise and hurt, he releases her quite readily. As a parting gift, he instills her crystal pendant with the power to summon him and tells her that at the time of her choosing, she may call him and he will come to her and grant her a boon.
Meanwhile, Matthew and the Corinthian discover that Daniel has been taken by Loki and Puck. Remember those two? Ugh. The Corinthian liberates Daniel and brings him back to the Dreaming.
Things are getting really serious now. The Dreaming is under assault by the Kindly Ones. Thessaly, our witchy bespectacled friend from A Game of You, owes the Furies a favor, so she collects Lyta Hall and weaves a spell to protect her so that Morpheus cannot get to her. This is a tense scene; Thessaly is defiant and scornful, while Dream seems regretful and as close to apologetic as he ever gets. (We find out much later, in The Wake, that Thessaly is the mysterious departed lover Morpheus is so emo over at the beginning of Brief Lives.)
The situation continues to deteriorate as the Kindly Ones besiege the Dreaming. Fiddler’s Green, Abel, and Mervyn are all slaughtered while Morpheus mopes in his throne room. His plan to stop the Kindly Ones was to “remove the mortal woman Lyta Hall,” but Thessaly shot that plan to hell, so now he’s pondering what to do while his kingdom is torn down around him. Meanwhile, Nuala runs into Delirium in the fairy world, and Delirium tells her that Morpheus is in trouble. Panicking, Nuala uses her pendant to summon him, thinking that she’s doing him a solid by removing him from the Dreaming.
No irreversible harm can come to the Dreaming as long as he remains there, but by leaving it at Nuala’s insistence, he leaves it open to annihilation. This scene is heartbreaking. Morpheus is broken and defeated; he is exhausted and beaten down by his guilt and grief over Orpheus, and I think he’s realizing what a huge part his choices and actions have played in his own undoing.
The art is so good here – that look on his face in response to her question says it all. He is in ruins. The boon Nuala requests is for him to love her, and Dream is caught off guard. He cannot give her what she wants. “I could give you the dream of my love,” he says. Her response: “I already have that, my lord.” This is classic, beautiful, poignant Neil Gaiman, sucker-punching us right in the feels.
Meanwhile, Destiny is monitoring the situation from his garden. “Events will fall as they must,” he says. “As the events happen, conflicting destinies will merge into a whole…this will be felt across worlds and days as a reality storm.” So now we have the explanation for that crazy storm in World’s End…and this is where we really start to worry about the spectacular funeral procession in the sky that follows it.
Morpheus goes back to the Dreaming and formally meets the Kindly Ones. Daniel is there in the throne room, and Lyta tries to call them off because Daniel hasn’t been murdered like she thought he was. (Those detectives who brought her the photo of Daniel’s corpse? Puck and Loki in disguise.) But for the Kindly Ones, this was never about Daniel. It’s only about making Morpheus pay for his crime.
Morpheus suits up one last time and prepares to meet his fate. There is an interesting conversation with Matthew in which Morpheus contemplates his emerald Dreamstone. “Each facet catches the light in its own way…It would be almost possible to believe that the facet was the jewel, not just a tiny part of it…We see an aspect of the whole. But the facet is not the jewel…” And then he gives the Dreamstone to Daniel. This whole bit seems like a bit of a non sequitur, but it’s not. I’ll get to it in a minute.
There is a final face-off with the Kindly Ones, in which Morpheus is told that he has no choice but to let them destroy his kingdom. He strips off his armor and sits down in the rain to wait for his sister Death to come to him. She does, and they feed the pigeons together just as they did the very first time we met Death in “The Sound of her Wings.” (Did you cry? I totally cried.) They talk for a while, and then she says the words we suspected were coming. “Dream? Give me your hand.”
And he is gone.
Not completely, though. He is resurrected in the form of Daniel, who looks just like him, only in all white instead of black. He is no longer Morpheus, but he is still Dream of the Endless. This is what the discussion about the emerald was about – this new Dream is a different facet of the same (metaphorical) jewel. The book ends with the Furies again having tea, and there’s another fortune cookie. This one says, “Flowers gathered in the morning, / Afternoon they blossom on, / Still are withered by the evening: / You can be me when I’m gone.”
Damn it, I think I have something in my eye.
The Wake is a wrap-up and a way to give us closure. Everyone in the world attends the wake of Morpheus in their dreams, along with many, many of the characters we’ve met on this Sandman journey – Bast, Titania, Thessaly, Mad Hettie, Calliope, Matthew…the list goes on. They pay their last respects to him, and then his body is sent off on a beautiful boat down the river. (That little Asian child in red that we see during this part? I think this is Nada, in her new reincarnation that we witness as a birth at the end of Season of Mists. Amazing.) It’s one last curtain call for this huge and memorable cast of characters. Some loose ends get wrapped up nicely too – this new Dream King is a little softer, a little kinder, a little less aloof than Morpheus was, and he grants Lyta Hall amnesty. Matthew remains to work for him, ever the loyal sidekick. Fiddler’s Green stays dead of his own choosing, satisfied with the life he lived. Hob Gadling is in love once again and finds something to keep living for, even after all this time. William Shakespeare completes the second play that Morpheus commissioned him to write and can rest now, having ensured that he will live forever through the works he created with the inspiration that Morpheus granted him.
When I first read this series years ago, I was a little upset that Morpheus dies in the end. But on this second reading, I understand that there was no other way for this story to end. It’s perfect and lovely and wistfully satisfying. It was carefully and thoughtfully done, and I’d expect nothing less from Neil Gaiman. He is a master and this series is a masterpiece, not only of comics, but of fiction in general. There is so much to sink your teeth into, isn’t there? Gaiman knew so early on where the story was going to go, so there is so much foreshadowing that happens throughout the story, so many things to notice and pick up on when reading it a second (or third or fourth) time that this series begs to be read over and over again, because you’ll pick up on new things every time.
What did you think? Great ending to the story, or not so much? Do you feel satisfied?