30 Days of Books: Day Twenty-Nine

Day 29 – Saddest character death OR best/most satisfying character death (or both!)

Morpheus, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Using a graphic novel series is not cheating, Sandman is as epic as any novel. And it has the benefit of containing simultaneously the saddest and most satisfying character death. I have now spoiled the Sandman virgins enough for one post; if you have not yet read the series, go out and read it immediately. You may wish to start with Volume 2, if you are not generally a comic book reader, but you will want to read Volume 1 eventually anyway. Get the new recolored editions, if you can, they’re a vast improvement over the originals. Come back when you’re done. Spoilers will commence behind the cut.

Done? Good.

The story of a human becoming a god is one of the archetypal mythical patterns. Much rarer is the reversal that is the story of The Sandman – the process of a god becoming human. And that’s what Morpheus does throughout the series, he slowly becomes more human until he cannot become any more human while remaining his own self. And then he dies.

Since he’s the anthropormorphic personification of dreams, and thus one of the fundamental components of the universe, he is of course replaced by a new Dream. So Dream continues, but Morpheus does not.

It feels like the best kind of Greek tragedy, and that’s because it is — not just in the explicit inclusion of Orpheus and the Furies, but in the way that Morpheus constructs his life so that this is really the only possible end to it. (Which is fairly impressive, when you consider that Morpheus’s life did not necessarily have to have an end.) He does it to himself, really. But it’s the way he realizes it that makes it perfect. He’s a jackass in the early volumes, and by the end of the series, he knows it, and so he does the only merciful thing he can do, which is also the thing he knows will destroy him.

(I love this about Neil Gaiman; he treats the rules of magic and mythology as rules, unbreakable even if they’re irrational, stupid, and damaging. And wrong. Just like the moon is wrong about whether or not Wanda is a woman in A Game of You, there’s no good reason for Morpheus to die for finally learning mercy. But those are the rules.)

Leave a Reply