Literature Study GuidesThe SandmanSeason Of Mists Summary

The Sandman | Study Guide

Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman | Season of Mists | Summary

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About the Title

The title is taken from the opening line of English poet John Keats's poem "To Autumn" (1820). It is also referencing Hob's toast when Morpheus meets with him before he goes to Hell to retrieve Nada.

Summary

A Meeting

Destiny walks his garden of paths and meets up with the Fates (the Gray Ladies). They tell him of a meeting he must hold, surprising him though he finds it mentioned in his book. He calls a meeting of all of his siblings. This is the first meeting in 300 years. The last time they met was when Destruction abandoned his responsibilities.

Once all of the Endless (minus Destruction) have gathered, Desire taunts Dream about his horrible treatment of his former lover, Nada. She was introduced in the prologue of The Doll's House. Death talks to Dream, surprising him by agreeing with Desire about his treatment of Nada. Realizing he might be in the wrong, he vows to set things right and leaves. Death returns to her siblings to continue the meeting when Destiny tells her there is no further need. The events have been set in motion with Dream's decision to return to Hell.

Lucifer

Dream sends an emissary to Lucifer to warn of his coming in the form of Cain. Cain was specifically chosen because he bears God's mark that prevents him from harm. Dream knows not even Lucifer would dare hurt Cain. Dream then goes about preparing his realm in case he should be imprisoned again or killed outright.

Dream visits Lyta Hall, last seen pregnant in The Doll's House. She has since had the baby, but has yet to give him a name. She is furious when Dream appears next to the baby's cradle. He admonishes her to keep the child safe for he is very special, having gestated in dreams. Dream tells her the baby's name is Daniel. Next, Dream visits Hob Gadling in dreams to share a drink with him. Hob says he's 99 years too early, but Dream insists they drink now in case he can't make their next appointment. Hob toasts "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists. And may each and everyone one of us always give the devil his due."

Dream descends to Hell only to find it emptied of the damned and the demons. He meets with Lucifer who asks him to walk with him as he closes up Hell. Lucifer has decided to abdicate and has thrown everyone out. Lucifer locks up the Gates of Hell, asks Dream to cut off his wings, and then hands him the key. Lucifer leaves.

The Gods

Dream returns to his castle as various gods and immortals hear of Lucifer's abdication. Odin collects Loki and Thor in the hopes of securing Hell to avoid Ragnarok. Anubis, Bast, and Bes journey to bargain with information of Destruction's whereabouts. Azazel, Merkin, and Choronzon arrive with Nada as their prisoner. Susano-o-no-Mikoto wishes to secure Hell for his pantheon. Order—in the shape of an empty cardboard box—offers a trade of the dreams of the recently dead. The representative of Chaos, Shivering Jemmy, threatens Dream. Cluracan of the Fae and his sister, Nuala, arrive late. Duma and Remiel, two angels, are sent from the Silver City to observe the proceedings. Dream allows them entrance and entertains them with a banquet.

The Key to Hell

During this time, readers see just what has been happening to the souls that emptied out of Hell. They have returned to the earthly plane. Now they are engaged in the same sort of punishments they endured in Hell (and that sent them there in the first place). Death appears harried as she tries to collect the newly dead with nowhere to put them.

Dream negotiates privately from individuals representing their various pantheons, including Remiel and Duma. Remiel receives a message ordering him to accept the key from Dream. When he balks, Duma accepts the assignment. Remiel agrees to go with him. Dream then tells the rest of his guests the being who created Hell has decided its dispensation and dismisses them all. Azazel is angry at being passed over and threatens the souls of Nada and Choronzon, who are under Dream's protection while in the Dreaming. He and Azazel fight with Dream easily winning.

Dream meets with Nada and apologizes to her half-heartedly. She slaps him, angering him, but eventually he swallows his pride and admits his wrongdoing by her. Dream once again offers her his love. She still turns him down but tells him he could resign his place and be with her. He also declines. Nada is reincarnated as a newborn and Dream tells her she will always be welcome in the Dreaming.

Dream then discovers Susano-o-no-Mikoto attempting to sneak out of his castle without a proper goodbye and realizes it is Loki in disguise. Dream frees Susano-o-no-Mikoto from Loki's prison. This allows Loki to remain free, though it places Loki in his debt. Meanwhile, Lucifer sits on a beach, admiring the sunset while grudgingly giving God his due. Finally, Remiel and Duma preside over Hell, once again full of souls and demons. Their regime is based on punishment in the hopes of redeeming the souls held there.

Analysis

Responsibility

Morpheus is a being almost obsessed with responsibility. There is a reason the book begins with a meeting of the Endless, and why Morpheus continues to hearken back to the last meeting between the six remaining. That is when the Prodigal (Destruction of the Endless) announced he was leaving. The Prodigal walked away from his responsibilities, much as Lucifer does later in this book. And responsibility is what Morpheus struggles to come to terms with later in the Sandman's run. Season of Mists is a volume all about responsibility and how one handles it.

Death's chiding of Morpheus and agreeing with Desire about his treatment of Nada starts the action. This is also an aspect of Morpheus's responsibility. His older sister is berating him for acting poorly, for behaving like a spiteful, petty child. He immediately takes responsibility for those actions, even if it takes him a long time to see the error of his ways. He wants to set things right. When he leaves for Hell, knowing what it might cost him, he makes sure the Dreaming will be taken care of. He refuses to leave it as he did when he was last imprisoned only two years prior. He has a responsibility to the dreamers in his care. This is something readers have seen him take very seriously from the first volume. Morpheus takes his job very seriously.

Lucifer has come to the realization the Prodigal (Destruction) came to roughly 300 years earlier. He likewise abdicates his responsibilities as King of Hell because he's come to the same conclusion: it will all go on without him. He's not necessary, and even if he was, Lucifer doesn't want that responsibility anymore. He's walking away. Lucifer, like Morpheus in the first issue, is trapped in his own glass cage. Now he suddenly realizes he had the key to opening the cell all along. He's grown tired. Which is an interesting idea, since if Lucifer is tired, how much more tired is Morpheus. He's been holding onto his responsibilities for much longer than Lucifer, but then, as readers see, Morpheus is slow to change. Knowing Morpheus as he does, Lucifer also knows what a burden the responsibility the key to Hell will be for the King of Dreams. He also knows it will likely prove Morpheus's undoing. Morpheus can't help but do right by the task set upon him, and in doing so will make any number of powerful enemies. Lucifer has trapped Morpheus through his own sense of responsibility.

There is also a responsibility in following the rules of things, as Morpheus has shown readers countless times in previous volumes. Season of Mists is no different. When Matthew mentions Morpheus sneaking into Hell to free Nada, he corrects the raven. He states he sent word of his coming to Lucifer. There is a process to the way things are done and Morpheus will see that process through. The same holds true for his rules of hospitality. Though he did not know about Nada's presence with Azazel, she is still under Morpheus's protection. When Azazel tries to fight Morpheus in his own realm, he is breaking those rules and Morpheus easily dispatches him. By doing this Morpheus makes a point to all of his other guests who might be dissatisfied with the dispensation of Hell's key.

Finally, Remiel and Duma take up the responsibility of being Hell's masters. Remiel balks, unable to accept the unfairness of the charge of his Creator. Remiel did not rebel. He has been obedient. He does not deserve this punishment, for that is what it feels like. Duma steps up and accepts the key and the responsibility of overseeing Hell, shaming Remiel into doing his duty. Whether or not it is fair, the angels have a responsibility to God and His will. If they do not take up this mantle, someone else must do it.

Expiation/Punishment

Hell is punishment. But the reason for the punishment differs depending on who is in charge. Under Lucifer, the damned were responsible for their own punishment, illustrated in several ways by several characters. When Morpheus walks through Hell with Lucifer as he is closing up shop, they encounter Breschau, a damned soul refusing to leave. Lucifer claims damned souls in Hell choose to be there because they think that's what they deserve. Breschau states he was a monster in life, a horrible creature who did nightmarish things. But Lucifer has none of that, taking away the man's illusions for how unforgettably horrible he was. Breschau realizes no one remembers him, not even in his own country. He's punishing himself for deeds long forgotten, because he feels he needs to be punished. Lucifer couldn't care less.

Charles Rowland says something similar in his story. The dead begin to come back and relive their lives, specifically the behavior that got them sentenced to Hell. At that time Charles realizes hell isn't really a place. "I think hell's something you carry around with you," he says. "Not somewhere you go. They're doing the same things they always did. They're doing it to themselves. That's hell." Lucifer's hell ran itself because, in part, the inmates were controlling the asylum. The souls in Hell determined what their punishment would be and how long it would be for—Lucifer had nothing to do with it.

This attitude toward punishment changes when Remiel and Duma take charge of Hell. Remiel has to make himself feel better about the situation that's been forced upon him. He creates a new iteration of Hell to offer himself some sense of control. He's constructing a reality through narrative to allow to survive his "punishment." The Hell he creates is worse though, as he assures the souls what's being done to them is for their own good. This is in itself another punishment.

Loki is likewise punished for his actions against Odin and the rest of the Norse pantheon. His punishment is eternal and brutal in its simplicity. He's bound with the entrails of his son, dependent on his wife to keep the serpent's venom from falling into his eyes. When she has to empty the bowl, the venom drips onto his face. Locked in eternal symbiosis, the three wait for the end of the world. Unlike Lucifer, Loki cannot walk away, though he does find his own manner of escape without having to wait for Ragnarok.

When Lucifer abdicates Hell, Nuala is still not freed. She becomes a pawn to Azazel, a bribe for Morpheus so he will give them the key. It is only once Morpheus rescues her from Azazel his expiation of his guilt begins. He apologizes to her, something that is foreign to him considering his pride. He allows her to strike him. When he threatens her with punishment yet again, she lashes out and he is silenced. He realizes he's done wrong to her, finally, and he accepts it. When he once again asks her to stay with him, he handles her rejection with much more grace. And then he grants her the chance at another life. Both of their punishments have ended.

Change

Morpheus's personality has changed since his captivity. Readers have gotten glimpses of Morpheus's past in snippets. Those are enough to tell of his haughtiness, his arrogance, and his inflexibility on things he believes are right. He is also fixated on his responsibilities and the carrying out of the duties of his realm. But readers are beginning to see the cracks in the marble that is Morpheus: he has become a freer of captives. In The Doll's House he frees Jed and Lyta. In Dream Country he frees Calliope. In Season of Mists he frees Nada, Choronzon, Loki, and Susano-o-no-Mikoto.

At first he seems to be doing so unconsciously. It is merely a side effect of him regaining control and restoring the Dreaming. Later he tells Calliope he would have let her rot where she was before his own captivity. Now it sits wrong with him to do so. He tells Richard Madoc he understands how Calliope feels. He has become more empathetic because of his captivity. That same empathy enters into his treatment of Susano-o-no-Mikoto when he discovers Loki has swapped places with the other god. Morpheus has to free Mikoto. Otherwise, he'd be going counter to his newly changed nature. He also leaves Loki at liberty (for a boon), unable to reconcile the idea of returning him to his captivity.

As the series progresses, Morpheus becomes closer and closer to the humans that visit his realm each night. The process of his captivity and liberation is humanizing him in ways he seems uncomfortable with and in ways he refuses to acknowledge. He's straddling the lines represented by the Endless and their relationships with humanity. He moves between Despair and Desire's idea of humans as playthings and Death's compassion.

Change is also present in the entities that appear before Morpheus to argue for the key. Odin and his Aesir want Hell in order to escape Ragnarok. He wishes to change the outcome, to escape his foreordained fate. He seeks to change the mythic order of things. Azazel wants the key to change his status, to truly rule Hell and make the demons who would live there truly independent. The gods from the Japanese pantheon are attempting expansion by incorporating new ideas and recreating themselves. Nearly every being is in some kind of flux in Season of Mists. The book proposes the idea even gods can change and shift, an important idea when dealing with the entities known as the Endless.

Finally, readers get the first real mention of "death" among the Endless, another kind of change. Despair as readers know her is the second incarnation of the idea. Destruction has also gone missing, but it seems to be by his own choosing. Delirium was once Delight. Change does come for these seemingly static entities, albeit at a much slower pace. Morpheus's visit to Lyta Hall to give her baby his name (Daniel, a D name much like those of the Endless) foreshadows greater changes to come.

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