The Sandman | Study Guide

Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman | The Wake | Summary

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About the Title

The Wake has several meanings. It is a literal wake, a remembrance and memorial for Morpheus after his end in The Kindly Ones. It is also a wake for the series as a whole as this is the last collection of stories in Sandman's original run. It is also a wake in that the dreamer wakes up from the dream of this story.

Summary

Funeral and Wake

Each of the Endless receives word of Morpheus's passing. They (minus Destruction, as usual) converge on Litharge to collect the cerements needed and the book of funeral rites. They create a man out of mud and sticks which Delirium names Eblis O'Shaughnessy to descend into the catacombs and fetch what is needed. Meanwhile, all those that ever knew Morpheus or had cause to visit the Dreaming enter it to attend his funeral.

While the dreamers gather, Daniel—the new incarnation of Dream—sets about restoring the Dreaming. He reincarnates Abel and Mervyn Pumpkinhead and tries to do the same for Fiddler's Green who does not want to be brought back.

Matthew is having a difficult time accepting the new Dream. He grieves for Morpheus, unwilling to go to the funeral. His grief is made worse by his guilt at leaving Morpheus alone to face the Furies, even if it was at Morpheus's order he leave.

Characters from previous volumes gather in the Dreaming, waiting for Morpheus's funeral to begin. Lyta Hall, Nuala, Thessaly, Titania, Calliope, Richard Madoc, Hob Gadling, John Constantine, Duma, Bast, and Alex Burgess are all there.

Daniel stays in the castle. He is forbidden to attend the funeral and wake according to the book of rituals. The other Endless cannot acknowledge him until the funeral is finished. Lucien and the others, except for Matthew, head to the ceremony, leaving Daniel alone.

The funeral begins. The cerement is draped across a stone tablet. Morpheus's form materializes beneath it. His family and friends eulogize him until there is no one left to speak. The byre is placed on a ship which sails over a waterfall and into the sky. Morpheus is among the stars.

During all this, Daniel remains in his castle. Matthew flies in and he and Daniel clear the air between them. Daniel offers to send Matthew on, but Matthew decides to stay to help Daniel in ways he couldn't help Morpheus. Destruction also comes by the castle to introduce himself to the new incarnation and offer advice. Before sending her back to the Waking World, Daniel talks to his mother, Lyta Hall. He forgives her for her part in Morpheus's death and says they will never see each other again though she always has his protection. Then he and Matthew go to meet his siblings for the first time.

Hob

Hob Gadling spends the day at a Renaissance fair while Gwen, his latest girlfriend, works there. He complains about the make believe of it, a little bitter and utterly miserable with everything they've gotten wrong. He talks to Gwen about slavery. He draws from his own experiences as a slaver during his incredibly long life, though Gwen doesn't know it. He references Morpheus's words to him during one of their previous meetings: "It is a poor thing to enslave another."

He spends the day drinking. Needing some quiet, he hides out in a condemned building where he meets Death. She tells him of Morpheus's passing, though he'd already suspected it given he was at the dream funeral. She asks him if he is ready to die, especially now his agreement with Morpheus is no more.

Hob thinks about it briefly, then decides to continue living. Refreshed after his encounter with Death, he joins Gwen, newly excited to see what the future holds for him.

Exiles

Master Li was once the adviser to the emperor who has been sent into exile because his son brought disgrace on their family. He is traveling across the desert on his way to the village of Wei. He is accompanied by a guide and a kitten he rescued. He wanders into a "soft place" as seen in "Soft Places" in Fables and Reflections. The kitten leads him to a tent where he meets Morpheus.

They speak of sons and of grief. Morpheus tells him of Orpheus and his behavior after his son died. Master Li tells him grieving is good, and allows one to move on. Li is also struggling with the death of his son so his advice is for both of them. Master Li moves on, following the kitten. He sees visions in the desert, until the kitten brings him once more to Dream, this time as Daniel.

Daniel is impressed by Master Li, a man who takes his responsibilities as seriously as Morpheus once did. Daniel offers him a spot in the Dreaming as his counselor. Master Li declines, stating he must go to the village of Wei as his emperor commands. They speak about cages and traps and the lengths people will go to in order to free themselves. Daniel tells him if he should ever change his mind, to just tell the kitten and Daniel will know. Master Li arrives in Wei and spends the rest of his life there.

The Tempest

The story of "The Tempest" details the writing of the second of two plays Morpheus contracted with Shakespeare to write in exchange for stories. It is a companion piece to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Dream Country.

The Tempest is the last play William Shakespeare will write by himself. He is eager to put down his pen, but also stuck on the writing of it. He's tired and sad and doubting his life choices. He is worried his compact with Morpheus has damned his soul. He meets with Ben Jonson who criticizes his work and offers suggestions as they spend their time drinking. Jonson tries to convince him to return to London, but Shakespeare wants to finish his play and live in Stratford.

Throughout the story, Morpheus visits Shakespeare to check on his progress. They talk about the power of story, about family, about the life one leads versus the life one could have led. Morpheus talks about responsibilities and obligations. Morpheus's responsibilities define him, but they also cage him. "The Tempest" is his graceful farewell.

Analysis

Loss

One of the main themes of this volume of Sandman is loss, not just of Morpheus, but of honor, of place, and position. While the first three issues focus on Morpheus's funeral that is not the most interesting tale being told. Instead readers see the effect of Morpheus's death on other people. Matthew, Dream's current raven, is one of the most affected by his death. He struggles with loyalty to Morpheus and working for his replacement, Daniel. He feels guilty for leaving Morpheus to face death alone, even though he was sent on an errand by his master. He is angry Morpheus didn't ask for help. Readers see grief in the microcosm of Matthew as he goes through the stages on the pages of The Wake. He is, briefly, angry at Daniel. Daniel saved him from dying in the throne room because that would mean he wouldn't have to deal with his grief for his friend.

It is only after speaking with Daniel Matthew decides to stay on as raven to the Dream King. It isn't solely out of loyalty, but an honest desire to help. He sees how tentative Daniel is about meeting his family. Daniel confesses and shares his feelings with Matthew, something the raven complained Morpheus never did. He stays to help Daniel through his trials, to offer support and a bit of comfort. He's truly taking on the role of a friend and mentor, something he never got to do for Morpheus.

In "Sunday Mourning" readers see Hob Gadling at one of the lowest emotional points he's ever been. He's wondering if everything he's seen is worth it, fighting a sense of futility. People commit the same mistakes over and over again. They gloss over the past to only focus on the parts they want to see. They ignore all of the terrible choices and ugliness that could make a real change for the better. He's frustrated and subconsciously grieving the loss of his friend.

Then he meets Death. Throughout the series, Death has always been a comfort, a soothing balm to those approaching the end of their rope. Here she is no exception. She confirms to Hob Morpheus did die, a fact he was aware of because of his dream of the funeral. Then she offers him an out from his agreement with Morpheus. While Hob wrestles with the loss of Morpheus and of all the people he's loved and the time period he hailed from, he considers Death's offer. He says it would be poetic if he followed his friend into death, but he simply can't bring himself to do it. Hob doesn't fear death. Instead, he loves life. Even through all of his losses, there is a drive to see what comes next. He and Death commiserate about her brother and he is granted a dream. It is a final farewell to Morpheus along with Destruction, giving him a feeling of hope to make the loss easier to bear.

In "Exiles" readers experience the loss of position, of power, and privilege. This concerns Master Li as he journeys to the ends of the kingdom at the behest of his emperor. He, like Morpheus, mourns the loss of his son. His son's transgression cost him his position as adviser to the emperor and so he has been banished. Readers can spot a parallel in Master Li and Morpheus. Both lost children they loved, and both are angry at their children for breaking the rules. Master Li's son practiced forbidden magic and Orpheus broke the rules of life and death. The actions of those children lead to the downfall of their fathers. Morpheus and Master Li discuss this loss during their meeting in the soft places. They realize they share a bond of remembered pain. Initially either man is accepting of his loss, but by journey's end, Master Li has reached some kind of peace with it. When Daniel offers him a spot in the Dreaming as his wise counselor, Li refuses, content to live out his losses on Earth.

One of the most poignant instances of loss comes with Daniel's farewell to his human mother, Lyta Hall. She lost everything trying to get him back. She loses still more when Daniel tells her she will never see him again. He does not punish her, but losing her child is punishment enough. Everything she went through, wrongheaded though it was, brought her to her doom. She identified herself as Daniel's mother. She had no other job once Morpheus evicted her from Jed's head where she lived with her dead husband. Lyta's whole life was about Daniel. She says as much when she tells Carla she's never left Daniel alone before her date with Eric. With Daniel's ascension to Dream of the Endless, Lyta loses the identity she built for herself. Morpheus deprived her of her fantasy life. And once again, he is ultimately responsible for depriving her of continued motherhood and watching her son grow up. Lyta must accept the loss and move on with her life, and at least Daniel as Dream allows her the opportunity to do so.

Endings

The Wake ties up the loose ends of stories throughout Sandman. Readers and characters say goodbye to Morpheus, the being at the center of all the stories. But The Wake is also Gaiman's goodbye to his series and his readers.

Hob Gadling must reconcile the loss of his friend with the loss of the world he knew. Being alive for so long means Hob has seen everything come and go and the only thing he is certain of is transience. Morpheus was always supposed to outlast him. To find himself without his friend is not something he's necessarily prepared for. Death offers him the chance to make a graceful ending, but Hob isn't about endings. As tired as he is after all of these years, there is still a joy inside of him. It is a need to find out what comes next. His ending is far from these pages, if he ever decides to try for an ending at all. And in a way Morpheus lives on for as long as Hob remembers him.

"Exiles" is a different type of ending and speaks of knowing when to bow out of something. Master Li has had a long life serving his emperor, but now his family is disgraced. Instead of fighting further, he is accepting of his emperor's decision. He is content to live out the rest of his life in obscurity in a backwater province away from his family. When Daniel offers Master Li the opportunity to come to the Dreaming and serve as his adviser, Li declines. Li respects the decision of his ruler, even if he may not agree with it. He made a vow to serve the man faithfully. In a way this is Gaiman's reasoning inserted into the pages of the comic he references. Gaiman walked away from Sandman when it was still wildly popular, and while he still loved it. But he always knew he had a finite story to tell and he had reached the end of it. Now, like Master Li, he acknowledges it is his time to exit gracefully.

"The Tempest" is the companion piece to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Dream Country. Morpheus made a deal with Shakespeare for two plays, one written at the beginning of his life and one at the end. The plot of the play could very well mirror Morpheus's own decisions regarding his eventual reincarnation into Daniel. An old magician returns to his kingdom after exile and leaves behind his magic and the island kingdom he ruled.

Morpheus says it best when Shakespeare asks him why this play. He says, "I wanted a tale of graceful ends. I wanted a play about a king who leaves his kingdom ... about a man who turns his back on magic. I am a Prince of Stories, Will, but I have no story of my own. Nor shall I ever. I thank you." But Morpheus does have his story, in these volumes, and The Wake is also his graceful ending. In this, "The Tempest" functions as metafiction, both as a goodbye to the character of Sandman and a goodbye to the man who created it.

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