The Sandman | Study Guide

Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman | Worlds' End | Summary

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About the Title

The title comes from the name of the inn where all of the characters shelter during a reality storm. There are four such places that exist outside of the real world where travelers can stop and rest on their journeys. It is also a reference to the fact the world of the Sandman is ending soon.

Summary

A Tale of Two Cities

Coworkers Brant Tucker and Charlene Mooney are driving to Chicago when they get caught in a freak summer snowstorm. After slamming into a tree, Brant carries an injured Charlene into the storm in search of help. They receive directions from a hedgehog to a strange inn called the inn at the End of Worlds. They end up surrounded by other travelers stranded by the "reality storm." They pass the time telling each other stories.

The first story is told by a nameless man. It is about a city and a man he met in a small village. The man likes to wander the city streets, though one day he becomes lost. The man encounters Morpheus during his wanderings. He meets another man sometime later who tells him he believes they've been caught up in the city's dreams. The only way out is to find a spot they recognize and go through it to get back to the waking world.

The man meets a young woman on a rooftop. He's tempted to remain with her, but he sees a familiar place behind her so he takes his chance and runs through. He appears back in the waking world. He then moves out to the country, as far from a city as it is possible for him to get. This is where he meets the storyteller. The man is afraid of what will happen when the cities wake up from their dreams.

Cluracan's Tale

Cluracan tells a tale of his missions to the city of Aurelian as ordered by the Queen of Faerie. He is to oversee the interests of her court and make sure the people of the plains do not ally with Aurelian. Cluracan sets off before he has a chance to visit with his sister, Nuala, currently serving Morpheus in his realm.

The ruler of Aurelian is a corpulent man who has subsumed the two leadership roles—political and religious—into one. Cluracan gives him a prophecy during a dinner party and ends up bound in cold iron and thrown in a dungeon. Nuala finds him in dreams and fetches Morpheus to free him.

Once free, Cluracan uses his glamour to disguise himself and sets about spreading rumors that lead to a citywide rebellion. Still disguised, he hides in the crypt of past rulers with the Carnifex. The previous ruler returns to life and kills the current one. Cluracan, his mission complete, leaves.

Hob's Leviathan

The next story is told by a young sailor named Jim. He speaks of a voyage made on a ship going from Singapore to Liverpool with Robert "Hob" Gadling as a passenger. Hob convinces the ship's captain to accept the presence of a stowaway, even paying for the man's passage. The Indian stowaway tells a story about an Indian king who greatly loved his wife. So he gave her a fruit that would bestow immortality on the person who eats it. She gives it to her lover, who in turn gives it to his mistress. The courtesan gives it back to the king who is furious at his wife's unfaithfulness. He kills his wife and her lover, eats the fruit, abdicates, and leaves to wander the earth. Readers are left to wonder if the stowaway is indeed the wandering Indian king.

While on the journey, the ship encounters a huge sea serpent (the leviathan from the title). Jim wonders why no one on the ship seems to want to talk about the amazing experience. Hob offers insight some secrets are left secret. He also reveals he is the owner of the ship and he knows Jim is female.

The Golden Boy

This story takes place in an alternate United States and stars a lesser-known comic book character, Prez Rickard. In this alternate universe, Prez Rickard is the youngest president and follows Richard Nixon. He brokers peace in the Middle East, resolves the looming energy crisis, and makes strides in equality and public safety. During his time before he takes office and after, he has a meeting with Boss Smiley, the godlike creature that rules over Prez's world.

Prez finishes his terms as president and retires to fix and make watches in his hometown. He refuses future public service offers. When he dies, Boss Smiley meets him to offer up the afterlife. Morpheus appears and offers Prez Rickard the ability to enter other alternate Americas. The storyteller is a follower of Prez, waiting for his return.

Cerements

The final tale is told by Petrefax, an apprentice from the Necropolis Litharge. He speaks of his city. He tells about his apprenticeship learning the proper and various funerary customs and burial methods. He also relates tales told by other masters and prentices during an air burial he attends. The first tale is from Mig, and it stars Billy Scutt. He's a criminal due to hang, but is given the chance to be the small town's hangman instead of dying that day. When he becomes sick, he knows it is his time to hang, but through trickery, he manages to escape and die a natural death.

Scroyle tells the next tale. It features Destruction on one of his visits to Litharge. He says this is the second Litharge. The first was destroyed by the Endless for failing in its duty of honoring funerary traditions when they came for the first Despair's death preparations. The final tale is told by the master, Hermas. He speaks of his master, Veltis, who trained him. She broke a vial and ran and hid in the catacombs beneath the city, only to find a strange room she'd never seen before. In it hang the Endless's sigils. When she's told to leave, she questions the voice and gains a shriveled hand for her questioning. When Veltis is old and dying herself, she goes back into the tunnels in search of the room one last time. When she emerges again, right before her death, her hand is healed.

Finally, the storm comes to an end with the reveal of its cause: a funeral the travelers at the inn witness. They see the procession of giant figures crossing the sky, carrying a coffin. After the funeral procession passes, the travelers begin to go their separate ways. Petrefax chooses to go on to other worlds to learn their burial rights. Charlene chooses to stay at the inn, and Brant returns to his world.

Analysis

Narrative Structure and Influences

Worlds' End uses a powerful storytelling technique called a framing device that has been used for centuries. Boccaccio used it in The Decameron, and Chaucer used it in The Canterbury Tales. It is also used in The Arabian Nights. In the first two instances, a group of travelers sit around and tell stories to pass the time, much like those resting in Worlds' End. This book uses this long-standing literary device and tradition to tie it to those much older.

In addition, World's End includes a series of nested stories, in particular in "Cerements." A master and his apprentices tell stories to Petrefax, who, in turn, tells this story to Brant and the others. Inside of this frame finds Brant telling the story to the bartender. All of this appears inside of the overall story that the book relates to readers (about a being that inspires and collects stories). The book exists like a sort of Russian nesting doll of narrative. Morpheus is himself called the Prince of Stories. It is fitting his funeral (not yet revealed) is attended, and honored, by a wealth of stories.

Charlene's anger at the stories being told is a strange response, but it makes sense. Once she begins to tell her own story, readers realize her story is a definitive lack. She has no story really, no imaginative life at all. This makes her anger at all of the storytellers, and her inability to appreciate what the stories offer, understandable. She tried to act, she tried to write, and found she had nothing inside of her worth telling. She's angry and empty, a marked contrast to the others in the inn and to Morpheus himself, the embodiment of stories. She chooses to remain at the inn, at the place of stories, where people wait while reality is constantly destroyed and created.

Transitions

Worlds' End is a volume full of stories about transitions, as it is itself. This volume is the held breath between Brief Lives and the climactic action of The Kindly Ones. The Inn at the End of the World functions as a transitional space—a way station for those traveling from point to point. The four inns are transitory, moving as needed and offering refuge after the ending of something, if only for a while.

Jim's story, "Hob's Leviathan," is filled with transitions, the most obvious one being Jim him/herself. Jim is really Peg, a young woman pretending to be a boy so she can sail the seas. Unfortunately, she has reached a transition period in her physical development where she won't be able to hide her gender easily any longer. She will have to leave the sea shortly. It is a bittersweet thing, leaving behind what she loves as she transitions to a different life. She says she will take another name and create another life. In addition to Jim/Peg, she speaks of the ship as a place of transition, a world of its own as it sails the seas. The sea is ever changing and constantly moving—a transitory thing between two fixed ports on a map. Hob is also in the midst of a transition, getting ready to leave behind his current identity to take up another one, a figurative death. He is going through what Peg will soon go through herself by taking a new name and making a new life.

The Necropolis Litharge specializes in transition. Death is the final transition and Litharge is nothing but funerary rites and rituals. The point of the study they do in Litharge is to honor the transition between life and death, to celebrate it in a strange way. Petrefax's story is the last to come before the funeral procession, another transition, this time narratively. The funeral procession is yet another symbol of transition. It marks the ending of the reality storm as it is the cause of all the problems the travelers had to take shelter from. The world has changed with Morpheus's death, and a new world awaits. The funeral represents that in-between space, that moment caught in time before the new Dream can fully draw breath.

Alternate Realities versus Fantasy

Comics have often played with the idea of alternate realities and Worlds' End involves alternate realities in several ways. The most obvious one is the story "The Golden Boy" that offers a time line in an alternate America. Prez Rickard is the teenaged president of the United States. During his time in office, he accomplishes remarkable things before being killed after he leaves office.

At Death's behest, Morpheus intercedes with Boss Smiley to offer Prez a chance at a different or alternate afterlife. He can travel to all the different Americas throughout the dimensions, searching for the America where a teenager can be president. The man telling the story functions as a kind of disciple. He is paving the way for Prez's rise to prominence by planting the seed of him in people that he passes. It is a callback to Dream Country and "Dream of a Thousand Cats." If enough people dream about Prez, he can come into existence in that reality.

A less obvious alternate reality is the first story of the volume, "A Tale of Two Cities." There is a city atop another city—or rather, a city sleeping beneath the people in it. This story captures the nameless dread that causes the man in the story to flee as far away from a city as it is possible for him to get. There is the city that people live in, but the city is alive and dreaming, and sometimes people slip through its cracks and get lost. Sometimes they find their way clearly and are able to escape. Others are doomed to run continuously through a shadow-city, searching for a way back. And as to what happens should the cities wake from their slumber is something the man fears to contemplate.

Finally, Brant returns to the "real" world, leaving Charlene at the inn. Reality changes so it is as if Charlene never existed. Her car is now in Brant's name. It is undamaged by the accident, and no one but him remembers she ever existed. It begs the question: is he in an alternate reality? Or was his reality simply altered to allow for Charlene's absence? Charlene still exists because Brant is telling a story about her. Whether she was real or not in that reality becomes immaterial because, sometimes, the story is all that matters.

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