Reading “Chapter Three: In Which We Wake”

There are three issues left in The Sandman after this one, and they’re not bad (I actually quite like the next issue, which will focus on Hob Gadling about a month after Dream’s funeral), but they feel more like a series of epilogues than the actual ending to the series.  For most intents and purposes, this is the end of the series (except that, y’know, I’m going to discuss the last three issues too in the coming weeks; it seems only fair after getting this far).

Imagine Jed trying to make conversation to his right instead. Awkward. (Artwork by Michael Zulli, colors by Daniel Vozzo)

In this issue we finally see Dream’s funeral, complete with eulogies from those who were closest to him (and Destiny, because I guess it was in the program that he was supposed to speak) and a send off that still makes me kind of weepy when I read it.  We also have some more fun cameos (Rose and Jed Walker are seated between Emperor Joshua Norton and Darkseid, which tickles me endlessly) and Dream having a friendly chat with his brother Destruction.  Also (and this is no small thing), Dream holds audience with Hippolyta Hall after the funeral and informs her that he forgives her for killing him.

What we’ve seen with the structure of the story up to this point is a repeating pattern of reflections from people who have known Dream with each successive iteration focusing on people who were closer and closer to him.  The first issue of this arc shows how Dream’s servants viewed him as they learn the differences between him before and after his death; the second issue gradually moves from acquaintances like the immortal homeless woman Mad Hettie to Rose Walker and Lyta Hall, whose lives were significantly changed by their encounters with him, to Dream’s previous lovers; this third issue is set aside primarily for the Endless themselves and Dream’s closest friends (and also a sampling of the apparently many other eulogies given, like one from Wesley Dodds, the DC character who was the original Sandman from the 1940s).

There’s a certain irony in the eulogies of the Endless; they’re Dream’s family, so they have pride of place as the chief speakers at his funeral, but most of them are not especially close to him.  Destiny doesn’t seem very attached to any of his younger siblings, Desire has been feuding with Dream for eons, and Despair (whose closest positive relationship among her siblings is with the absent Destruction) has always seemed only vaguely fond of Dream.  Delirium’s relationship with Dream is fairly positive since Brief Lives, but that’s an incredibly brief time in the span of their relationship.  Death, who was easily the one closest to her brother, doesn’t give a eulogy; instead she closes out the funeral with a benediction, though Gaiman leaves her actual words a mystery.  The eulogies from the first four Endless range in quality (Destiny says pretty much what you’d expect, and Desire can’t bring themself to express any genuine regret about the turn their relationship took with Dream, Despair offers a strangely moving thought on her admiration of Dream and commitment to remembering him when no one else does, and Delirium makes a typically muddled statement that’s punctuated with a moment of stark, painful clarity), but they all offer a somewhat shallow view of their brother in comparison to the complex stories other people tell about him.

Everyone’s there! Even Zulli and Gaiman! (Artwork by Michael Zulli, colors by Daniel Vozzo)

Matthew the raven gets to give the last eulogy, and while it’s no longer than any of the others, it feels like a good summation of Dream.  Matthew notes that most of the time Dream acted like he was above Matthew, and on rare occasions the fact that they were friends shone through.  Dream wasn’t comfortable being intimate with people, and he often worked hard at keeping even his closest friends at a distance most of the time.  Matthew’s reflection feels especially poignant since the secondary plot of this entire arc has been Matthew’s slow processing of Dream’s death.  He was willing to die with Dream but was denied that.  He was bewildered to see so many of his other friends, like Mervyn Pumpkinhead, restored to life as though nothing had happened while the Dream he knew was irreparably lost.  He asked Dream to end his service as a raven, and was advised to wait until after the funeral to make his decision.  Now, speaking before Dream’s body, Matthew finishes his arc with acceptance of the way things must change and resolve to continue being Dream’s advisor as he learns how to navigate his duties in this new aspect of himself.  Matthew’s been sort of the reader’s surrogate throughout, and it’s comforting to see him coming to terms with what’s happened.

Gaiman ends this issue with an extended narration that addresses the reader directly as one of the many dreamers who have attended Dream’s wake and funeral.  It’s a nice bit of metanarrative that blurs the line between the two aspects of Dream’s realm that have consistently been present throughout the series: dreams while asleep and stories.  The whole of The Wake has been built around wordplay with the various meanings of the term “wake,” and in this last chapter we finish off the way every dream does.  You get the sense that there’s still more to tell, but it’s time to move on to other things and so everything ends when you’re still not quite ready.  It’s a fine way to finish Dream’s story here.

Of course, we’re not totally done with the series.  Next issue will follow Hob Gadling one last time, and then we have to wrap up those other two issues.

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