Our assignment was to read the epilogue of Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sound Of Her Wings. Mike Schilling did the recap this week.
It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one ofter that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!
The Sound of her Wings
We open in a public park, where Dream, apparently worn out from his previous adventures, sits in a dry fountain feeding the pigeons, as people peacefully stroll about and practice soccer nearby. An errant ball almost gets Dream in the back of the head, but, naturally, he catches it first, so nonchalantly and skillfully that he’s asked to join the game. But he declines, politely. The young man who invites him appears (and proves) to be a perfectly nice fellow, if not over-bright: just an innocent bystander, enjoying the park at the same time as Dream. Recalling the fate of previous innocent bystanders, we might be a bit concerned for him.
Next, a pretty young Goth girl walks up and starts flirting with Dream, saying whatever foolish thing comes into her head to try to interest him. As it happens, it’s about Mary Poppins, and includes the most benign description of Dick Van Dyke’s attempt at an English accent I’ve ever seen. She says “cute” (rather than “worst fishing accent in the history of bad fishing accents”) and, as she does, a little girl skips by, pretending to be an airplane, in case we needed a referent.
It turns out, though, that we’ve been misdirected. She knows Dream well, can tell that he’s uncharacteristically depressed, and is trying to draw him out about it. He recaps the plot of the previous issues for us, up to the point where John Dee destroys the ruby, and Dream, back to full strength, returns him to Arkham Asylum. And, once again, things are not quite what they seem. Dream isn’t depressed from the horrors of the previous 24 Hours, just at loose ends now that he’s solved his immediate problems and has no clear direction forward.
The girl is completely disgusted with this explanation, and bawls him out, on the process grabbing his birdseed pouch and bouncing it off his head. (He can’t catch it or block it, so apparently she has powers the soccer players lack.) She tells Dream that he’s even a worse anthropomorphic personification that Desire, which apparently is pretty bad. Hold on: a worse what?
To quote TVTropes:
The living (roughly humanoid) embodiment of a fundamental
abstraction. They are typically god-like in power, but have a
much narrower focus. Athena does many things; Death only one.
Recall that Gaiman, when he isn’t writing comics, is the second-best-known British writer of adult, often humorous, fantasy in the world, and that his first novel, Good Omens, was a collaboration with the first-best-known such, one of whose best-known characters is the anthropomorphic personification Death . Death (of Discworld) is a seven-foot-tall skeleton in a black robe whose sepulchral voice is represented in SMALL CAPS. His job is to explain to the newly dead that they are in fact dead, often accompanied by ironic but (what else?) deadpan commentary on their new situation. (There’s a nice bite-sized example here.)
End of digression. There may have been a reason for it. We’ll see.
The soccer ball re-enters the picture, and this time it’s the girl who makes the brilliant stop. The bystander returns, this time not just to retrieve the ball, but to flirt with the girl, whom he’s clearly smitten by. She’s not interested, but she turns him down very sweetly (unlike Dream, who was distantly polite), and we learn two things. First, she’s Dream’s sister. Second, she must have some use for Franklin (as she knows the bystander’s name to be) and plans to see him again soon.
Dream now tags along with his sister on her rounds, sight unseen by the waking (who are not currently the concern of Dream) and the living (who presumably are not currently the concern of his — uh-oh.) They meet an old, dying man, playing the violin badly. He knows her, and why she’s come. He asks her to wait while he says the Shema, the Jewish prayer that asserts the oneness of God (which is a bit ironic in a universe with so many lesser gods and demons.) He’s ready now, and she takes him wherever departed souls go. As she does, Dream hears the sound of wings, since she is, after all, an angel: the Angel of Death.
Next they go to meet another sort of entertainer, a comedienne, who for once is really connecting with her audience, making them laugh (somewhat self-referentially, she’s making jokes about comic-book characters), when a badly wired microphone ends her act for good. Again, she recognizes Death, and makes a few jokes (“not the first time I ever died onstage”), but, unlike the old man, isn’t ready to go. Death gently persuades her, and again Dream hears the sound of her wings.
One more visit: a crib death, where Death tenderly takes the baby while ignoring her mother’s violent grief, because (what did it say above? Right.) she has a narrow focus.
Death is sad that people fear her while they welcome her brother, even though in reality he’s much more frightening. Dream reflects on this, recalling an ancient Egyptian poem about death as the natural conclusion of life, which he recites to himself in panels set against scenes of all sorts of death, mostly horrific: shootings, stabbings, suicides, overdoses. They return to the park, where we now realize (if we hadn’t before) why she would be seeing Franklin soon, and she’s as sweet to him as she has been to her other charges (even though he still has no clue who she is, and will have to be shown his body before he realizes what’s happened.)
Dream has gotten the message: getting his powers back was just the first step. He has responsibilities to his clients, just as Death does, and he needs to start rebuilding his ruined dream-kingdom and fulfilling them. But first, he uses his dream-powers to procure a new supply of bird-food, so, like his sister, he can create the sound of wings.