We’re concluding Brief Lives, with Glyph (that’s me) recapping Chapter 9.

Glyph’s introduction to Sandman, in three parts, here, here, and here.

Preludes and Nocturnes recaps here: Glyph and Patrick tackled the first four issues, Jaybird tackled the fifth, Glyph recapped six and seven. Mike Schilling recapped number eight.

A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.

Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Calliope then Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream then Mike Schilling reviewed Façade in the second.

Season of Mists recaps here: Jaybird reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank reviewed the next two here. Boegiboe reviewed the next two after that here and here. Ken reviewed the final two here.

A Game of You recaps here: Mike Schilling reviewed the first two in this post. Jason Tank and Mike Schilling tackled the next two issues here. Russell Saunders gave us the last two issues here.

Fables and Reflections recaps here: Ken and Jaybird reviewed the preview plus the first two issues here. Mike Schilling and Jaybird did the next two issues here. KatherineMW did the next issue here. Glyph, Ken, and Russell did the Sandman Special issues here.

Brief Lives recaps here: Jason Tank recapped Chapter 1 and Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 2 here. Reformed Republican recapped Chapter 3 and Jaybird recapped Chapter 4 here.
Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 5 and Glyph recapped Chapter 6 here. Mike Schilling recapped Chapter 7 and Glyph recapped Chapter 8 here.

It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one after 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!

Brief Lives – Chapter 9

We see the world through the eyes of Orpheus; he has a line of sight to Destruction’s former abode, and witnesses Destruction’s departure as a shooting star.

It’s interesting that when Orpheus falls into a brief sleep and wakes, the position of the stars is what he uses to determine that little time has passed; while presumably roughly simultaneously, across the bay, his uncle is using those exact same stars to pretend that time does not pass at all.


We see what we wish to see.

Help me out – are we to assume that the brief dream Orpheus has of his wife and grandchildren may be the first dream he’s had since his dismemberment? After all, we know from Destruction that the Endless can choose not to dream if they don’t want to see Morpheus, and Orpheus is of Endless stock; and I can’t see him wanting to darken his father’s doorstep, after the falling out they had.

If true, that makes these pages all the more effective, since we are locked into the fixed POV of one who LITERALLY is imprisoned inside their own head; not even free at night, when he sleeps. A worse fate is hard to imagine; as we know, even those in Hell are allowed dreams.

Delirium is reluctantly allowed inside (but not Barnabas), to say goodbye in her own way (which is to say, she doesn’t verbally, though her little wave is sweet). Then Morpheus enters.

And he and his son talk of many things; keeping promises, and Destruction, and how things don’t ever turn out as you planned. Orpheus knows that Morpheus freed Calliope, and as have many, notes that his father has changed. Orpheus is scared; death is what he has wanted for countless ages and now it’s here, in the form of the last person he expected to see again. He throws Morpheus’ words from their last meeting into Morpheus’ face; Morpheus, ever proud, ever cool, doesn’t react with much emotion. Orpheus wishes things had been different; so does his father.

Orpheus says, “I am ready”.

His father kisses him on the forehead, and grants his boon.

Note that whatever Morpheus does to kill Orpheus, he appears (in silhouette) to be doing it through Orpheus’ eyes; maybe he pulled his son’s soul out through that window?

Morpheus closes his son’s eyes with a bloodstained hand, and leans against the doorframe.

The next 6 lovely panels are an example of something sequential art can do well…via the split into multiple panels, we get a static picture with the impression of motion and the passage of time: wind, Morpheus walking into it; the blood drops falling from his hand, and springing up into red flowers.

Dream talks with Delirium, his speech halting; you can hear the regret and the frustration and the sadness and the self-justification all mixed up together in his words.

Despair shows up; and well, she WOULD, wouldn’t she? Note that Dream thinks to cover his bloodstained arms (now both of them; that stain just keeps spreading): decorum? Shame?

Despair asks after Destruction, and Delirium tells her that Dream’s the one she’s really worried about now. Dream and Delirium take their leave (Delirium can’t resist a parting shot at Despair, who wouldn’t accompany her on her quest).

Despair picks a few of the bloodflowers (and when it’s THESE flowers, well, she WOULD, wouldn’t she?) and returns to her own realm, where her twin, Desire, waits. She gives Desire one of the flowers while she tells her the news; Desire ruminates that it could have been worse, and reflects that she intensely dislikes Dream and wanted him to spill family blood; but now that it’s happened, she’s not happy; she’s scared.

So’s Despair, who takes her twin’s hand.

Cut to the Dreaming, where Morpheus stands before the Gates of Horn and Ivory (I like the little historical aside about their creation and that of Dream’s helm from the bones and horns of three dead gods; it has a Lovecraftian feel. I would like to see that story and battle, but it would probably never live up to the impression it makes here as a thumbnail sketch).

Morpheus sends a true dream through the Gate of Horn to Andros, instructing him of the final tasks Orpheus’ keepers must undertake; bury the head safely, but erect no marker, and then their responsibilities are at an end. They are free.

Morpheus goes back to his castle, where his own doormen do not recognize him on sight; he HAS changed, irrevocably, and he spares a few uncharacteristic words of praise for their service. He passes Nuala, and instead of being sharp with her, he inquires after her wellbeing; he even recognizes her pendant as a gift from his ex, but lets it slide.

He goes to Lucien, and gives Lucien instruction to settle accounts from his journey; he will return to work tomorrow, but for the remainder of the day he is retiring to quarters and does not wish to be disturbed, and takes his leave of Lucien.

(Gaiman does a good job, in the Lucien convo, of showing how much Dream is running on sheer emotionally-exhausted autopilot here; normally brusque and to the point, he keeps repeating certain words and phrases: “I have responsibilities / I have many responsibilities”; “Tomorrow, I shall return to my duties / Tomorrow, I shall work”; “But not today (2x)”)

We get a brief interlude, Mervyn complaining to Lucien that minor troubles are all his boss ever has to face, and explaining that if there’s one thing that guys like Dream never have to face, it’s “real life”. Cut to:

Dream, alone in his quarters. He finally removes the coatsleeves that have been concealing his bloodstained arms and washes his hands in a basin. He stares moodily into the basin, stirring it with his finger, and in it calls forth the scene when he attempted to “console” his son, after the death of Eurydice.

And if you thought the coldness of those words would come back to hit him full force, well…you were right.

“She is dead. You are alive. So live.”

Morpheus slumps in his chair, broken and alone.

We get quick vignettes of minor characters encountered along the way, each moving on (or not) with life in their own ways. Homeless Mary Canby drinks in a graveyard, and and thinks of her own long-dead son; Chloe Russell (the girl from the airplane) misses her old cat (and was that the cat that Bast sent the quick death to?) and thinks the new one an inadequate replacement; Danny Capax is burning his father’s secret identities – well, most of them anyway, you never know when you’ll need to be someone else; Officer Tom Flaherty is in a mental institution, his brief brush with Delirium unfortunately looking like it may have lifelong ramifications; and Tiffany has found God.

The “angel” who led Tiffany from sin, Desire, floats in an eye (in vitreous and aqueous humor) of its temple holding a small red flower; but Desire’s thoughts are private.

And Andros and his grandfather bury the head of Orpheus deep beneath the cherry tree. Andros has a brief fantasy of eating those cherries (which will taste of true poetry and song, and he will feel young again) in spring, before realizing that no – he will not live to see another spring.

But that’s OK.

It is going to be a beautiful day.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. It’s seems only appropriate that Despair regrets not going along on the road trip.

    It seems doubly appropriate that Desire not really want what s/he thought s/he wanted.

    And now we know that Dream has changed. A lot.

    Gods changing is rarely a portent of good things coming down the pike.

  2. I like how there’s a single panel of Death’s ankh when Orpheus is killed. We already know Dream is empowered to kill vortexes. Now he shows he can override his sister and cross someone over by himself.

    Guvf gvrf va avpryl jvgu gur xvaqyl barf orvat lrg nabgure nfcrpg bs Qernz.

    • Can you elaborate on the encoded portion? I don’t think I understand what you mean.

      • V arrq gb tb onpx naq er-ernq vg, ohg urer’f jung V erzrzore: Gur Xvaqyl Barf ner grnevat gur Qernzvat gb fuerqf. Zbecurhf naq Qrngu ner ba n zbhagnvagbc, naq gur Barf xrrc gnhagvat uvz. Qrngu lryyf ng gurz gb fuhg hc, naq gura gryyf ure oebgure fbzrguvat gb gur rssrpg bs, “Lbh’er njner gurl’er whfg cnegf bs lbh, evtug?” Gur vzcyvpngvba orvat gung guvf vf, zber be yrff, fhvpvqr ba uvf cneg.

        • Uzzz, V qba’g erzrzore ure fnlvat gung (gubhtu lrnu, vg vf zber be yrff fhvpvqr). V thrff jul vg frrzrq fgenatr vf gung gb zr Gur Xvaqyl Barf frrz irel zhpu nffbpvngrq gb gur “srznyr” fvqr bs gur rdhngvba (jvgu gur Jrveq Fvfgref rgp.), naq Zbecurhf snzbhfyl frrzf gb unir ceboyrzf jvgu gur srznyrf (gubhtu vs lbh ner pbeerpg, znlor gurer’f n ovg bs n traqre qvffregngvba va GURER fbzrjurer, vs gurl ner fbzrubj nfcrpgf bs uvzfrys ).

          • I went back and read the section, and I definitely misremembered it.

            Qrngu lryyf ng gur Xvaqyl Barf naq pbzznaqf gurz gb tb njnl. V fbzrubj pbasyngrq gung jvgu Qrngu znxvat Qernz nqzvg gung ur rffragvnyyl cynaarq gur jubyr guvat.

            So.. um… nevermind. 😛

  3. For some reason, I had always assumed that Orpheus was shut out of dream, not that he chose to stay out of the Dreaming.

    Maybe Desire is disappointed to finally have what it wants because Dream did it to himself, without Desire’s help, assuming Desire’s oaths really meant something, and it was not responsible for setting Delirium on the path.

    It is also interesting that the three guardians identify Dream through some means other than his appearance, which is mutable, but something on the inside. Whatever it is they see, I cannot imagine it is a trivial thing to change it so it is not recognized.

    I am not sure if I ever noticed the flowers growing from the blood before this reading. It is possible that I had forgotten, but it seemed like a new discovery when I noticed it this time around.

  4. I think on this reading, this may have become my favorite arc.

    Does anybody know what the eye motif in this arc is supposed to signify? There’s just no way it’s coincidental, it is all over the freaking place in this last issue.

    Also, spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read to the end of the series (seriously, don’t read this if you have not finished the series):

    (Also, no religion):

    V unq abgrq orsber gung Zbecurhf vf va znal jnlf n Puevfg svther, va gur jnl ur cvpxf n Whqnf naq tbrf jvyyvatyl gb uvf bja qrngu, gura “erfheerpgf”.

    Ohg jung V bayl ernyvmrq whfg abj ba guvf er-ernqvat vf gung Qernz nf n tbqyvxr svther, nyfb punatrf bire gur pbhefr bs gur frevrf sebz na Byq Grfgnzrag Tbq (BT ehyrobhaq Zbecurhf, pncevpvbhf sebz bhe uhzna cbvag bs ivrj, naq uryyn iratrshy) gb n Arj Grfgnzrag bar – zber zrepvshy, pbzcnffvbangr, naq uhzna (zbfg shyyl ernyvmrq va uvf arj vapneangvba nf Qnavry).

    Naq jung cerpvcvgngrf (be pbzcyrgrf) guvf genafsbezngvba va Qernz, sebz na BG Tbq gb n AG Tbq?

    Jul, vg bpphef jura ur xvyyf Uvf Bayl Ortbggra Fba, naq shyyl srryf sbe gur svefg gvzr gur cnva bs uhznavgl (crbcyr fnl gung ybfvat n puvyq vf gur terngrfg cnva gurer vf, naq V ubcr V arire svaq bhg).

    • V qba’g nterr, arprffnevyl. Gur Tbq-nffvfgrq-fhvpvqr bs Becurhf qbrfa’g rknpgyl znc gb gur Fnpevsvpr bs Wrfhf (be, sbe gung znggre, gb gur fghss gung gurl fnvq jnf n cebcurpl bs Wrfhf’f fnpevsvpr… Noenunz’f fnpevsvpr bs Vfnnp, sbe rknzcyr).

      Wrfhf’f qrngu jnf jung arrqrq gb unccra fb gung Rnfgre pbhyq unccra naq gurer… gur onggyr vf jba. (Urpx, vg’f rnfvre gb frr gur Wrfhf fgbel nf gur fgbel bs n thl jubfr qnq vf punvezna pbzvat qbja naq jbexvat va gur znvyebbz sbe n fhzzre naq jubfr “fnpevsvpr” vf cerpvbhf yvggyr bs gung xabjvat gung ab znggre ubj penccl uvf znvyebbz rkcrevrapr vf, ng gur raq bs gur qnl, ur’f trggvat ba gung ryringbe.)

      Gur Qrngu bs Becurhf jnf gur pybfvat bs n irel fnq fgbel. Vg jnf erfbyhgvba, V fhccbfr… naq erfbyhgvba gung frgf n ybg bs bgure fghss va zbgvba… ohg vs vg’f n ivpgbel ng nyy, vg’f n culeevp bar.

      • Bu, V qba’g zrna gb vzcyl vg’f 1:1, be rira vagragvbany; whfg gung n qvivqvat yvar orgjrra “byq” Qernz naq arj, avpre Qernz qbrf frrz gb or gur qrngu bs uvf fba ol uvf unaq, naq gung’f na vagrerfgvat cnenyyry gb zr. Cneg bs jung znqr Wrfhf’ fnpevsvpr erfbanag vf gung guebhtu vg, Wrfhf (jub jnf Tbq, naq lrg nyfb zna – xvaq bs yvxr Becurhf orvat n zna, jub vf nyfb vzzbegny/bs Raqyrff fgbpx) gbbx ba gur erny cnva bs uhznavgl. Zbecurhf vf nyfb orpbzvat zber uhzna, va cneg, ol gnxvat ba erny cnva.

        Lbh qba’g arrq rirelguvat gb znc rknpgyl, gb trg vagrerfgvat ersyrpgrq fvqrjnlf rpubrf urer. Tnvzna vf cynlvat jvgu ovt nepurglcrf, naq guvf vf bar bs gur ovttrfg bs Jrfgrea phygher. Nyy fgbevrf ner bar fgbel.

  5. Another thing I noticed: Destruction set up all kinds of attack systems to dissuade people from trying to find him. I had thought that Dream avoided these (well, for the most part… some collateral damage) until I realized that he stumbles into one that was set back when Destruction was pretty enthusiastically Destruction and that Destruction himself probably had no idea he was setting.

    • I imagine that Destruction feels some guilt or responsibility for what ultimately happened to Orpheus when he sought his uncle’s help, and before he leaves for good he ruefully and explicitly states that no good will come of Morpheus seeking him out either (don’t have it in front of me so can’t remember the exact wording, something like “can’t be helped, definitely not this time”). As Desire says, you can’t seek Destruction and return unscathed.

Comments are closed.