Image via DC Comics
Who knows where is the dark fantasy of Sand seller started? Conventional wisdom holds that Morpheus, Lord of Dreams arrived on paper, filtered through the plots, script, and art of Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg. But a twinkle in the Dream Lord’s dark eyes suggests otherwise.
Wherever it started, it spread very far. From the pages of the DC Vertigo comics to the wider DC Multiverse to audio adaptations and a much-hyped Netflix series, Dream, to give this personification of all things unreal another name, is everywhere.
Different media adapt the Sand seller saga differently, but each is a stage in dreams that explores themes of reality and responsibility. It’s a modern classic that takes readers, listeners and watchers from Earth to Hell via the Dream – the realm of the Lord of Dreams.
The opening arc of Sandman deals with a universe without Dream. Imprisoned for decades, the kingdom of Morpheus fractures and disintegrates. Rogue’s nightmares escape the Dreaming as it crumbles to ruins and humans absorb facets of the Sandman – a nod to past DC Comics continuity and earlier superheroes who went by the name Sandman.
Chaos ensues when the natural forces of the universe go ungoverned and the Dream is one realm. Although Morpheus is the Dream Lord, he is also one of the Endless Seven, a dysfunctional collection of siblings, each personifying an aspect that governs the existence of everything in the universe.
Sitting above the gods, the Endless are the product of Night and Time – their figurative and literal children. But unlike their parents, the siblings all have names that begin with the letter D. These aren’t names in the typical sense (though Morpheus tends to collect nicknames) but their function.
The Endless may not be siblings as we understand them, but they function as a typical family unit – calling family gatherings, arguing, and trying to outdo each other.
Abandoning his family and responsibilities makes Destruction, the middle brother, the subject of a critical story arc in Sand seller. The eldest, Destiny, tries to stay above the bickering of her younger siblings. While Death generally gets along with everyone else (she’ll be the last sibling they see after all), her closest connection is with Dream. The three younger siblings, however, are all suspicious of Dream. Desire is the most resentful and manipulative of the seven. Throughout the original 75-issue saga, it’s worth keeping an eye on Desire as they tease their siblings and worse.
The Endless are universal forces and can survive destruction by being reformed and returned to their duties. However, by their very existence, they are not immortal. There will be a point in the DC Universe where Death is destined to be the last being in existence. As Destruction said, and he should know better, “The Infinites are echoes of darkness, and nothing more…And even our existences are brief and limited. None of us will last longer than this version of the Universe.
Much of infinity remains unknown, and this is deliberate. Sand seller creator Neil Gaiman wanted to leave the many mysteries of this family up to readers’ interpretations. If you’re familiar with Gaiman’s exploration of myth in the modern age, american gods, you will know the importance of belief in gods. Since the Infinites are not gods, they continue, whether anyone believes in them or not, until they are destroyed and reformed as a variant or leave their responsibilities. They are as ancient and timeless as the concepts they personify.
If any of the Endless abdicate their duties, such as Destruction, or are removed from office, those duties are distributed throughout the universe. Naturally, things get chaotic when something like death is shared. It was the result of Dream being imprisoned for most of the 20th century.
While in office, the Endless follow a set of laws that become apparent throughout the Sand seller volumes. Although the rules are there to be broken, there are consequences. Relationships with mortals are frowned upon, and we see several occasions where Dream’s relationships end badly. A basic rule in the family is that hurting a family member will return the pain to the abuser. The series explores this through Dream’s relationship with his troublesome brother Destiny and troubled son Orpheus.
The appearance changes endlessly depending on the eye of the beholder. Death and the Dream are usually thought of as pale, black-haired characters, or maybe that’s how we read them. Desire and Delirium, as befits their responsibilities, are subject to change more than most – the latter even alters physical appearance mid-sentence.
Each of the Endless controls a kingdom of which he is the absolute ruler and a seal that represents him. They can communicate and summon each other using a gallery of sigils in each realm. These emblems are of great significance to each of the Endless, as evidenced by Dream’s quest to retrieve his distinctive helmet and sigil, among other totems, in the opening story of Sand seller.
These are the seven Endless in order of age:
The oldest and most distant, Destiny is the blind brother who rules from his realm, the Garden of Forking Ways. Her sigil is the Book of Destiny chained around her wrist.
We know little about the Realm of Death (who would want to visit?), although its sigil is an ankh. Death is personified as a gothic, cheerful and lovable young woman – though her role is perhaps the most proactive of the siblings. All who have died or will ever die are escorted out of the mortal plane by Death.
The Lord of Dreams and Ruler of Dreams. A sulky, taciturn, brooding rake of a face, beneath his mop of black hair, his eyes twinkle continually. The Sand seller series shows how 70 years of imprisonment have changed him. His seal is the imposing helm he occasionally wears.
The prodigal Endless – charismatic, loud and ginger, disappeared in the Enlightenment. He chose not to pass on his mantle as he believed that neither he nor his siblings should involve themselves in mortal life. Naturally, his seal is a sword.
The asexual Desire is the most self-centered of the Endless and a social chameleon who can easily blend into any situation. Their kingdom is a colossal statue of themselves called the Threshold, with the ruler living in the heart. Of course, Desire’s seal is a heart of glass.
Désir’s younger twin usually appears as a short, naked, grotesque woman. It’s a disturbing portrayal, as is his record as the first of the siblings to be destroyed. She hides in the Gray Realm, filled with rats, fog, and floating mirrors through which she watches mortals. Despair cuts itself with a hooked ring which is also its seal.
The younger brother changed his name from Delight for reasons or non-reasons only she understands. Delirium is the most physically changing sister, and her realm reflects her state of mind. It takes a lot of concentration to navigate. Delirium’s sigil is a whirlwind of colors that darkens with her mood.
As Sand seller goes beyond the page, we’ll likely see more of the seven Endless, in various interpretations and reinterpretations. As in a dream, the more we see, the more questions we are likely to have.