“Can’t say I’ve ever been too fond of beginnings, myself. Messy little things. Give me a good ending anytime. You know where you are with an ending.”
I suppose we do, at that. Or, at the very least, we know a bit about where we are not. Not anymore. The Kindly Ones opens with a tour of The Dreaming as it is exists under the rule of Lord Morpheus. I always find myself envious of this dreamer, even though I know he or she is meant to represent me as well. It’s not enough – I want want the real dream. When I was in my 20s, I would sometimes will myself to have it before sleep, to no avail.
Maybe that’s because this Dreaming no longer exists.
Little by little, as the story progresses, Morpheus’ Dreaming is torn apart by The Kindly Ones/the Furies/the ladies with a million names and an endless obligation to revenge. Just as they tore apart his son for making them weep, they tear apart Dream’s world for spilling family blood.
Quick reminder before you progress – this post will contain spoilers! If you have not read The Kindly Ones yet, go do it and come back!
Lots of things end (after a fashion) along the way – the lives of dreams like Able and Merv, the lives of people like Zelda and Carla, the sanity of Lyta Hall, and, perhaps, the loneliness of Rose Walker. Deliriums’ quest for her dog ends as do Nuala’s time in Faerie and Lucifer’s time at the Lux as they decide to leave those places with a sense of freedom our protagonist never seems to feel. Three ladies end their sewing session and with it their story.
Oh, and Morpheus, of course. He ends.
It is amazing how different this read was for me than in the past. I have read it several times and every time until this one, I read it with so much anxiety and anger. Oh, the hatred I had for Lyta and Thessaly. Oh, how I wanted to punch Nuala in the face for pulling Morpheus out of the Dreaming for her sad little boon! Even after having read through the series again and yet again, I always felt such tension and angst.
This time, not so much. Something clicked for me here, perhaps because it is easier for me now to see the big picture of things, to stand outside and appreciate moments and people for who and what they are. Certainly, it is a message Gaiman sends throughout the entire series – we are what we are. We do what we must. Yet, somehow at the same time it is just as true that we make our own decisions, we live our lives for ourselves, and we must accept the consequences when they come, for better or worse.
Larissa (formerly Thessaly) refers to Lyta as a pawn in this game and it was so much easier for me to see her that way this time. You know, I think the same of Larissa and Puck and Loki and even the Furies, if truth be told. I think maybe they all do too, in their heart of hearts.
In the past, this novel read for me as a thriller of sorts, a story rushing toward the end, as characters scurry about fighting on either side. Merv takes up arms, Matthew refuses to leave Dream’s side as he confronts The Furies, Lyta goes mad and Larissa plots. It’s a hustle and bustle of activity. I noticed this time that if you just pay attention to Dream in this story, however, it has a different feel altogether. He moves through it slowly, deliberately, like a man with cancer. Still in denial, perhaps. Still putting up a fight of sorts, but putting his affairs in order nonetheless. I have never thought it was as simple him “wanting to be punished” for killing Orpheus, as Death asserts, but I do think it is one piece of the puzzle, or to borrow Morpheus’ own metaphor, one facet of the gem that is his life from the time was imprisoned to the time he is released, fully and permanently by his sister.
He feels remorse, perhaps more-so for denying Orpheus help all those years ago on his wedding day than killing him, it’s true. And he admits to Death that he is “very tired.” It could also simply be he has changed too much to be who he is anymore. Yet, he is still enough who he is that he can not take Destruction’s route and walk away from his realm. He would never let that happen to the Dreaming.
Did it have to happen this way? Well, surely not. We see first hand the multiple Destinies, we get glimpses and snippets of how things could have gone differently. The question still remains, however, did it have to end this way? A million paths in Destiny’s garden, a million choices made by Morpheus and those around him, could lead to a million variations and alternate realities, but was his Death a benchmark? A moment in history/destiny/time that was going to be no matter what? Is this the tug of war between free will and fate?
Seriously, I’m asking.
Part of my greater acceptance of events in The Kindly Ones this time through comes from the fact that I lean toward the “yes” column for those questions. Part of it comes from the fact that if the answer is “no,” there’s some satisfaction in that as well. Knowing that our choices matter, that we can always change our mind, and that Morpheus himself seemed to choose his fate and face it with dignity and his trademark sense of duty.
There are also plenty of beginnings to satisfy us, aren’t there? After killing Orpheus and before his own death, Dream recreates the Corinthian. He makes preparations for Daniel. Rose begins a baby right there in her belly. As Nuala and Lucifer end their time one place, they begin something new.
Gaiman may be good at breaking our hearts, but he never leaves us without hope, after all.
Some questions, for those inclined to answer:
- How do you feel about the artwork in this collection?
- What do we think of Daniel, here? We know the Puck and Loki didn’t have a chance to burn away all that made him human. We know that the stone Dream gives him was “the least” of the ones he created. We will get some information about this in The Wake, but I’m curious in particular to see what people think of the fact that some part of the new Dream King is human. None of the other Endless have that trait…do they? How will he be different than Morpheus, while at the same time being a facet of the same whole?
- I’d love to hear from any first time readers – I have to imagine your experience of the end is different than mine.
- Anyone else cry when Delirium finds Barnabas? Or when Dream hands Death the bread? Anyone?
- All those questions I listed above about destiny – any thoughts?
- The role of women is interesting, not only in this arc, but the entire series. I know some folks have commented on this in the past and I’d love to see more on that theme.
Our own little story will be coming to an end in two weeks, the story of the little Re-Read that Could. We hope to see you then, and as always, we would love to hear your thoughts.
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