|The Sandman: Endless Nights|
Cover of the story. Art by Dave McKean
|Main character(s)||The Endless|
P. Craig Russell
The Sandman: Endless Nights is a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman as a follow-up to his Sandman series. The book is divided into seven chapters, each devoted to one of the Endless, a family of brothers and sisters who are physical manifestations of the metaphysical concepts Dream, Death, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, Despair and Destiny. It was published by DC Comics in 2003. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative. It is also the first comic book to ever be on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Each tale is stylistically different, and illustrated by a different artist. Most of the tales are independent of each other; however Destruction's tale relates to and immediately follows Delirium's. Destruction and Delirium's tales are the only ones that take place after the events of the Sandman series.
In line with all the other Sandman comics, the cover, logo and book designs were created by Dave McKean.
Chapter 1: Death - Death and Venice
Art by P. Craig Russell
This story deals with the idea of quality versus quantity of life. It is split between two views: the lives of a group on an island off the coast of Venice protected by magic from Death versus the memories and thoughts of a young American (the conclusion suggests he is a special forces soldier) who has never forgotten his childhood encounter with her.
The story is narrated by a man in his late twenties/ early thirties who seems to be disillusioned with the world around him. He walks around Venice speaking of time, illusion and trickery before seguing into an extended flashback of his childhood trip to Venice. While playing hide and seek he gets lost and meets Death of the Endless before a locked gate. She asks him to open it, which he attempts to do until finally he is found by his cousins hours later. They return to Venice with him in disgrace. The remaining story is his return to that gate, subsequent dealing with Death, musings on the facade of reality, his obsession with Death, and his general melancholy.
The name is derived from Thomas Mann's 1912 novella Death in Venice. The magician's desire on how to die from the beginning of the story was originally stated by Boris the bodyguard in Death: The Time of Your Life. The events in this story seem to be heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque Of The Red Death".
Chapter 2: Desire - What I've Tasted of Desire
Art by Milo Manara
This story is about a woman who bargains with Desire to win the hand of her love and then loses him to war.
Gaiman himself has said that the story is based on a historical anecdote told by George MacDonald Fraser. He tells the story of a woman named Kara in what appears to be pre-Roman Britain. She mostly tells the story to the reader in a series of asides as she interacts with the other characters.
Kara starts off the story telling the early history of her romance with Danyal: he is, by all evidence, a charming, self-sure young man, adept both in the arts of war and of love, who one day walks with a goat-girl (Kara) telling her that hours spent fishing don't count against the time of a man's life, and after that seemingly harmless but charming remark, he wanders off to live his life. Kara, however, conceives a powerful desire for this young man.
Kara consults a witch but does not want her to concoct a love potion, saying "I'd not want a man I could buy with a potion." Some consultation later, the witch tells her about a man, or woman, or both, with golden eyes who inspires "a longing that has nothing to do with your young man."
The young man goes to the coast while his father goes to meet the people from across the river to negotiate for an exchange of hostages. These negotiations go badly and Kara disguises herself as a man (not particularly well) to go to the coast and tell the Danyal that his father is dead. On the way she meets Desire, goes to its realm, and listens to Desire tell her many things, only two of which are directly revealed to the reader: first, that most stories are about someone wanting something, and second, that getting what you want and being happy are two entirely separate things. Desire's interest in Kara can be explained by its statement to her: "Most people want like a candle flame, but you desire like a forest fire." Desire also cuts several days off her travel time.
Kara tells Danyal the news about his father and they set off for home. That evening he finally realizes she is the woman who walked with him to see the goats all that time ago. He proposes they sleep together but she declines. They go home, he proposes marriage, but again she declines. He courts her for three months, at the end of which he falls madly in love with her and gives a torc to Kara as a wedding gift, then she finally assents.
Hunchbacks dance at their wedding and the local girls feel that once their new chief gets tired of her, he'll go back to them. He doesn't, and instead he gives his wife a flower and sets off for the coast. One evening while he's away and all the village men are out patrolling for wolves, a group of male strangers visit the village, asking for shelter. Kara has to let them in and give them food according to custom, saying, "Hospitality to strangers and to friends. That was the way of it." While she is arranging this, the men remove her husband's head from a sack and place it on the table. Their plan is to rape her, steal everything, and flee.
Kara does a strange thing which she only explains to us later and never reveals to the strangers: she flatters each one of them, giving them each some attention and flirtation, but never too much. Essentially, she keeps each of the strangers wanting her, but also wanting her to want them, which leads to them performing contests of strength, skill, conversation, and essentially keeps the strangers distracted all night until the menfolk of the village return in the morning and kill them all.
Kara buries her dead husband, and, not wanting anything again as much as she wanted him, she spends the rest of her life waiting for Desire's sister, Death.
Chapter 3: Dream - The Heart of a Star
Art by Miguelanxo Prado
In the far distant past, Dream and his new romantic interest Killalla of the Glow travel to a meeting of astronomical phenomena. The mortal Killalla is astonished to learn that the beings with which she is mingling and chit-chatting with rather comfortably are, in fact, the very stars, galaxies, and dimensions which comprise her universe. After an encounter with her world's own sun, Sto-Oa, Killalla and the star fall in love, possibly thanks to Desire's powers, as the distraught and heartbroken Dream watches on.
This story showcases a number of things mentioned in The Sandman series but never before illustrated. Here, Death is a cold unmerciful character and Delight has not yet become Delirium (though her speech-bubbles have a very faint and almost imperceptible likeness to those of Delirium). The roots of Dream's conflicts with Desire (in the beginning of this story, they are very close) are illustrated for the first time, as are the roots of the rules forbidding the Endless from becoming romantically involved with mortals. The first aspect of Despair also appears in the story, being quite different in appearance and more sociable than her latter aspect.
In addition, other DC comics characters and beings are suggested in the story. The character Killalla is from the planet Oa (Although technically, at this point in time, she should be from planet Maltus), and is an ancestor of the Guardians of the Universe, who go on to form the Green Lantern Corps. Her power to manipulate green energy can be seen as an evolution towards the creation of the Green Lantern's power. Despair has a conversation with a red giant star named Rao about the creation of life on an unstable world and the possibility of a lone survivor to continually mourn the destruction of that world. This is an allusion to the history of Superman; Rao is the red giant sun around which Superman's homeworld of Krypton once orbited, as well as the Kryptonian God. (The colors of the stars in the story follow the DC Universe's standards, not the actual star life cycle.)
The story is narrated by the Sun, depicted within the comic as a very young and clumsy star known by his Latin name Sol. He is telling the tale to the Earth at a time when she is still sleeping and has no life on her. Dream converses with Sol about the possibility of life on one of his planets. Sol expresses an interest in them resembling Killalla, setting the stage for our own existence as well as providing a possible reason why Dream seems to favor Earth as opposed to any other planet in the universe.
Furthermore, other elements from "Brief Lives" are being reminisced in that story. The fact that the palace and its chambers will dissolve into light shows that "matter and light are interchangeable" - one of the reasons that made Destruction abandon his realm and responsibilities. Destruction also plays a "creator" role (and he is the one who theorized that he and his siblings had a dual nature - being both themselves and their polar opposites). Desire also turns to rejection, distrust and hatred in Dream's heart (once again, the dual nature). Whatever the entities decide, it does not matter, as, ultimately, Death will claim them (a reference to "The Illusion Of Permanence" and the fact that even those with the longest life span will only "live a lifetime" and live "Brief Lives"). Delight's speech bubbles are already those of Delirium - only less noticeable (which reminds the reader that "change is inevitable"). In both "The Heart Of A Star" and "Brief Lives", characters comment on Destiny's blindness and, in both stories, it is shown that there are questions Destiny cannot answer (in the former, he cannot tell if Killalla loves Dream and, in the latter, he is unable to tell why Delight changed to Delirium). In both stories, Dream is sad, due to a broken heart. In both cases, he suspects his sibling Desire to be responsible for it. In both stories, his sorrow changes the world around him, either directly or indirectly (in "The Heart Of A Star" he decides to create life on Earth and in "Brief Lives" he causes bad weather in The Dreaming).
Chapter 4: Despair - Fifteen Portraits of Despair
This collection of fifteen very short vignettes illustrates different aspects of Despair, either the character herself, the emotion in abstract, or people in a state of despair. One is about an unemployed man who's feeding cats, only to have them end up eating each other to survive when he goes on an extended leave for work. Another is about a priest who's being forcibly defrocked due to a molestation scandal despite the fact that he can prove the allegations false. A third is about a woman who, after committing suicide to escape her pain, sits on the side of the road waiting for the happiness to begin.
In the book's introduction, Neil Gaiman states that he had originally planned to write twenty-five "Portraits of Despair".
Chapter 5: Delirium - Going Inside
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz
This story is about several mentally unbalanced people who are brought together on a quest to save Delirium from herself. It's possible at the end of this story that Delirium is somewhat healed in some fundamental way; at least two of the people involved in her rescue are also at least partly healed. Daniel, Dream's raven Matthew, and Barnabas, Delirium's dog protector on indefinite loan from Destruction, also appear as part of the rescue mission. One of the adventurers is based loosely on Henry Darger.
Chapter 6: Destruction - On the Peninsula
Art by Glenn Fabry
This is a story about some archaeologists who uncover and explore a peninsula from many years in the future. Chronologically, this takes place after Delirium's Going Inside, the chapter preceding this one, featuring Delirium herself. Dialogue between Delirium and a human character indicate that the rift between Destruction and the rest of the Endless has been partially healed. The story is narrated by a female archaeologist who has constant dreams and waking dreams of the world in many post-apocalyptic forms, indicating that she belongs to Destruction's realm; this is echoed in the events of the story as she becomes deeply attracted to him while uncovering artifacts on the peninsula. According to Delirium, the artifacts the archaeologists uncover on the peninsula are not from the future, but a distortion of reality caused by Delirium and/or Destruction's presence in the area. In the end, the peninsula is mysteriously destroyed. The facts that Destruction may have caused the distortion of reality, that he has agreed to talk to his family again, and that the peninsula is ultimately destroyed could somehow imply that he may or may not have come back to his functions and responsibilities.
Chapter 7: Destiny - Endless Nights
Art by Frank Quitely
This short story is simply a wander through Destiny's garden of forking paths. Based on the clothes of Delirium's statue in one of the panels and the posture of Dream's statue, it seems to be taking place during The Kindly Ones. This story was originally to be illustrated by Moebius. Neil Gaiman knew that, because of his age and health, the artist would not be able to give much of a time commitment so he designed this story to be short and full of full page pictures. In the end, sickness prevented Moebius from working on the story and Frank Quitely filled in.