Despair Deserved Better

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Despair deserved better in Volume 11 of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series, Endless Nights. She deserved the narrative thread that Delirium got to connect the varied and convoluted thoughts of its characters. Compared to the stories of their Endless siblings, Delirium and Despair have the most unconventional and abstract structures.

I’m not going to say that Despair’s story was my least favorite. Instead I’m going to say that Despair’s story was my least accessible. It was the hardest to understand. I liked the 13 portraits that were used to tell the story but felt like the illustrations were initially intended to be seen in a larger format on a gallery wall. It might just be my eyes have grown old and I need reading glasses – and even need to take pictures of the fine print on medicine bottles so I can pinch and zoom!

The first portrait is a great example of this. The 16 “canvases” that were used to form it looked like they had more to offer to readers with sharper eyes. Unfortunately, that’s never been me (and it’s worsened with time), so I could have benefited from each of these canvases being given the own page. The first portrait introduces Despair with the portraits that follow after relating situations where she is present.

Desire’s story was my favorite in the book. It shares the rationale or strategies of the flirtation and then the courtship of a village’s would-be leader by a village woman. Prodded by her sister, the village woman shares the how she was pursued by and then pursed herself the village’s most eligible bachelor.

Destiny’s was my least favorite. It’s not poorly written but lazily imagined (though beautifully rendered) and treads a familiar path. It simply summarizes Destiny’s role with the Endless without asking a meaningful question about his existence. I wanted it to go further. We are told Destiny is physically chained to his book but is it a burden like a ball-and-chain or is it a crutch that he leans on and cannot be without?What does it feel like to be omniscient? To know what will happen to the people you meet? To see the future as history? Is it a burden? Does Destiny interact with humans like the rest of the Endless?

The release of the Audible Sandman adaptation and now Netflix have inspired me to read the stories over again. Sometimes revisiting favorite parts and scenes but most times it all seems like new – there is a different understanding of the stories at 55 then there was at when I first read them at 22.

“Sound of Her Wings” in volume 1 of the Sandman series is definitely still one of my favorite stories. There’s this depiction of Dream and Death sitting in the fountain at Washington Square Park that I’ve seen reproduced on shirts and stickers and desktop wallpapers and mugs that I think I can say without argument that it is “iconic.” It is one of my favorite images because I’ve spent time lazing about the dry fountain at the center of Washington Square Park too, where I’ve also spent many spring and summer days lost in my thoughts, escaped from the world.

In the story, Dream spends the day with his big sister, Death. He is heartbroken, confused, and listless. She invites him to join her on her errands for the day. This was the first time I think I saw depicted in such a “casual” yet sensitive way. The story also does not shy away on who’s time has come. Death escorts both the elderly and the very young to their after-lives.

At a half-century plus, Brief Lives, volume 7 of The Sandman series, has become my recent favorite. In the story, Delirium visits her Endless siblings to ask their help with finding their eldest brother, Destruction. He had disappeared decades ago without reason. Dream agrees to assist his little sister, but its not altruistic. It’s because he’s depressed and wants a distraction. It’s a road trip movie, where through the course of the trip, the travelers gain insight and perspective on themselves and each other.

The story provides reader with a deeper understanding of Dream, Delirium, and Destruction. It also provides a really poignant revelation about Despair, who had been most associated with her twin, Desire. It started me wondering, is there a point in the Sandman series where Dream spends time with Despair? Where they go on an adventure together like he did with Delirium? It’s foggy but I am sure there is a panel in the vast Sandman comic collection that depicts Despair and Dream speaking about their relationship. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a Desire and Despair series? Or learn how Desire and Dream’s relationship got so fractured. There most be something more than the incident revealed in Dream’s story in Endless Nights