I’ve been to a wake before. I think I’ve been to more than one but the one that I remember was for a relative of a friend. The whole thing was weird. I was too young to really know or bother to say the normal platitudes that adults choose to say to the grieving at wakes. I sat by my friend and tried to get him to have a conversation with me. About anything. If I remember correctly we talked about soccer and the conversation ended abruptly when I made a joke and laughed too loud. Several adults sent disapproving stares my way and one came to intervene. Jokes and laughing, not cool at this wake…duly noted. Of course this was in a small town with fairly normal small town folk. I’ve not been to a lot of wakes, but I feel certain this was typical. The Wake by Neil Gaiman is not typical. It’s The Sandman’s wake. The wake of a dream king already sounds like a poem, and with the characters that this particular dream king influenced it’s an epic epilogue for the many stories the dream king began.
I know the nature of The Sandman makes him a great character to write and read about, because the possibilities are pretty much endless. Somehow I still manage to be surprised at the directions in which Gaiman takes The Sandman’s stories. This one was particularly interesting because since it is portraying the Dream King’s wake, from the very beginning it is an ending. That was a fun sentence to write, I hope it was equally fun to puzzle out and read. The fact is, this book will only make sense if you’ve read the other nine Sandman books, primarily because book is about various character’s reactions to the Dream King’s death and a few “where are they now” stories.
It is incredibly interesting to see the many raw emotions these characters have towards his death. A big takeaway for me was that while I love his character and he is certainly the hero of the stories, he was neither particularly good or bad. This seems like an obvious thing to say but when I look back on books it’s usually pretty easy for me to peg this character as a good guy and that character as the bad guy. The Wake was attended by people and creatures who saw the Dream King as a hero and by people and creatures for whom the Dream King was the villain. Seeing all these characters interact, mourn, and feel together, for one dream was beautiful.
A book that is about an ending alone can never feel quite complete. A story with an end needs a beginning, though there doesn’t seem to be any rules about which beginning is told. In this story the Dream King that we’ve grown to know is dead and being mourned. There does however always have to be a Dream King. It’s a “Long live the king, the king is dead, long live the king” type of situation. While beings from all the worlds are mourning, the new Dream King is beginning to figure a few things out. I love that the beginning of his story is being told along side the results of the last Dream Kings story. We can see him learning from and absorbing the various reactions to his predecessors death. It also gives the story a very nice cyclical feel. Yes, there is a beginning and end, but in this case it was more like an end and a beginning. I rather prefer that order of things.
All in all this was a beautiful way to neatly tie the knot on the original Sandman’s story. If you’re reading this and you haven’t read any of them, I highly recommend it. All ten of the Sandman series that I’ve read are beautiful written and drawn stories that make you want to dream.