“The Sandman: Brief Lives” by Neil Gaiman
Having read the first six collections of “Sandman,” I’ve met almost all the Endless family – minus the missing brother, Destruction. Death and Dream have been the most fleshed-out so far, but Desire and Despair’s characters have been established, and Destiny has appeared a time or two. The littlest sister, Delirium (formerly Delight) has, up to this point, remained a mystery – a babbling, colorful, constantly-evolving character who remained amusingly pitiable.
In “Brief Lives,” it’s Delirium’s time to shine.
Most of this volume centers around Delirium realizing she misses her absent brother, and her quest to find him. Of course, being Delirium, she knows she’ll need another of the family to accompany her – and Morpheus/Dream, having just broken up with a paramour, volunteers purely as an excuse to take a walk in the waking world where his former lady love might be.
Dream and Delirium’s journey leads to a number of dead people – as those who assist them on their way are offed by one. When Morpheus realizes something may be after them, attempting to stop them from reaching Destruction, he and Delirium head to Destiny, who tells them there is a family member who can serve as an Oracle. However, that person is Orpheus (or at least his still-alive head, now being guarded in a hilltop temple in Greece) and Morpheus vowed never to speak to his son long ago. But, he puts his pride aside and goes to his son – granting him a boon and ending Orpheus’ too-long life as merely a head.
Finally, Dream and Delirium reach Destruction, who is hiding out from the world in a cabin where – assisted by a snarky talking dog named Barnabus – he writes poetry and cooks. He’s basically a nature guy, more interested in creation than destruction, which is why he turned his back on his responsibilities as Destruction. He resists his family’s pleadings with him to come back and instead walks out into the stars, gone forever. (He does, however, gift Barnabus to Delirium, and a new friendship is born.)
Delirium heads back to her realm, now with Barnabus in tow. Morpheus returns to the DreamWorld to mourn for his lost son and his lost brother. Orders are given to Lucien to track down a number of beings to tell them it’s safe to return to the DreamWorld, and to reward some people who helped Dream and Delirium on their way. The very last images of the collection are of the Greek man and guards who guarded Orpheus all these years burying the head.
“Brief Lives” is a remarkably insightful volume of a remarkable story.
Now that Delirium has been more fleshed out, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a character in the series I like more. (Maybe Lucien, but that’s just because I really want his job.) She’s spazzy and a tortured delight and I think she’s just grand. So thanks, Neil Gaiman, for creating a fictional character who is highly likely to join the ranks of fictional characters I remember, hold dear, and take with me wherever I go – like Jane Eyre, Matilda, Marianne Dashwood, Abby Normal, et. al before her.
Also, reading this volume made me realize how sad I’m going to be when it comes time for the series to end.
Le sigh. That’s the wonder of a good book, right there.