Revisit: The Sandman: The Kindly Ones

The Kindly Ones

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I always remembered The Kindly Ones as being long, messy as complicated. I remember reading it for the first time in one sitting, not looking up for hours, and once I closed the book, I realized I was really hungry.

Certainly it was engrossing. And I supposed I liked it. But I didn’t remember much else about reading it, other than a few scant plot details.

And yes, The Kindly Ones is still long, still messy and still complicated. Those memories remain true. But I was amazed by it this time – it’s perfectly paced and brutally heartbreaking. It’s long and unrelenting, but it does pay off in the end.

To me, as much as I love Brief Lives and a lot of the short stories in The Sandman, this is probably closest to what the title was always capable of. It has the darkness, the depth the title had from the beginning, but Neil Gaiman manages to pull all of its disparage storylines into one final epic and doesn’t miss a beat doing it. I was honestly amazed at how well it all worked and how saddened I was by several of the deaths. I knew what was coming at the end – I knew it before I read it the first time, even – but the sense of loss continued to affect me for days afterward. I didn’t expect that.

Neil Gaiman also does a neat trick when it comes to the Kindly Ones themselves – there are the obvious ones, the fates in their form as the furies, but then there are also the other women that act, even unintentionally against Dream – Lyta the mother; Nuala the maiden, and Thessaly/Larissa the crone. Yes, I know everyone else figured this out years ago. It’s not like it’s not obvious (and I kind of feel like I probably saw it the first time I read it, too). But I still think it’s a lot of fun and lovely.

Oh, and Thessaly? It’s good to see her again. I know plenty of people didn’t quite understand the reasons behind her being Dream’s mystery lover – as in, they didn’t understand what Dream saw in her. I think most of those people where men, though. I know what Dream saw in her, though. Because it’s what a lot of women see in themselves.

Stick with me here.

In The Sandman, we see Dream fall in love with a queen, a muse … and OK, we don’t know quite who Alianora is, but I think we can assume she’s probably someone special.

Thessaly, or Larissa, as she calls herself now, isn’t a queen or a goddess. Sure, she’s a powerful, basically immortal witch, but other than that, she’s probably the most normal of Dream’s girlfriends (that we know of, anyway). Obviously, Dream can see past appearances and doesn’t just date rock stars or models (so to speak). In other words, girls, Dream would totally date you. Remember what I said about pandering to the female audience?

Maybe it’s not really any of that. It’s good drama, though. And while Thessaly’s protection of Lyta may seem overly cruel, she was just doing what she had to. She knew what was inevitably going to happen and I personally think she wanted to have some control in how it did. Her actions were self-serving, maybe, but I don’t think there was anything necessarily vindictive about her actions toward Dream.

Ultimately, though, I think the character’s journey I most relate to in The Kindly Ones is Nuala. She first appeared in Season of Mists as a fairy who gets her glamor taken away from her. She pops in and out of the issues after that, as a rather plain, ordinary girl. When she’s called back to the Faerie, she decides she liked who she learned she was while in The Dreaming and rejects glamor. She wants to be an ordinary girl because it means she’s herself. I always thought that was wonderful thing (although the fact Dream barely knew who she was or that she was in love with him does sort of negate my whole statement of “Dream will totally date you.” But whatever. Men are oblivious).

And I do think that’s what I like about The Kindly Ones: The women aren’t to blame. Yes, their actions do contribute to Dream’s downfall, but Dream’s downfall was his own fault and something he more or less wanted. It was something he sought out. There is not a moment in The Kindly Ones where any fingers point to any of the female characters as being responsible. That would’ve been the easy way out and I love that Gaiman avoided it entirely.

While contextually, Rose Walker’s story here doesn’t have much to do with the overall plot, I still think she’s a necessary part of this book. I like seeing her again and I like that she gets some sort of resolution. In her own strange way, she embodies all three aspects of womanhood – maiden, mother and crone.

And yes, I like Marc Hempl’s art here. I think it’s perfect for this story.

Now I just have The Wake left to read. And I am more than a little sad about this.

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