Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Destruction And Mortality

(i) I said earlier that I thought that Destruction of the Endless was first named in Volume 7 of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series. This is not quite true. He appears and is introduced by his Greek name of Olethros in Volume 6, Fables And Reflections. However, we are not told what "Olethros" means and thus are not told which aspect of consciousness he personifies. We do not yet know who he is - although I do not remember noticing this on originally reading Volume 6.

(ii) Morpheus tells his son Orpheus, "You are mortal..." (p. 165). Is he? In this retelling of the myth, Orpheus' father is one of the seven Endless, who live longer than gods, and his mother is one of the nine Muses, who are goddesses of inspiration. So how can two immortals have a mortal son?

(iii) In "Orpheus," script writer Neil Gaiman and artists Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham beautifully retell the Orpheus myth and seamlessly incorporate it into Gaiman's new myth of the Endless. The seven Endless attend the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice. Does the presiding priest of a local deity know what beings are standing behind him?

Death debunks a myth:

"...Herakles was full of it. He just got dead drunk for a couple of weeks in Phrygia and told everyone he'd been to the land of the dead." (p. 173)

"Dead drunk"! Of course! Now we know! He could not really have gone to the land of the dead.

But Orpheus does, of course. Dream refuses to help but Olethros sends him to Teleute (Death) who tells him how to enter the underworld via Charon and Cerberus. When he is there, Persephone tells him that, although he has entered from Taenarum, Thrace is not hundred of leagues away because "All lands lie above the underworld." (p. 186) In other words, people die everywhere. Good fantasy writers, certainly including Gaiman, can express abstract truths, for example about death, as if they were concrete facts about places, in this case Hades.

The Greek myth of death expresses two truths (I think) about death. The dead are "Cold and pale immobile..." (p. 167). Thus, death is the absence of life. And they "...drink the waters of Lethe, that bring forgetfulness." (ibid.) Death is the loss of all faculties, including memory.

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