by Julia Torrico
Neil Gaiman’s comic book volumes, The Sandman: Nocturnes and Preludes and Season of Mists, present the story of Dream/Morpheus emerging from his 70 year imprisonment, and his encounters with other mythical beings while looking for his lost magical objects. Traditionally, it is believed that God only appears in a time of need, and it is further believed that God’s presence is only felt by people who believe in him. However, Gaiman presents God as omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and these characteristics are also presented throughout the Old Testament of The Bible. Furthermore, Gaiman presents God’s interaction and influence between different people, regardless of if they are mythical or human. For the purpose of understanding God’s presence, I will compare God’s presence in The Sandman to his presence in The Bible.
In The Sandman, God is referred as “The Presence,” and his existence can be sensed by anyone and everyone. Also, whether God is or is not present himself, his power and domain surround others. The scene of Moses and the burning bush is similar to the portrayal of Hell present in Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. When Etrigan speaks to Dream about the changes in Hell, he says “Things change…in Earth and Hell” (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). Even though God’s presence is not mentioned in this scene, one can assume that God is present by the conversations that Lucifer has with the other fallen angels. For example, when Dream encounters Lucifer, he is told of the further changes that have occurred in Hell. Beelzebub says to Dream “Lucifer [is] indeed no longer sole [monarch of] the [nether regions]…” (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). Lucifer further adds “the Civil war in Hell that ensued tipped the precarious balance of power. We rule in coalition, Azazel, Beelzebub and I” (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). From the surface, it seems the decision of Azazel to challenge Heaven caused a great change in Hell, and power over Hell has formed a co-monarchy. However, in Season of Mists, God shows his presence in the formation and changes occurring in Hell. When Dream returns to Hell, Lucifer proclaims to Dream of his resignation as ruler of Hell. Lucifer says “You know I still wonder how much of it was planned. How much of it He knew in advance. I thought I was rebelling. I thought I was defying his rule. No…I was merely fulfilling another tiny segment of his great and powerful plan.”(“Episode 2,” Gaiman). Lucifer acknowledges that God’s presence existed in his decisions to rebel. “The Presence” not only involves God’s spiritual or physical existence on Earth, but his existence in Hell and through a person’s decisions. For example, Hell is now in an organized structure and it is ruled by three beings rather than one. Next, I will discuss the various adjectives that describe God, and how these adjectives relate to the various actions he takes in Sandman.
Another example of God’s omnipresence is when Gaiman demonstrates how God understands each character’s action towards him. When Remiel disagrees with God’s decision over Hell, God does not react towards Remiel’s upsetting manner. He gives Remiel time to channel his emotions and to recompose himself because God’s angels cannot entirely understand God and his plans for the world. God is understanding and sympathetic towards Lucifer by not stopping him after he resigns as ruler of Hell. God is aware of Lucifer’s thoughts and emotions as an individual. Lastly, God understands Dream when he is indecisive over ownership of Hell, and when he willingly gives the key to Hell to Duma. This demonstrates God as an understanding, logical, and all-mighty being; his prescience.
Some of God’s characteristics in Sandman are vengeful, all-knowing, fair and just, merciful, and omnipotent. In Seasons of Mist, Dream and Lucifer are told by Breschau of his punishment declared upon him from God, and he drones on about his evil deeds during his time in the land of the living. Breschau says “It’s not me that is torturing me. It’s vengeance of the Lord—Did you not hear me?” (“Episode 2,” Gaiman). Breschau claims that God is a vengeful being, and he inflicts punishment on those he seeks to exact his vengeance upon for committing evil deeds. However, this certain characteristic of God seems to be unfamiliar with the other characteristics of God presented in Sandman. The word vengeance is similar to physical punishment inflicted upon another person, and it seems to be a characteristic that disregards order and balance. However, from Breschau’s remark of God, one can say that God can be described as a being that is balanced and judging. Even though Breschau has committed many sins, God does not enact vengeance upon Breschau for his evil deeds. He judges the fate of Breschau’s in the afterlife based on his actions performed on Earth, so Breschau’s sinful acts were equal to his placement in Hell and his tormenting punishment. God does not torture Breschau, nor does he take vengeance upon him. For his evil deeds, Breschau condemns himself to Hell and to the torturous punishment he must endure while imprisoned.
A Biblical example that demonstrates God’s judging characteristic is presented in Cain and Abel. When Cain kills Abel, God is angry with him. “’What have you done?’ Yahweh asked. ‘Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. Now be cursed and banned from the ground that has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood at your hands…whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ So Yahweh put a mark on Cain, so that no one coming across him would kill him” (Genesis 4:10-11 & 15). Even though God places a curse on Cain for murdering Abel, God does not inflict vengeance against Cain for his sinful act. God carries out the act of judgment, using justice and fairness. It may not seem like Cain is receiving a punishment that is fair since God allows him to live. However, God’s decision to curse Cain is a just and fair punishment because Cain has to live with the guilt of murdering his own brother, and he will eventually need to reflect on his sin. Like Breschau, Cain has restricted himself from his homeland and God.
When Lucifer tells Dream his thoughts as ruler of Hell, Lucifer says “You know…I still wonder how much of it was planned. How much of it He knew in advance” (“Episode 2,” Gaiman). From Lucifer’s remark about God, the reader can infer that God is a being who is all-knowing. To add, Lucifer claims that his rebellion seemed to be an event that was expected, and Lucifer’s rebellion upholds the plans of God. Furthermore, with Lucifer quitting as the ruler of Hell, there are no objections from the angels of God and God himself on this decision. This signifies God is all-knowing of Lucifer’s decision. God also is merciful and omnipotent in this scene. Returning back to the example of Cain and Abel, God is merciful towards Cain. Even though Cain murders Abel, God is merciful towards him by allowing Cain to live. His mercy is justified by Cain being the first-born child of Adam and Eve. Also, with placing the mark on Cain, Cain is still guarded and watched over by God. If anyone kills Cain, then the murderer is to suffer punishment from God.
God is omnipotent, and this characteristic is further presented in Season of Mists. When the angel relays God’s message to Dream about Hell, he says “Hell cannot be entrusted to other than those who serve the name directly. It is too important. That myself, and Duma, are to take over Hell.” (“Episode 6”, Gaiman). God does not request from Dream the key or ownership of Hell, he simply claims ownership of Hell. Before Jesus’ resurrection, God constructs the division between Heaven and Hell. This indicates that God is the sole creator and guardian of Hell, which is why Hell is considered important. Also, Jesus traveled to Hell “in the spirit, [and] he went to preach to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). Since Jesus is a part of God, then God has the power to free these spirits from Hell and ascend them into Heaven. This demonstrates that God is omnipotent in creating these places that humankind might not entirely comprehend, and God can free people from torment or misery on Earth and in Hell.
Through these examples of God’s characteristics, God does seem familiar, and he is presented as God who is a judge, just, fair, merciful, omnipotent, and all-knowing. Next we will discuss the depiction of Hell, and how individuals conceive and interact with Hell, and how God plays a role in interacting with Hell.
In Preludes and Nocturnes, Hell is described and depicted as place that is organized, painful, tormenting, and endless. Beelzebub tells Dream that he, Lucifer, and Azazel are the co-rulers of Hell, so power over Hell is not entrusted to one person, but to three figures. The reason for three co-rulers goes back to the fact that Azazel challenged Heaven, so Hell can be considered a place that must maintain a balance of power. Furthermore, in Hell, issues are solved in an orderly fashion. For example, when Dream explains to Lucifer of his stolen helmet, Lucifer summons all the demons of Hell. Dream spots the demon, Choronzon, and Lucifer questions him about the helmet. Choronzon replies “I have broken none of the laws of Hell. If you want your precious back then you must fight me for it” (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). Most readers would assume that Choronzon and Dream will have a physical fight. However, they have a “formal challenge” involving a game (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). This signifies a process and organizational conduct that is implemented in Hell. Also, no one interfered with decisions or the game between Dream and Choronzon, nor did anyone interfere with Lucifer’s decision to punish Choronzon for losing.
Not only is Hell described as an organized place, but it is a place that is physically growing and changing. When Dream and Etrigan pass the wood of suicides, Etrigan says to Dream “But as things change, Lord, they transmute as well…” (“A Hope in Hell,” Gaiman). Etrigan is proposing that with change also comes a form of transformation. Not only is the wood of suicides changing, other parts of Hell are expanding and altering. For example, Lucifer’s palace has physically changed since Dream has last visited Hell. These examples of change indicate that Hell is a place that is physically endless. The depiction of Hell as an endless, painful, tormenting, and altering place is explained more in Season of Mists.
Hell is described as a place that is “an inferno of pain and flame and ice, where every nightmare had come true long since” (“Episode 1,” Gaiman). Residing in Hell are damned souls and inhabitants that are “neither [living, nor dead]” (“Episode 1,” Gaiman). This description relates to the concept of Hell in the afterlife. In Hell, a soul experiences pain and terror from the demons that live in there. In “Episode 4,” Charles explains to Paine his concept of Hell. He says “I think Hell’s something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go” (Gaiman). Charles considers Hell to be a mental creation of humankind, and each person must endure their own version of Hell through an endless cycle of torment. However, Paine says to Charles “I think maybe Hell is a place. But you don’t have to stay anywhere forever.”(“Episode 4,” Gaiman). Paine considers Hell to be an actual place, but you are not confined to that place as punishment. Identifying Paine and Charles concept of Hell on Earth, Hell is a mental creation formed by an individual and humankind. From this creation of Hell, people are placed in a cycle of torment, but a person does not have to reside in earthly Hell forever. A person must continue to reflect on the misdeed, mistake, or sin they committed, like Cain constructing his own Hell for murdering his brother Abel.
God describes Hell as “Heaven’s reflection. It is Heaven’s shadow. They define each other. Reward and Punishment; hope and despair.”(“Episode 6,” Gaiman). Hell is a balance of power, like yin and yang. Hell has a necessary function as a place and concept, and it must maintain the balance of power and order both on earth and in the afterlife.
God’s role in Hell is ruler and creator. Lucifer says “I was merely fulfilling another tiny segment of his great and powerful plan.”(“Episode 4,” Gaiman). Even though, Hell is a tormenting inferno, it is a place that God creates to maintain a balance of power in the afterlife and on Earth. Everything that seems good or bad, is all part of God’s plan as the one, true creator. Remiel relays God’s message to Dream. God states “That myself, Duma, and I are to take over Hell.”(“Episode 6,” Gaiman). Since God is the creator of Hell, God has the role of ruler as well, which is why God claims ownership of Hell from Dream.
Both Remiel and Duma follow the orders of God by being God’s eyes at the banquet in Dream’s kingdom. However, when Remiel relays God’s message to Dream, he questions God’s decision over Hell. Duma remains silent during the entire conversation, which the reader can assume that Duma is still compliant with God’s decision. Remiel says “…this is neither fair nor just. We have done nothing to be cast out. We have never rebelled…” (“Episode 6,” Gaiman). Remiel demonstrates an upsetting behavior towards God. Remiel thinks that God’s decision seems contradictory toward his good nature, but Remiel is opposed towards God’s decision. Duma’s face is covered in tears because he is emotionally upset with the matter, but he is still compliant with God by taking the key of from Dream. When ruling Hell, Duma continues to be compliant towards God. Remiel says “Why do you not speak? Eh? You are no longer the Angel of Silence. Even now another stands in your place in the Silver City…” (“Episode infinity,” Gaiman). Duma continues his role as the Angel of Silence, even with a change of status.
Lucifer acts bitter towards God. He says “I thought I was rebelling. I thought I was defying his rule. No…I was merely fulfilling another tiny segment of his great and powerful plan” (“’Episode 2,” Gaiman). Lucifer is bitter towards God because he feels that all his actions and rebellion were an event foreseen by God and part of God’s plan. Lucifer no longer continues to accomplish God’s plan, and he decides to resign as ruler of Hell.
Dream acts logical and open with God, and he acts submissive to God’s decision over Hell. When Dream says that he has not reached a decision over Hell, Remiel relays God’s message to Dream. Dream listens closely to God’s message, and, even with Remiel’s disagreement over God’s decisions, Dream willingly gives the key to Duma. From this action, the reader is indicated that Dream has already considered and entirely understood God’s claim over Hell, and he is in total agreement with his own decision in giving ownership of Hell to God.
Overall, God’s depiction in The Sandman is similar to Biblical depictions. He is an almighty being that upholds fairness, understanding, patience, forgiveness, and other characteristics related to him, and he is all-knowing. He plays various roles when interacting with other characters, and his interactions influence various events that may seem of minimal importance.
Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman: Season of Mists. Vertigo, 2011. Print.
Gaiman, Neil. The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes. Vertigo, 2010. Print.
The New Jerusalem Bible. Edited by Henry Wansbrough, Doubleday, 1990.