The Sandman, a fantasy series from Netflix, opens with a small section of information about its protagonist, Morpheus, the King of Dreams, which is considerably more than comics fans received when the Neil Gaimans Sandman series was first released in 1988. Both versions leave a lot for the viewer to learn over time, as the scope changes from the personal to the cosmic.
Viewers who like the kind of narrative that baits a hook in episode 1 and keeps reeling it in until episode 10 should just dive into the show without explanation. Though the first season of The Sandman covers only the first two graphic novels out of ten (not counting later series spinoffs and sequels), it may take years for Netflix to unravel all of the mysteries laid out in the opening season.
For those who find this type of storytelling irritating, though those who aren't familiar with the comics and don't want to spend the first season pondering: Who are these people, why are they like this, and what are they referencing? This handy guide to the Sandman cosmos and its most important concepts and characters might be useful.
Who is Dream?
Dream is a universal force that operates and embodies the world of dreams, as is played by Tom Sturridge in the Netflix adaptation. Dream is a recurring character that is also a concept and a fundamental force of the universe. Through the Sandman series, other races, species, and cultures, it has the ability to create and modify dreams and nightmares, which are also often embodied as immortal beings, known as the Dreaming.
Mortals include not only humans, but as the comics series shows, animals, aliens, and anything else sentient do sometimes visit the Dreaming when they dream, or they may remain at home and have dreams visit them. It is the Dreams' responsibility to keep the world of dreams in check and in balance. What does that mean? We learn early in the series, when he is unable to do so for a while, and things get awry.
What are Dreams powers?
He can do anything that falls under his purview as long as it fits within the narrative. He can construct independent, sapient beings from scratch, alter them however he pleases, and destroy them at will. He can interpret people's ideas, and add things to them. In a narrative that is fundamentally about storytelling, that's pretty powerful.
Who are Dreams siblings?
Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) asks if he might help his siblings in a present crisis, and he dismisses her, claiming that they have their own realms to watch to. (Which is true, but also, Dream is extremely proud and stubborn, and he refuses to admit he needs help.)
Destiny, Death, Desire, Delirium, and a sixth of Dreams siblings appear to be immortal like themselves, often matching their personalities in terms of humour. Delirium, who does not appear in season 1, is a spooky creature who has never been found in the comics. (She used to be Delight when the universe was much younger, but she never learned much about her.)
Each of the Endless has their own realms that they can represent, and each of them has broad powers over their name concept, whether that be the ability to wander through the minds of the insane, or the responsibility of guiding the dead on to whatever comes next for them. Different Endless feel differently about their relationship with the beings that fall under their portfolio, with Dream acting more like an impartial god over dreamers, while Death treats the dead as an intermediary between old friends and young children needing guidance.
Who is the Prodigal, the seventh Endless?
The Sandman's version was kept to a minimum for a long time, so consider this a spoiler for Season 3 or 4 or 5, depending on whether the series continues or whether or not the series skips Sandman's many small side stories to focus on Dream's journey. Destruction is eventually revealed to be an Endless who eventually went on a happy walkabout, wandering the universe. This raises the question of whether the Endless are really necessary as conscious, active entities, and
The Destructions arc certainly raises doubts about how important the Endless are and whether they truly have a purpose. However, the comics series never fully investigates these concerns, since it is so focused on Dream, and Dream himself has far greater difficulties than existentialist self-exploration.
Who gave Dream his powers?Whos his boss?
The Endless, as shown in the comics, simply became a living creature for the first time. They are fundamental forces as much as they are humans, so they appear to have been created by anyone, and they do not answer to anyone. Apart from creating servants and bargaining with other entities, they arent part of anyone elses hierarchy, which is critical in a cosmos this crowded and overloaded with other immortals.
If so, why does Dream have magical powers, where did he obtain them?
The Netflix series does not explain this in detail, but rather, Dream invested a lot of his own power in creating tools that would more efficiently allow him to channel and shape the Dreaming. When hes weak after being shut off from his realm and his duties for the majority of a century, he wants them back in order to reassert his authority to a wide range of interested parties.
Is there a God in the Sandman mythos?
The Sandman world is understood to include many pantheons, including the Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods, who have passed into myth and legend, and who have stories as part of his kingdom. Devil is real (and played by Gwendoline Christie), with a significant role to play in season 1.
Is it true that Lucifer was dragged out of the Judeo-Christian heaven by the Judeo-Christian God? That's entirely up to interpretation. In the Sandman comics series, there are certainly traditional angels that serve and worship a God whos overtly present and powerful, but they don't have much to do with the Dreams plot, and they're far more an over-there-somewhere narrative.
Who else is a significant power in Sandman?
The Sandman universe's main beliefs is that all stories are true and correct, in the Dreaming, if not in reality, and in the mind, if not in mortal history. This is why the Sandman comic includes (very modestly) DC characters like Matthew the Raven (originally a human villain in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, though the Netflix series removes that backstory), and the hero Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman.
Sandman is a multi-mythic crossover narrative that includes mythic figures such as the Fates (who Dream seeks for information on his stolen gear), the muse Calliope, and the legendary hero Orpheus. They share the page with real people such as William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Robespierre, and America's last Emperor, Joshua Norton.
There are quite a few other power actors, including the gods, the Faerie Court (as seen in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream, with Titania, Oberon, and Puck), and anthropomorphic representations of Order and Chaos. Again, expect anyone who plays prominently in myth to be welcome in a Sandman story.
Who is the Corinthian?
The Corinthian is a rogue nightmare who saw the Sandman story as an opportunity to escape the mortal world. He is a useful example of how Morpheus creates dreams and nightmares who are also humans, but he doesnt care much about their individual lives or desires; he seems to treat them as artworks of a sort, and the Corinthian is far more willing to accept his responsibilities than his ones.
Doesnt that make Dream a jerk?
Dream is a fascinating character. He can be maudlin and mopey, vain and stuffy, distant and superior, or just indifferent to other peoples suffering. His actions are sometimes difficult to discern because he is so inhuman. Thats by design: He is, after all, the manifestation of stories as much as a person.
Just remember that in Sandman season 1, he's just off a long, frustrating trauma, during which he was as helpless as he was ever in his existence. He can't confide in them, because the only people he has to talk to are his family, who are a difficult group at best.
What else do I need to know?
When you read or watch Sandman, you'll find yourself in the realm of the mythic. Most stories are more about capturing an emotion or illustrating a concept than about ensuring that every last detail adds up.