Mary Overton's Reviews > The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

The Sandman, Vol. 9 by Neil Gaiman
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May 24, 2009

Read in May, 2009

'The Kindly Ones' is the longest, most complicated volume of Sandman's saga, as well as the story's climax. Gaiman knits together his characters and 'yarns' to create an inevitable destiny for Morpheus. He who is Endless must incorporate ending into his story. He who is changeless must integrate change into his being. He who is shadow must face the shadow's shadow. He who is Dream must awaken. Early on, he explains why he creates nightmares: 'Imagine that you woke in the night and rose, and seemed to see before you another person whom slowly you perceived to be yourself. Someone had entered in the night and placed a mirror in your sleeping place, made from a black metal. You had been frightened only of your reflection. But then the reflection slowly raised one hand, while your own hand stayed still...' (Part I, 14)

It is appropriate that the Maiden/Mother/Crone trio of witches plays a significant role. They first appeared in volume 1 as sybils granting oracular clues to Dream's 3 questions about identity. Here they take on shifting, bloodthirsty aspects of the many triple goddesses. Did brother Destruction abandon his realm because he did not want to be responsible for the heartlessness of these dark ladies who create and destroy? Or do the ladies act so terribly because Destruction gave up any effort at control?

So many names for triads of immortal females: the Roman Furies were originally the Greek the Erinyes (the angry ones, born from the blood of a castrated Titan) and their flip side the Eumenides (the gracious ones). There were the gorgons of which Medusa is the best remembered. The three Fates were Moirae to the Greeks, Parcae to the Romans, and Norns to the Norse. The Greek Charites and the Roman Gratiae were the three Graces. Even Allah, in his pre-Mohammad pagan days, had three goddess daughters.

Gaiman calls his Maiden/Mother/Crone triptych 'The Kindly Ones,' and it is meant ironically, euphemistically, as perhaps the name Eumenides was intended in Greek legends. In this story, a deluded and demented mortal asks the three witches, 'Are you going to hurt me?' 'Hurt you?' responds the crone as if it is the most stupid question possible. 'Of course we're going to hurt you. Everybody gets hurt.' Then she tells gleeful riddles about destiny. 'Those who ask don't get. And those who don't ask don't want.' (Part II, 15-16)

Of course the Ladies have their own side to the story. In the marvelous opening to Part I, they are served a cozy English tea while they speculate on the Mother's new 'knitting project' made from yarn spun by the sexy Maiden. 'He could be a poet in a lovely scarf, perhaps. Or a fisherman in his special woolly sweater. Or a hunter in his nice thick socks.' (Part I, 1) The crone gripes, 'It's not like anyone notices what we do. Not like anyone cares. And they're always complaining: they don't like the fit of it; too loose - too tight - too different - too much like everyone else's.... It's never what they want, and if we give them what they think they want they like it less than ever. 'I never thought it would be like this.' 'Why can't it be like the one I had before?' I don't know why we bother.' (2)
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