The most fascinating aspect of “The Sandman” is that it shows us the anthropomorphic personifications of things, notions, aspects, and natural forces that have always intrigued us. Who wouldn’t want to hear what Death or Destiny has to say when they have to do things that are not very well appreciated by humans? It is always interesting to hear their justification and understand life from that perspective. One more intriguing aspect of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” is that it creates conflicts where these personified forces come into direct contact with human beings. One such encounter was between a man named Hob Gadling and Lord Morpheus himself. It all started when Death felt that her younger brother needed to have some human interaction to understand his role and his job in a better manner.
Dream meets Death, and both the siblings have a kind of conversation, which, generally, Dream is not accustomed to having. Dream goes about his business very mechanically. He considers mortals not worthy of his association. He treats them as pawns on his chessboard, which might have an effect on his plans, but never on his soul. Death asks Dream to accompany her while she goes about her business. Dream noticed something very peculiar about the way Death dealt with other human beings. She didn’t treat them as mere objects. She didn’t go about her business in a mechanical manner. She knew that the human race didn’t embrace her gift in a very cheerful manner. It always came to them as a shock. And, while Death is an unavoidable part of life, every individual seems to forget that there will come a time when he or she will have to pass to the heavenly abode. Death knew that the least she could do was act kindly with them, give them that warmth that helps them deal with their panic-stricken selves, help them find solace, and make it easier for them to accept the fact that their time on earth had now expired. Seeing his elder sister, Dream was amused. She liked apples and the smell of fresh air. She liked walking barefoot, as she felt that it made you “grounded” (totally intending the pun).
Death marveled at the intricacies of mortal life on earth, whereas Dream looked at them as objects to be scorned at. But Dream couldn’t be completely blamed for having that kind of attitude. His encounters with the mortals were not something that you would term as pleasurable exactly. He had been imprisoned by Roderick Burgess, and all he saw in his eyes was greed and a want for more. His raven, Jessamy, was brutally killed by Alex Burgess, and Dream had started to believe that there was no point in having a conversation or striking a deal with the mortals, whatsoever. The perception he held about humans was very one-dimensional. Though he never intended to harm the waking world, he didn’t even try to understand the miracle called humanity. That’s when Death talks about a man named Hob Gadling, who was the subject of an experiment that Dream was trying to conduct. “The Sandman” takes us back in time, when Death wanted to make her brother understand the real essence of his role on earth.
In 1389, Dream met Hob Gadling, a.k.a. Robert Gadling, for the very first time. Death wanted her little brother to see the mortals on their terms. He was entertaining thoughts of abandoning the realm forever, but Death told him that he always had the option of not treating his job like a mundane affair. She wanted him to build an association with them. She wanted him to witness the fascinating and amusing aspects of human life. They entered the tavern of the White Horse and overheard a conversation of a man expressing his desire that he didn’t ever want to die. His friends tell him that what he is saying is entirely irrational, but the man adamantly puts up the point that just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t mean that he has to do it too. Dream goes over and tells him that if he doesn’t want to die, then in a hundred years, he will come and meet him once again, to see if he has changed his mind. Gadling’s friends laughed and took it as a joke, but Dream meant what he said. He had told Death to not come for Hob Gadling and, in a way, had made him immortal.
Dream and Gadling met again in 1489, and the latter had several questions that he wanted to ask. He wanted to know who this man was, whom he was meeting and how he hadn’t died in 100 years. Dream told him that he was interested in his experiences and would want to see if he had enough of mortal life and was ready to embrace Death. That’s when he gets acquainted with what is going on in Hob Gadling’s mind. He was enjoying every bit of this acquired immortality. He was witnessing changes happening all around him. He was happy that chimneys had come into existence, and there were cloth pieces to wipe one’s nose, which they had to do with the sleeves of their shirt otherwise. Dream is beyond hooked, and is surprised to see that Gadling still wanted to live and had no intention of ending his journey in the mortal realm. Dream once again met him in 1589. Hob was now called Sir Robert Gadlen and had made a fortune for himself. He was enjoying an opulent lifestyle. He was also given the honorary title of Knighthood and once again wanted to live more. In 1689, life had taken a rather adverse turn for Hob Gadling. He had lost his wife, Eleanor, while she was giving birth to their baby. He had lost his land and all his material treasures. Dream thinks that maybe this time, he would say that he no longer wished to live. But once again, Lord Morpheus was surprised and baffled. Hob still wanted to live more. He says that there was still so much that he hadn’t experienced.
In 1789, their meeting was interrupted by Lady Johanna Constantine, but later she figured out that it was a misunderstanding that Hob Gadling and Lord Morpheus were not who she was expecting them to be. In 1889, when Hob met Dream, he made speculation. He told him that Dream knew very well that Hob would never seek Death. If there was any truth in that fact, then one thing was obvious: maybe Dream wasn’t aware of it, but they had become friends and he had started cherishing these centenary meetings as he always got amused by hearing Hob’s perspective on things that were exclusively part of the mortal realm. But Dream was still uptight. He still felt that he didn’t need the companionship of a mortal. He lived in denial because, according to the norms he adhered to, he didn’t consider it worthwhile to indulge in feelings and emotions that made you feel humane. The meeting didn’t end on a good note, and Dream stormed out of the tavern. Hob couldn’t see Dream in 1989, as he was held in captivity by Roderick Burgess. Hob was highly disappointed when Dream couldn’t make it to the meeting, as he didn’t know that he had been captured.
After Dream came out, he knew he had to look for his tools. After his quest was over, he felt purposeless. He wanted to find a purpose beyond his function. The existence of Hob Gadling was evidence of the fact that maybe his purpose and his function didn’t need to be two separate things. His purpose could be an extension of his functions. That is what even Death tries to tell him. Dream met Hob, and he finally accepted that he was, in fact, his friend. Hob made him feel less lonely. He made him realize that vengeance was not as gratifying as he had thought it to be. Hob needed a friend who understood where he came from, who had seen his magical journey, and likewise, Dream needed an ally, a friend by his side. It made him feel that he didn’t have to do everything by himself, and maybe, once in a while, talk to somebody and cherish their company, if not more. Hob was a living and breathing testimony of the fact that there was so much more to life than what Dream thought there was. He might have won the world and enjoyed all the things that money had to offer, but still, he would restlessly wait for his friend to turn up once every 100 years. Hob knew that the miracles of life, of humanity, were more fascinating than the magic of power. There was a certain power in human emotions. There was a pleasure that could be derived from human relationships. Morpheus became less self-centered as a result of Hob’s influence. For once, he forced him to look at life from another point of view. Dream came to know about things and perspectives that he never knew existed. He was intrigued by seeing that what Hob felt was in so much contrast to what he believed in, and that was by far the most beautiful aspect of their relationship. There was always room for different opinions. Dream realized that it was indeed a privilege to be around mortals, as otherwise, he would have never experienced what he did in the company of his friend, Hob Gadling.