Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Neil Gaiman's Lucifer; Reconsidering Milton's Satan

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Neil Gaiman's Lucifer; Reconsidering Milton's Satan

Article excerpt

Neil Gaiman is a prolific and adaptable writer, producing novels for both adults and children, writing screenplays for film and television, and continuing to work in comics (Gaiman). Religious topics are a recurring motif in many of his books; American Gods (Gaiman 2004) explores what happens to deities after their believers disappear; Anansi Boys (Gaiman 2005) features one of the deities from American Gods and his two sons; the characters in Neverwhere (Gaiman 2003) are inspired by the London Tube stations, including the Angel Islington, who lives in London Below; and Good Omens (Gaiman and Pratchett 1990), co-written with Terry Prachett, is a satirical retelling of The Omen (1976) and the apocalypse. Before most of these, Gaiman wrote The Sandman, a comic (or graphic novel) which ran for seventy-six issues, from 1989 to 1996; it exhibits a similar interest in religious themes and ideas.

Gaiman's influences are various. He describes himself as a precocious and copious reader as a child and young man (Wagner, Golden, and Bissette 2008, 451-69). In writing Sandman, Gaiman drew on the "rich literary traditions of (primarily) British authors whose work challenged the reader by treating them as intellectual equals rather than patronizing the readership as does some popular culture ... Gaiman's work reflects the literary tradition in that the characters are more fully developed and the plots are rife with meaning and symbolism" (Murphy 2006, 14). The breadth of literature that influenced Gaiman was noted in the introduction to the last volume of the collected Sandman. Mikal Gilmore wrote;

Gaiman was doing something more than simply producing good comics stories on a monthly basis; he was also creating a work that aspired to stand as genuine, full-fledged mythology ... But with Sandman, Gaiman aimed to use a comics-based mythos to expand on, interact with, and deepen classical legends of mythology and popular history. On one hand, this approach might seem like merely another clever postmodern ruse, taking old Greek and Norse myths, European and Asian and Islamic folk tales, plus scenarios from Dante, Blake, Milton, and Dore, and mixing them with 20th-century comics and horror elements. Still, Gaiman made it all work. (Gilmore 1997,9)

Analyzing all these different sources goes well beyond the scope of a short article. Rather, I intend to focus on Gaiman's intertextual dialogue with Milton and, to a lesser extent, Dante. Some of the Sandman mythos derives from a desire to maintain continuity with the DC comics universe (Bender 1999, 73, 95, 99-100, 104, and so on), but at least in relation to Lucifer, Satan, and Hell, Gaiman creates a mythological world influenced by Jewish traditions. This is especially apparent in issues 21 through 28, collected into volume four, Season of Mists (Gaiman 1992). In this set of stories, Gaiman explores the nature of Hell and Lucifer, offering a dramatically different interpretation than is found in traditional Christian stories, especially Milton's Paradise Lost.

Before delving into Season of Mists, I will briefly describe the Sandman universe. (2) Gaiman imagines seven siblings, the Endless, who have existed from the beginning of time; Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium (formerly Delight), and Destruction. The series focuses mainly on Dream; of the other siblings, Death appears most frequently. Dream (sometimes addressed as Morpheus or Onieros or other names), is the lord of dreams. He is able to range through people's dreams or nightmares as well as interact with people in the material world. But he is strongest at his home, his castle in the heart of the dreaming. There, he is assisted by various other characters. Eve, Cain, and Abel also reside near Dream's castle.

The series begins with Dream having been trapped on Earth by a magician who steals his emblems of office. After seventy-two years, Dream escapes, punishes the magician's son, and starts trying to regain his treasures; a helmet, a bag of sand, and a ruby. …

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