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When The Sandman premieres Aug. 5 on Netflix, viewers around the world will get to experience Neil Gaiman's acclaimed dark fantasy story in a new form. Some of those viewers will have already read The Sandman in comic form, while others will be entering the world of the Dreaming for the first time.
If you're in the latter group, you're in for a real treat — soon, you'll understand firsthand why characters like Dream and Death have become beloved figures in pop culture over the years. But you may also find yourself overwhelmed by the plethora of characters and concepts involved in The Sandman. Allow us to help!
Below, watch an exclusive video from Netflix in which Gaiman, showrunner Allan Heinberg, and cast members like Tom Sturridge (Dream), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Death), Patton Oswalt (Matthew the Raven), and more explain the basic set-up of The Sandman.
Below that, you can find a glossary of important terms and names from The Sandman. This is not a comprehensive list, as some of the world-building is done through the unfolding of the story. But this list should help you keep track of the key concepts or remember them if it's been a while since you've read the comic.
Netflix Dream (Tom Sturridge) is not happy with the state of his castle in 'The Sadnman'
Dream: The protagonist of The Sandman is known by many names. First, there's the one in the title, though that isn't used all that much by other characters within the story. His official title is Dream, one of the Endless (see below) tasked with looking after lesser mortals' needs for dreams and stories. He is also commonly called Morpheus (sound familiar? The Sandman was a big comic in the '90s, and those legendary nerds the Wachowskis used him as a reference for Laurence Fishburne's character of the same name in The Matrix) and sometimes the Oneiromancer.
The Endless: Dream and his six siblings are the anthropomorphic personifications of universal concepts. Despite their cosmic importance, they also bicker and bond like a real family. Besides Dream, we'll also see Death, Desire (Mason Alexander Park), and Despair (Donna Preston) in season 1. We'll have to wait for future seasons to meet Destiny, Delirium, and Destruction (who's a bit of a prodigal anyway).
The Dreaming: This is Dream's realm, where all mortals go when we go to sleep. It is the cosmic foundry of all stories, a library containing not just every book ever written, but every book ever dreamed of (from Charles Dickens' final unfinished novel to that screenplay you've been working on in your free time). The Dreaming has two gates — one of horn and one of ivory, built from the bones of ancient gods that picked a fight with Dream eons ago — and is usually guarded by three gatekeepers: a wyvern, a griffin, and a hippogriff. Dream's palace is particularly magnificent, but The Sandman opens with the king of dreams trapped in the mortal world, where he's been held captive for decades. When he returns, he finds his realm looking a bit worse for wear.
The helm, the ruby, the sand: These artifacts are Dream's badges of office, and his first priority upon being freed from imprisonment is to locate where they've ended up. The bag of dream sand can put people to sleep or manipulate their dreams; in the wrong hands, it's like an extremely potent drug. The helm (shaped to resemble the gas mask worn by DC Comics' original superhero who went by the name of the Sandman) offers powerful protection, and Dream feels naked without it. The ruby contains much of Dream's power and can make dreams real.
Liam Daniel/Netflix Dream (Tom Sturridge) reunited with his magical helm and bag of dream sand in 'The Sandman'
Netflix John Dee (David Thewlis) is up to no good with a magical ruby in 'The Sandman'
Hell: The Dreaming is just one of many dimensions in the world of The Sandman. Another is Hell itself, ruled by Lucifer Morningstar (Gwendoline Christie). Gaiman's conception of the devil leans into the "fallen angel" aspect. Once the brightest and most powerful of God's servants, Lucifer is now ruler of Hell, which makes that realm a particularly dangerous place — since one would find themselves at the mercy of one of the most powerful beings in existence.
Nightmare: Aside from Dream, the Dreaming is populated by living dreams — the people you meet when you close your eyes! But some of them are nightmares, like the Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook). These are particularly nasty dreams who are in charge of scaring mortals or teaching them something. They can be quite frightening, but thankfully they can't hurt us in the real world... right? Hopefully, none of them ever escape the Dreaming!
Raven: Dream likes to be accompanied by a talking raven who acts as a familiar, adviser, companion, and even just someone to talk to. Oswalt's Matthew is a recently-deceased human who is now the latest to take this role, and his salt-of-the-earth humor is a much-needed balance to Dream's doom and gloom. Way back when, Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) was the very first raven before graduating to librarian.