Sometimes when you fall, you fly: thoughts on letting go

Image from ign.com

I’ve been planning for a time to post about Neil Gaiman’s graphic-novel series The Sandman. I consider it not just a classic of fantasy and of “comics and sequential art,” but a classic of late 20th-century English-language literature. When I’m able to sum up the scope of this collection of work in one brief blog entry, it will follow. Lately, though, this episode has been on my mind. It deals with letting go.

Dream is the lord of a world called the Dreaming. Over the years Dream acquired other names: Morpheus, the Dream King, the Prince of Stories, and of course The Sandman. Dream’s realm is where we mortals go when we sleep. Occasionally he appears to us there: more often, though, he monitors and shapes our dreams.

Most stories in The Sandman fit within multi-part story arcs. A few are free-standing, which serve as backstories and to advance the mythos of Dream and his siblings, known as The Endless. This story, “Fear Of Falling,” is one of those.

Todd Faber is the writer and director of an off-Broadway play.  Things aren’t going well. He’s afraid of the play’s possible failure, yet is also anxious about the demands of its possible success.  Todd is on the verge of pulling the plug and cancelling the production.

At home, asleep, in his dreams Todd finds himself climbing to meet Dream. This is unusual, because Todd is afraid of heights. He tells Dream the story of how these terrors stemmed from a childhood nightmare. Todd grew up believing, like many of us, that if you dream of falling and you actually hit the ground in your dream, you will die in real life. In the childhood dream, he was trapped in a house with three witches. He managed to escape and climb to the roof of the house, but the roof shifted beneath him… and he falls. Todd (the child) was able to escape from the falling dream, but not to wake himself up. Aware, but immobile.

“I didn’t dare go back to the dream: I’d die. But I didn’t know how to wake myself up. I tried to scream, hoping I’d wake someone up who’d come and wake me up. I tried to thrash about. It was the longest, scariest time I’ve ever spent, trapped in my head, in the dark. And eventually, somehow, I did manage to open my eyes. I was soaked in sweat, and I started crying, partly because I hadn’t died and partly because I was alive.”

Dream tells Todd, “It is sometimes a mistake to climb. It is always a mistake never even to make the attempt. If you do not climb you will not fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fall, that hard to fall?”

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Sometimes we must let go of things in life, fall away from them, do without their support. Some are things that offer us genuine security, and some are “truths” we comfort ourselves with. Both are supports that help us climb to the place we are. And either way, letting go is hard. To fall is terrifying. And we can end up like Todd as a kid, relieved to survive the letting go but wondering if it’s worth going on without that which had supported us. “Fear of Falling” is about keeping on going when fear tells us to stop, because sometimes we fly.

More on The Sandman coming soon.

Page images from comicoo.com.

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