In my experience, Neil Gaiman's understanding of mythology and literature is exceptionally profound, and he is able to render stories with mythological resonance surpassing the work of most of his contemporaries, particularly in the groundbreaking Sandman series.

His choice of Morpheus comes from Ovid, but I'm wondering if Heine's famous poem "Morphine" was an influence also.

It might just be coincidence in the rendering of two great artists, but where I didn't discover Heine until later in life, Gaiman strikes me as someone who probably read him in high school.

A notable element of the Sandman character is his perpetual, existential angst.

There’s a mirror likeness between the two
Bright, youthfully-shaped figures, though
One’s paler than the other and more austere,
I might even say more perfect, more distinguished,
Than the one who’d take me confidingly in his arms –
How soft then, loving, his smile, how blessed his glance!
Then it might well have been, that his wreath
Of white poppies touched my forehead, at times,
Drove the pain from my mind with its strange scent.
But all that’s transient. I can only, now, be well,
When the other one, so serious and pale,
The older brother, lowers his dark torch. –
Sleep is good: and Death is better, yet
Surely never to have been born is best.
[Source: Allpoetry.com]

  • 2
    I didn't read Heine, but I have to disagree that Morpheus is in a state of "existential angst". Maybe sometimes, but not always. He doesn't question his being, neither does he reject his duties, poor guy just has a broken heart... 5 times broken. Also, I ctrl-f'd here, here, here... Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 10:34
  • 3
    ...here, here, and here for the word "heine", and there was nothing, which means Gaiman himself does not list Heine among his influences (while he does list some authors he read in high school) Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 10:36
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan I guess it's just a factor of "great minds work alike" reL Gaiman and Heine. I ran into Gaiman once in Cambridge, MA, where he has been known to sometimes lurk, but didn't think to ask. Missed opportunity. :(
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 21:46
  • You might not want to accept that soon, though I appreciate it! Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 20:56
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan If someone can make the case that Heine was an influence, I'll likely switch the acceptance, but your answer is well researched and excellent. (Also, I accept your correction that the state of existential angst is not present throughout the entire series, and is mainly a factor in the initial stories.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


There is no indication in various sources found online that Gaiman was influenced by Heinrich Heine.

In short, these are the authors Gaiman said he was influenced by:

  • Michail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita

    I loved it when I read it, yes;1

  • Mary Shelley

    He wrote an essay titled Mary Shelley: My Hero

  • J. R. R. Tolkien (duh)

    I came to the conclusion that Lord of the Rings was, most probably, the best book that ever could be written [...] I wanted to write The Lord of the Rings.2

  • C. S. Lewis

    C. S. Lewis was the first writer to make me aware that somebody was writing the book I was reading — these wonderful parenthetical asides to the reader. I would think: “When I am a writer, I shall do parenthetical asides. And footnotes. There will be footnotes. I wonder how you do them? And italics. How do you make italics happen?”3

    C. S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story.2

  • P[amela] L. Travers

    P. L. (Pamela) Travers, who wrote the Mary Poppins books, made me want to tell stories like that. Ones that seemed like they had existed forever, and were true in a way that real things that had actually happened could never be.3

  • G. K. Chesterton

    Chesterton was important — as important to me in his way as C.S. Lewis had been.2

    Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight... ibid

  • Alan Moore

    And [Swamp Thing #28, written by Moore] was the final straw; what was left of my resistance crumbled. I proceeded to make regular and frequent visits to London's Forbidden Planet shop to buy comics...4

  • H. P. Lovecraft

    The odd thing is that the finest gift from Lovecraft was less the Cthulhupoid stuff and more some amazing pointers at the things that he was influenced by: one of the Granada paperback reprints, Dagon I think, all of which I read when I was eleven or twelve at my grandmother’s house in Southsea, contained his essay on Supernatural Horror in Literature and it was like being handed a road map for where I should be reading and what I should be looking for.5

  • Stephen King

    I think the most important thing I learned from Stephen King I learned as a teenager, reading King’s book of essays on horror and on writing, Danse Macabre. In there he points out that if you just write a page a day, just 300 words, at the end of a year you’d have a novel. It was immensely reassuring – suddenly something huge and impossible became strangely easy. 6

  • Kurt Vonnegut

    Who on Earth could read a Vonnegut book and think that he was a grandfatherly bundle of warm fuzzy happiness? I mean, I read Vonnegut first as a ten year old, and it was shocking because he could joke in the face of such blackness and bleakness, and I’d never seen an author do that before. Everything was pointless, except, possibly, a few moments of love snatched from the darkness, a few moments in which we connect, or fail to.7

  • Rudyard Kipling

    I definitely don’t write like Kipling but he was a literary hero as a kid. 8

  • Edgar Allan Poe

    Poe isn’t for everyone. He’s too heady a draught for that. He may not be for you. But there are secrets to appreciating Poe, and I shall let you in on one of the most important ones: read him aloud.9

  • Ray Bradbury

    I wanted to write about Ray Bradbury. I wanted to write about him in the way that he wrote about Poe in ‘Usher II’ — a way that drove me to Poe.10

  • Others

    There were a handful of other authors who made me want to be a writer. And I think what they all had in common was that they made it look like fun. G. K. Chesterton, who delighted in painting pictures in sentences, like a child let loose with a paint box. Roger Zelazny, who reshaped myth and magic into science fiction. Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin (although she intimidated me) and Hope Mirrlees, who only wrote one good book, “Lud-in-the-Mist.” But if you write a book that good you do not need to do it again.3

Did I say short? Must have slipped.

But in short, Gaiman doesn't mention Heine as his influence.

I think the problem is in the premise of your question: Morpheus is not in the state of "perpetual, existential angst".

In the first volume Preludes and Nocturnes there are some hints that Morpheus is having some sort of existential crisis, but in the end it gets resolved:

My sister has a function to perform, even as I do. The Endless have their responsibilities.
I have responsibilities.
I walk by her side, and the darkness lifts from my soul.
I walk with her, and I hear the gentle beating of mighty wings...

There is much to do in my kingdom. Much to restore. Much to create.
But that can wait...
I have found the solace I sought, though not in the way I imagined.
From dreams I conjure a handful of yellow grain...
I throw the grain into the air.
And I hear it.
the sound of wings...

The solace in this case would be the realisation that the purpose of his existence is his duties - and indeed, throughout later volumes he gets into all sorts of trouble precisely because he takes his duties way too seriously. He is the most responsible of all of the Endless, save perhaps Death (why not Destiny? That guy doesn't do anything, he just hangs around with his book!).

In fact, his responsibilities is what (spoilers!)

got him killed. If it wasn't for responsibilities, he could've fought the Furies, and possibly even defeated them while in the Dreaming. But taking into account the damage to the Dreaming and the dreamers, he chose to give up his existence to allow the next aspect of Dream to take his place.

Overall, no, Morpheus is not in state of existential crisis, and no, Gaiman (for all we know) wasn't influenced by Heine.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.