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Neil Gaiman is on record saying the people who captured Morpheus in issue #1 (i.e. Roderick Burgess and the Order of the Ancient Mysteries) are

completely rubbish, English, sort of Crowley-esque, hedge magicians

Do they deserve this evaluation, though? For one thing, the were able to capture Morpheus. Granted, he was very weak, but then it did require some preparation on their part to do so.

Roderick Burgess was also called the Daemon King; Alex Burgess states that he had seen things that were supposedly real magic; it's mentioned once (in Kindly Ones, if memory serves) that Aleister Crowley had admitted Roderick Burgess was the best of them. It's also postulated that he was able to summon the four winds to do his bidding (and that Alex was nothing like his father in that regard). Not to mention, of course, that Roderick was able to kill Sykes once he'd lost his protection amulet.

My point is, although we don't know any of their achievements, evidence points that they were real, qualified magicians, not to the opposite. What makes Neil Gaiman say so?

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As already linked, Neil Gaiman—the guy who created the series and created its backstory—is of the opinion that these guys are complete rubbish. Your rebuttal, as far as I can make out, is essentially "nuh-uh".

I mean, there's a lot of intellectual firepower and counterexamples to support your denial.

In which case,

This question already has an answer here:
The author of a literary work disagrees with critics about meaning—who's right? 6 answers

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But, in this case, Gaiman's interpretation is completely supported by the story. There's real magic in this universe and these people have access to some of the real stuff, but they're dilettantes and have no real idea what they're doing. They capture the wrong spirit and don't know what to do with it; they are protected by magic talismans they can't keep jaded lovers from stealing; they can't watch or test one another's protection except by continually trying the one or two spells they know over and over and over. They're incompetent know-nothing try-hards at every point we encounter them, and vastly below the scale of Thessaly and other sorcerers that the story takes seriously.

To the extent that sure-they-captured-the-wrong-one and sure-he-was-weak-at-the-time, but still-they-captured-one-so-they're-cool can be taken seriously, well, go back and give the full context of Gaiman's quote:

I point out it's rather hard to talk about a prequel in a story the first episode of which takes place 9 billion years ago and which carries on up to now and which many episodes of which are deep in the past but Sandman #1 begins with Morpheus Lord of Dreams being captured by a bunch of completely rubbish English sort of Crowleyesque hedge magicians... and he is captured. He is summoned. He is captured. He is dressed for war and captured incredibly easily and we never know why.

And you say

My point is, although we don't know any of their achievements, evidence points that they were real, qualified magicians, not to the opposite.

And again the evidence points the other way. There's no great narrative tension or mystery if the Lord of Dreams is captured incredibly easily by the Great Magi Lords of Creation. The irony is the point and is underscored every time we meet these guys.

Mr Crown was ungenerous. Crowley & co. weren't charlatans so much as sexual deviants (/adventurers/etc.) who used showmanship for a patina of respectability and a draw for new recruits. Gaiman engages, shows they were beginning to grok some True Mysteries, but shows that they were at the bottom end of the totem pole as a way of opening up his new series.

Making them skillful or wise magicians makes less sense and opens up plotholes regarding their inability to do anything with Morpheus and their unimportance to the rest of the narrative.

  • I see your point here with your last sentence. I must agree there. Good answer! – Gallifreyan Jun 23 '18 at 7:21
  • Just a point - if we take a bit greater scope of the Vertigo multiverse, then we will know that Crowley was quite competent magician able to summon demons and create golems. Although not too competent - in "Constantine - Hellblazer" it is shown, that he spent last 50+ years hiding from demon that he has made pact with, by living as a homeless man within big protective circle. – Yasskier Jul 5 '18 at 4:54
  • Based on @Gallifreyan's answers elsewhere, I learned that Gaiman was hugely influenced by Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and certainly intended some continuity with his use of Cain and Abel as overseers of dreams' secrets and mysteries. I wouldn't be so certain that Gaiman or Constantine's writers were as careful regarding continuity between their uses of Crowley, though. – lly Jul 5 '18 at 14:09
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Gaiman is speaking in relative terms. Burgess may have some ability, but compared to whom? Crowley, in real life, was a charlatan. In his eyes, someone who could call up a stiff breeze on a summer day would seem like a true mage. For all we know, reports of the "feats" of these wizards are the result of the drugs they often took rather than true magick.

The ritual that caught Morpheus, remember, went to completion in spite of Burgess, not because of him. He must have stumbled across the right spell and used it at the right time. If he had succeeded in summoning Death and she resisted, the backlash might have killed him (ironically bringing Death anyway).

One of the basic rules of magic is, don't call up what you can't put down. A true mage would have done something, anything, with Morpheus, not leave him in a bubble. Burgess didn't know what he had or what to do with it once he had it.

How did Burgess manage to kill Sykes? He had several years to stumble across another spell, one that actually worked. It may even be possible that some other entity wanted revenge on Sykes, such as the original owner of the amulet, and Burgess took credit for someone else's spell. That's what a "rubbish" wizard would do.

Finally, consider the real players in this universe: the Endless, the Furies, superheroes, various gods, and all their retinues. Next to them, a dilettante in a country manor is beneath notice.

  • I respectfully disagree with your last three paragraphs. Burgess had a plan - to trap Death, and allow everyone to live forever. Sure, that didn't work out, and it's hinted that death would keep coming for people even if its avatar is trapped. Regarding your second paragraph, it's very strongly implied that Burgess knew very well the spell needed to kill Sykes - except he couldn't because Sykes had Beelzebub's amulet. Once he'd lost it, Burgess was successful. – Gallifreyan Aug 8 '17 at 18:19
  • And your last paragraph - Burgess would be beneath notice 9 out of 10, but this time he was able to trap one of the Endless, even though Morpheus was at his weakest then. Sure he trapped the wrong Endless, but he trapped one, and he clearly wasn't blindly poking with his spell, and knew very well that it would summon an Endless. – Gallifreyan Aug 8 '17 at 18:22
  • This answer gibes with my take on that narrative, even though it's been quite a while since my last read. Constantine, now that's a magician. (I seem to recall Constantine mentoring Tim Hunter in The Books of Magic, and pwning the Devil in the Ennis Hellblazer run.) – DukeZhou Aug 8 '17 at 20:48
  • @Gallifreyan We will have to agree to disagree. The cited page shows a potential correlation but not causation. Gaiman left deliberate holes in #1, we can't know about this one. – Ralph Crown Aug 8 '17 at 20:54

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