As a fan girl. I faced a great dilemma: to change my Netflix icon to Mathew or Lucifer from Sandman. I chose Lucifer. We return to my review of the Sandman after a blogging break (what can I say? Graduate school sucks). The second arc is episodes 6-10, which you technically don’t even have to see the first part of the series to be able to enjoy. However, I am skipping to the Episode 11, because that had much more I wanted to analyze.
A surprise episode that dropped after the rest of the season. Episode 11 is two short stories—“A Thousand Cats Dreaming” and “Calliope” The cat story is animated, and the story of local cats who come to listen to a Siamese who is travelling the world to speak to cats. After her kittens were killed by an uncaring owner (I mean, he could have dropped them off at a shelter, throwing kittens in the river is just cruel) the Siamese seeks to understand why the world is the way it is for cats.
In her dreams she travels to see the King of Dreams (in a pretty nice epic quest) who tells her the power of dreams. Long ago, cats ruled humans, and were giants. But humans all together dreamed of a different world, and through the power of dreams changed to the way it is today, with cats small and domesticated. The only way to change it back is for cats to dream the same dream. The Siamese takes that up as her cause, and wanders the world to tell cats to dream. A small kitten takes the lesson to heart,, and we close to see a cute kitten hunting as she sleeps.
The whole story reminds me of how you have a cat you love, and then see them play with their food. Which makes you realize your pet is far more complicated an animal than you perceive them to be. They are on thing with you, another thing out in the backyard.
The second short story Calliope follows the same basic arc as the comic but with a lot of changes. Richard Madoc is an author who wrote a stunning debut—and now finds himself with writer’s block. He makes a bargain with an old writer, Erasmus Fry, for the muse Calliope. Fry had trapped the goddess by burning her scroll 50 years ago, and now passes her on to Madoc. Fry’s last words to Madoc when they part are chilling—the idea the Calliope is not human, merely a thing meant to serve men like them– “They say the Muses must be wooed, but I found it best to take by force.”
Madoc returns to writing, only to find the block still there. I originally was going to write a rant about how stupid staring at a blank computer screen and going on social media is for a writer and everything he could have done instead, but nixed it. I will just say his writer’s block is his own damn fault. There are plenty of resources and strategies out there that may not have lead to him writing Shakespeare, but he would have been able to get a book at least started. Madoc does try to woo Calliope first with gifts of pretty things, but she remains firm: free her, and then she will give him the inspiration he needs. A call from his agent shows how backed into a corner Madoc is, so he turns to Fry’s strategy.
We don’t see the attack, for which I am grateful. Rape is over depicted in media today. The years pass, and Madoc rises in prominence as his books are well received, and he deflects Calliope’s demands to free her. Calliope, desperate, reaches out to the Hekate, only to be told her last hope is Morpheus—who is himself imprisoned. They also did not have an amicable parting. When Calliope sees a headline that the sleeping sickness has passed, she seizes an opportunity to reach out to Morpheus for help.
Morpheus visits Madoc in his dreams to demand Calliope’s release. Madoc refuses, claims he needs her for ideas. To which Dream ominously respond “Ideas you shall have.” (When I read the comic I knew exactly what he was going to do.) Later, at a reading, Madoc sees Dream in audience, and is filled with ideas. So many he leaves, and writes in his own blood because he has no paper. Two fans (clearly seeing him as having a psychotic episode) offer to bring him to the hospital. Madoc tells one to release the woman in his house, and tell her she can go free. Upon arriving, she finds only Fry’s favorite book in Calliope’s prison. Madoc is talking about Calliope without naming her, then eventually realizes he doesn’t remember what he is talking about The story closes with a dialogue between Calliope and Morpheus. Calliope decides to change the laws that lead to her imprisonment, and asks Morpheus to release Madoc.
What makes calliope such a god story is how all encompassing the metaphor is. Fry’s words are basically justification of the colonizer—dehumanize those who have something you want or need, and take it from them. The easiest metaphor is cultural appropriation, but it could apply to men who abuse women. Or men in power who may be using their power for some good things, as they refuse to acknowledge their very power wrests on exploitation they refuse to stop. Or someone in power who takes something from a marginalized group and profits off it to secure their own power.
Yes, there are women in power who abuse and use their power against people with less than them. Not all women with power support helping other women gain power. But often, those women are participating in and defending a system made by and for men. They simply found the crack they are able to slip into.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was being waited upon by a slave. He got his wealth and power through owning other human beings. Whatever excuses Jefferson and other slave owners came up with, they had the power to end slavery the whole time, or at the very least stop participating in it. It is the same with Madoc’s feeble excuses for keeping Calliope imprisoned. He always had the power to free her. A man who claims feminism is one who took what gave him wealth and fame from someone who while she may not be human is a woman in terms of gender.
Calliope acknowledges the system that gave Madoc power over her, and is determined to change it, even if she is not sure how. No “I had to go through this, so those after me will suffer as well” which is way too common. The man himself was punished—after releasing her, he probably won’t write anything worthwhile again. Once Calliope finds justice, she does not feel the need for vengeance, and asks Morpheus to release Madoc. Justice is taking away the power to harm another, and ensuring the abused party is made as whole as they can be.
But no man should have been in a position to have such power over Calliope. In the same way we shouldn’t have a system that allows men with power to abuse those beneath them, but we still do because we are reluctant to change it or challenge that power.
In the #MeToo backlash era, the story of Calliope feels prescient. Calliope is freed with the help of someone with power who she has a connection with, which unfortunately is what tends to happen. But at the same time it does feel hopeful. If a Goddess can work for change maybe humans can too.