Delirium amid fish
|First appearance||The Sandman #21 (December 1990)|
|Created by||Neil Gaiman
|Team affiliations||The Endless|
|Notable aliases||Delight (former self), Mania (Ancient Greek)|
|Abilities||nigh-omnipotent aspect of delirium and sanity|
Delirium is a fictional character from Neil Gaiman's comic book series The Sandman. She is one of The Endless, a group of beings who embody powerful forces or aspects of the universe, and are much more powerful than gods.
Fictional character history
Delirium, known to the Greek culture as Maniae, is the youngest of the Endless, yet still older than the rest of existence. She is usually quite short, and thin, and looks no older than a fourteen-year-old human girl. One of her eyes is silver-flecked blue, and the other is green. Her hair changes style and color constantly, as do her clothes. Her shadow never reflects her shape, and is tangible, like velvet. She is said to smell of sweat, late nights, sour wine, and old leather. Her sigil in the galleries of the other Endless is a multicolored, abstract swirl. Her realm is a chaotic, constantly changing mass of colors and strange objects and shapes, and contains a sundial with the inscription "Tempus Frangit" ("time breaks," a Latin pun on the phrase "Tempus Fugit", "time flees".) Delirium travels with a "guardian" of sorts, a dog named Barnabas, on indefinite loan from her brother Destruction. At one point Delirium briefly appears as hundreds of colorful fish similar to Morpheus appearing as a cat or fox.
First incarnated as Delight, she transformed into Delirium for reasons even Destiny does not know. She can be seen as a very young Delight in Endless Nights, a collection of stories about the Endless; a statue of her as Delight can be seen in Destiny's garden in Brief Lives, and her official portrait in Destiny's gallery depicts her as Delight, not Delirium, in Season of Mists. In the last volume of "The Sandman: Overture", Dream passes through Delirium's realm, where it can be read "Delight was sad — Delight went mad."
Delirium is scatterbrained and easily distracted; she often forgets the thread of her conversations, and comes out with offbeat and seemingly inconsequential observations. Todd Klein, the series' letterer, draws her speech as letters which do not quite match in height or line up neatly, against a multi-colored background, sometimes the background color will match the mood she is in (red for anger, blue and green for calm, etc.). Very occasionally she is able, with an effort, to become more controlled in thought and speech, at which point her speech is drawn more neatly and the background fades to near-white. This effort, as she says later, causes her pain. Her speech as Delight in Endless Nights takes the same form, with somewhat orderly lettering and a faint rainbow background. Delirium's personality is often very ecstatic, responding jubilantly to almost any action such as reacting with joy at being held in the mouth of Wyvern the Dragon. Delirium is quick to anger when treated rudely, such as driving a police officer insane for chastising her reckless driving, to threatening to curse Mazikeen into being a half-faced demon madly in love with her boss and making it so, that it has always been like this.
The other Endless (particularly Death and Destruction) seem to be fond of Delirium, to varying degrees, and protective of her. She in turn is affectionate towards them, particularly Destruction. It is implied in Brief Lives that her relationship with Dream was originally much worse, as she was often frightened of him. Dream in turn regarded his sister as a nuisance, however, the events of Brief Lives change their relationship, as he admits that he likes Delirium and is upset when she is unhappy. Delirium in turn grows affectionate of Dream and desperately tries to save Dream in The Kindly Ones by trying to persuade him to join her on her quest to find Barnabas.
Delirium features in many of the most inventive sequences of the series, particularly in the seventh collection, Brief Lives, in which she and Dream attempt to track down Destruction. One of the most striking frames of the whole series features Delirium lying on a hotel bed with a bottle of bubble-blowing liquid, blowing bubbles in a variety of impossible shapes - diamonds, crosses, cats, and what appears to be Totoro from the Japanese animated feature My Neighbor Totoro (this is probably a visual joke on the part of artist Jill Thompson). Also, in a very important moment in the story, Destiny imparts upon Dream the information and the means by which he may find Destruction. Due to Dream's distress at this revelation, Delirium is forced to collect herself so much that her usual mis-matched appearance disappears, and she becomes a very symmetrical creature, reflecting Destruction's words that the Endless can reflect two aspects (in Delirium's case order/sanity). She later says of this that "It hurt."
It may be noted that Delirium once exhibited a very deep form of order. Towards the end of Brief Lives, as she recounts to Destruction the steps she and Dream undertook to find him, her appearance - hairstyle, clothing, et cetera - recapitulates in almost the exact order it had originally appeared. Her long and rambling recollection seemed nonsensical, but readers noticed that it more or less accurately described everything that had happened - just not as anyone else would have explained it.
Delirium also seems to know many things none of the other Endless know, implying that she is truly the wisest of the Endless. She says so when she is teased by Desire during the family meeting in Season of Mists. At the end of Brief Lives, Destruction describes a situation in which Death told him that everybody knows everything and they just pretend they don't, but neither he nor Dream really understand or believe this. Delirium, however, says, "She is. um. Right. Kind of. Not knowing everything is all that makes it okay, sometimes." ("One who knows too much eventually goes insane." "One who knows truth as truth and nothing else can't comprehend this world of lies.") She later mocks Dream's constant referral to his responsibility and reveals a deeper understanding of the Endless' nature and their actions stating that they warp and alter the universe itself.
Delirium claims to know pathways outside of Destiny's garden, which only she may travel. She revealed this when confronting Destiny after he had depressed Dream, reminding Destiny that even he does not know everything. In the story "On the Peninsula," she states that there are many possible futures, like squillions of worms wriggling to the same place. She said that she knows that place, it is a nothing place; then her sister will take her brother's book, and that's it. Other than Death, she seems to be the only member of the Endless who knows anything about existence outside/after the universe.
Delirium, like her siblings, has also exhibited a form of prophetic knowledge; however, her prophecies rarely make sense until it is too late to do anything about them, and no other character recognizes them. In Brief Lives, she persuades a man to give the dancer Tiffany money, when Tiffany would later be the only mortal to survive the explosion of the building in which she was dancing; in The Kindly Ones, she knows full well that her brother is in trouble and unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to help her find Barnabas; also, when read the quote 'Quoth the Raven', from Edgar Allan Poe's poem, "The Raven", she says 'Whatever', which, down to the pronounced 'ev' had been and would be said by Matthew the Raven throughout the book.
In the story "On the Peninsula", the female archaeologist talking to Destruction notes Delirium might have had her heart broken, and in "Fables and Reflections" Delirium mentions she was once betrothed.
In Delirium's story in Endless Nights, "Going Inside", she has retreated into her realm so deeply that no one can retrieve her, save five insane human individuals gathered together by Daniel, Matthew and Barnabas, as only those who are already deeply insane can enter her realm unscathed.
Inspiration for the character
The most commonly recognized source of inspiration for Delirium is that of Neil's personal friend and well-known musician Tori Amos ("...Neil believes I'm more Delirium than Tori, and Death taught me to accept that..."). However, in The Sandman Companion, Gaiman stated specifically that he did not meet Tori Amos until several years after the Delirium character had been created. In that book Gaiman listed the immediate inspirations as postmodern feminist writer Kathy Acker, artist Jill Thompson, and parts of himself. He later admitted that "Delirium was created before I met Tori, but they steal shamelessly from each other."
- Jimenez, Phil (2008). "Endless, The". In Dougall, Alastair. The DC Comics Encyclopedia. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 115. ISBN 0-7566-4119-5. OCLC 213309017.
- Gaiman, Neil. Chapter 1--Brief Lives. NY, New York: DC Comics. p. 16. ISBN 1-56389-644-3.
- Gaiman, Neil. "Tori Amos". Death: The High Cost of Living. ISBN 1-56389-133-6.
- Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. ISBN 1-56389-644-3.