1. The story begins with Destiny's chance encounter with The Grey Ladies, or the three Fates from Greek mythology, while in his own realm, a place where with each step taken "you make a choice, and every choice determines future paths." What follows is a 200 page philosophical consideration of hell, suffering, and redemption. The Sandman: Season of Mists relies completely on the idea quotient, which is the primary storytelling device, plumbing the depths of the author's own concept of hell, as a place, as an idea, as a necessary evil. Our cast of characters, initially large then specifically singular as we follow our protagonist Dream through Hell, on a quest to rectify one of his own wrong doings, does not change or grow. Nothing has been learned, nothing lost, everyone remains the same. Hell, however, has changed drastically.
We learn our author considers hell to be a place populated by demons, i.e. those who torture, not because they're evil but because the souls of the damned demand it. After Hell is closed, albeit briefly, Breschau, an individual being tortured with chains running through his body refuses to leave, listing the atrocities he committed during life, stating his punishment is just. Lucifer then points out the world has forgotten Breschau, his punishments remain just only so long as his crimes are remembered. Though its been thousands of years, the only person still willing to punish Breschau is Breschau himself.
By the end Hell becomes a realm sanctioned by Heaven, a place that must exist because Heaven cannot, by rights, remain a paradise without it's counter part. Lucifer, now retired, languors on the coast of Australia, no longer the master of his own realm. The angels Duma and Remiel now administrate in Hell, at the Creator's command, worsening the grief of the damned by explaining their torture will continue, "But we do not do it to punish you. We do it to redeem you." In this the author exposes his own belief, has shared the conclusion of his philosophical exploration, suffering has its purpose, not to condemn but to redeem.
2. Despite the fact that the MPAA has never and will never accurately rate a movie, The Sandman: Season of Mists would be rated PG-13. There are some artful representations of the human form in torture (Episode 2, pg. #11), of demons and their warped physiology (Episode 1, pg. #1), and various Gods and Goddesses in various stages of undress (Episode 5, pg. #3), though nothing overly graphic, sensual, or crude.
3. For this the author, Neil Gaiman, had to explore his own concept, or rather preconceived notions of Hell. Is it an actual plane of existence, is it something "you carry around with you," what is its purpose, to the individual, to humanity as a collective? What I gathered from this was not so much a springboard for research but encouragement to explore the depths of my beliefs. I believe Hell exists in many places, yes it is a plane of existence, one of actual physical separation from the Light of God, as it were, but it is also something we take with us; the emotions that spring from a person's inability to forgive themselves past transgressions.
4. Exposing a person's conception of Hell reveals their spiritual identity, adds another layer of complexity to their character. Having a discussion about Hell in which a character's idea is exposed not only defines them spiritually but can serve as a reminder of the frailty of mortality, as Hell is a place that exists for those who are dead, it reminds the reader that everyone, even our protagonist, can die. I'm seriously considering weaving a conversation about Hell into my story.