Our assignment was to read the third and fourth issues from The Doll’s House: Moving In and Playing House. Once again, KatherineMW did the recap.
A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues.
It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one ofter that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!
This chapter is largely exposition, and a connecting piece between the second and fourth chapters, so I’ll switch from the linear style of the previous reviews to a brief summary of what we learn, before diving into points of interest.
The chapter introduces a new element to the story (though one that was mentioned in the previous chapter) – Rose’s brother Jed. Jed and Rose’s parents split up five years ago; her mom got Rose and her dad got Jed. After her dad died they lost track of Jed, and now Rose has gone to Florida to find him. She learns that Jed went to live with his grandfather in Florida, but after the grandfather died he was shuffled off to live with some distant relatives (instead of with his mother? interesting custody issues here) in Georgia. Rose goes off to find him.
Contrary to Rose’s supposition that the relatives will be treating Jed well because they get state payments for caring for him, Jed’s having a miserable time of it. He’s locked in a cellar with rats, and spends all the time he can in a dreamworld – but a dreamworld very different from the Dreaming we’ve seen heretofore.
Another element, which is entertaining but doesn’t have any apparent connection to the broader plot as yet, is that Rose’s housemates are very, every one of them, deeply weird people. There’s the landlord, Hal, who’s a drag queen called Dolly in his spare time; Barbie and Ken – the “Stepford Yuppies”, as Rose aptly describes them – plus two women who go about veiled and collect stuffed spiders (ick!), and Gilbert, who has only one name but an extensive vocabulary, as we learn when he introduces himself to Rose by rescuing her from some neo-Nazi thugs. Both his language and attire are anachronistic, which is rather charming, but I don’t particularly like him inviting himself along on Rose’s trip to find her brother. All indications are that he’s a fine person and means well, but if I were given the choice between “car trip alone” and “car trip with strange man I’ve only met once”, I’d probably opt for the former for caution’s sake.
Finally, Morpheus has been sending his raven to spy on Rose, and is hoping that, as a “vortex”, she’ll attract the missing dreams to her. Given what we’ve seen of the Corinthian, this seems rather cavalier with Rose’s well-being, and suggests things may get unpleasant in the future – especially as we see that the Corinthian cuts out people’s eyes and eats them. (By the way, Gaiman – you could definitely have skipped the chewing sounds. I wouldn’t have minded it at all. No thank you.)
And in the final connection of our three plot elements – Rose, Jed, and the missing dreams – Morpheus finds out that Brute and Glob have somehow disconnected Jed from the Dreaming and created one of their own. And he is very highly displeased, which means we get another, final, panel of him looking infinitely cool.
Now, to the more specific observations.
Jed’s dreamworld (“The Land of Marvellous Dreams”) has a deliberately simple art style, very different from either the real world or the Dreaming. Everything about it accentuates that this is as different from the Dreaming as, well, See Spot Run is from The Sandman. Colours are bright and flat. The dialogue is simple and obvious; I have to wonder if Gaiman is subtly making fun of comic books that feel the need to narrate in text events that are clearly happening on the page. And as an additional touch – which I didn’t notice on the first read-through – all of the panels are numbered. Jed also looks much younger in the dreamworld than in the real one, perhaps reflecting the childhood he’d like to still have but doesn’t.
The two scenes of Morpheus raise plenty of intriguing questions. In the first, he meets with Matthew, his raven, on the shores of a shadowy sea. Between his human name, his discomfort in watching Rose, and his unfamiliarity with the Dreaming, Matthew seems to a human being who has been transformed into a dream-being, and his speech patterns identify him as a modern human, which indicates he’s been transformed at some point between Dream’s escape from captivity in the last book and the start of this one. How does this transformation work? In what circumstances can it happen? I’d love to see more about this turn up in later books.
Also, Dream is creating a nightmare. There’s a lot that could be said on this, but I’m going to save it for the next chapter.
The last scene of Morpheus shows his discovery of Jed, and his rage at what Brute and Glob have accomplished. The reason for this isn’t intuitively apparent – Jed’s dreamworld is bland, certainly, but it’s also entertaining enough, for a child, and it’s a refuge from his miserable waking life. And it doesn’t include nightmares. For Dream, though, this is a secession. It is a rebellion. And, with his very nature and purpose being mastery of the whole of his domain, it is something that cannot be tolerated.
In this chapter, we temporarily leave Rose behind (save for a brief interlude) and focus on Morpheus, Jed, and Jed’s dreamworld – particularly Lyta and Hector, the two human figures we’ve seen previously in Jed’s dreams. In the DC comics, Hector and Hippolyta Hall are two actual superhero characters, but their identities in the broader comics universe have relatively little to do with their roles in this story.
It becomes rapidly apparent that something exceptionally strange is going on. There are two facts we can surmise about the dream world: it acts as a sort of time warp, and it has slowed or regressed Hector and Lyta’s ability to think. Lyta has been pregnant for years in the dreamworld, and is only vaguely realizing that something is wrong with this. Hector seems incredibly dim, and his comment about the stork not being able to find Lyta is the final signal that something’s gone very wrong with these people. Obviously Hector wasn’t always this clueless or Lyta wouldn’t be pregnant in the first place. My best guess is that, living in a young boy’s mind, they have themselves become childish; what they know is limited by what Jed knows, or by what he knew when they first took up residence in his mind. In addition, there is something going on to suspend their disbelief generally and dissuade them from questioning the reality of their roles and lives, as indicated by the line that “[Lyta] doesn’t think about anything much any more…sometimes she almost wonders why”.
Brute and Glob, meanwhile, have figured out that Morpheus is coming after them, and identified him to Hector – who, it is by now clear, they have caused to regard himself as the Sandman – as “the nightmare monster”.
In the outside world, Jed is again being abused. He has been with Barnaby and Clarice four years, and locked in the basement for the last three.
We get some pretty neat-looking panels of Morpheus seeking a way into Jed’s mind. His comment about Brute and Glob forcing Jed to build barriers within his mind “in [his] effort to escape the physical world” suggests that Jed’s external situation is not solely Barnaby and Clarice’s doing; that somehow Brute and Glob may have influenced them into abusing him precisely because they needed someone who was trying desperately to cut himself off from the waking world. I didn’t pick this up at all on the first reading, but it was suggested in some of the online discussions of the book that I’ve read. It makes Brute and Glob’s villainous nature much clearer than it had been up to this point, when they appeared to at least be providing Jed some kind of mental respite from a terrible situation. From here on out, though, their behavior clearly identifies them as villains.
As Lyta reflects on her past with Hector, we learn more about what has happened. They were superheroes, Hector was killed, and Brute and Glob brought her and Hector here, to Jed’s mind, and told him that he was the Sandman.
And so dead Hector Hall, in his brightly-colored superhero uniform, goes out to do battle with one of the Endless.
Meanwhile, Rose’s car has broken down in rural Georgia – where the Corinthian was, in the last chapter, headed for a “get-together”. And she ends up at a hotel hosting a “Cereal Convention” with a truly ominous guest list, for those of us who are good at homophones and hadn’t yet figured out where this is going. And the Corinthian is also in Georgia and has somehow managed to bite a man’s fingers off with his eyes. So Morpheus’ idea about the utility of a vortex has paid off, which is good for him but not particularly good for Rose, and this is clearly going nowhere pleasant.
Back in the false Dreamworld, one Sandman fights the other. Jed has realized something is terribly wrong within his mind. The Dream Dome is disintegrating. Brute and Glob are realizing they are out of options. To the shock of absolutely no one but Hector, his ultrasonic whistle does not faze Morpheus.
The scene where Hector identifies himself The Sandman, guardian of the dreams of men, protector against wicked nightmares!” is perhaps one of the best yet far in helping us to understand Mopheus’ nature and purpose. In one sentence it illustrates why Hector’s dreamworld is so flat, so bland, so lacking in power compared to the true Dreaming. This, it seems to say, is what happens if you have a Dreaming that is bound by and seeks to apply human principles of good and evil: all good dreams, no bad dreams. The true Dreaming is not a good place; it is a place of wonder and imagination and horror and strangeness, of dreams and nightmares alike, and this gives it its power. To bind it to the standards of the waking world is to diminish it. So perhaps, if Morpheus was a better person, he might be a less effective Dream.
Morpheus, for his part, is endlessly amused by Hector’s claim, and ends the fight without effort, emerging from the false dreamworld into the light of day, along with the other inhabitants of Jed’s mind. Brute and Glob are in very serious trouble. Hector Hall seems to have regained his identity and his ability to think, but he is still dead, and Morpheus dissolves him in some way. While Hippolyta’s grief and anger are understandable, it’s hard to share them; as Morpheus says, Hector died a long time ago. But then Morpheus tells her that her child belongs to him. Why? What purpose would he have for a human child in the Dreaming? Why would he suddenly be acting like Rumplestiltskin? It’s a strange and troubling end to this part of the story…
…At least it would be, if we didn’t get an even worse ending. Jed, who appears to have the worst luck in the world, has managed to run away – and been picked up by the Corinthian. So all of our plotlines are converging. Except for one – we still have no idea where Fiddler’s Green is.