Our assignment was to read the fifth and sixth issues from The Doll’s House: Men of Good Fortune and Collectors. KatherineMW provides the former, Jason Tank provides the latter.
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!
“Men of Good Fortune”
In Which we take a brief Intermission to pursue Dream’s Appointment, and are treated to a brief Historical Retrospective.
Two Endless walk into a bar.
One says to a man, “How would you like to live forever?”
This is the core of our story.
As is perhaps natural for the King of Dreams, it attracts other stories and storytellers to it – in this scene, one Geoffrey Chaucer. Whether his presence and Morpheus’ in the same tavern is coincidental is a question I do not expect to be answered, except to say that Rose’s story suggests that coincidences are not pure chance.
Morpheus, like other people throughout history dragged to bars by friends who hope they’d forget about work and just relax for once, has his mind on business. As do I, now – the idea of faeries abandoning the mortal plane is at least as interesting as Hob Gadling’s philosophy of death as elective.
But this is only the beginning of Gadling’s story.
One hundred years later, the same tavern is still there. This is unusual enough, and will become more so as we progress through the story. Perhaps the Endless have the power to preserve certain things they choose in the earthly world, or perhaps it’s simply a convenient setting.
Our characters meet as planned. The meeting is brief, with two notable points. In the first place, immortality is something of a cure for nostalgia; progress looks more like progress when you’re able to compare it to a true view of what came before. I’ve heard a good argument that the eras most people are nostalgic for are the ones when they were children, and the nostalgia is not for the period but for childhood. In the second place, Hob Gadling is now involved a curious trade called “printing”. If Chaucer wasn’t sufficient, this is our signal that this tale will see Mr. Gardner Forrest Gumping himself through history.
It’s the Elizabethan era, and we are following a story of stories. Of course Shakespeare is here. Hob, now “Sir Robert”, Gadling is living high, but this episode is about Shakespeare, and about Morpheus. The power of dreams, as some previous chapters have indicated, goes beyond the world of sleep. Dreams include imaginations, fantasies, stories, as we remember from Morpheus’ moniker of “The Prince of Stories” in the first book. Here we begin to understand better what that purpose entails; the gift of inspiration is his to bestow.
Morpheus, or humans’ view of him, has something of a sinister cast about him in this story. In the last episode, Hob asked if he was a demon; here, Shakespeare speaks of bartering his soul to the devil for artistic genius, and strikes a bargain with Morpheus; and before this tale ends a third person will make the same comparison.
The year after the Glorious Revolution; as a bit of a history buff, I’m a little disappointed that didn’t get mentioned, given all the other history strung through this story.
This is a brief episode. Fortune’s wheel has turned since last meeting, and Hob Gadling is now at the bottom of it. Wife and son dead, social position erased. He is, at this moment, an illustration either of hope or of man’s fear and hatred of death; after eighty years of nothing but misery, he still has no wish to die.
Also, the waitress in this one looks weirdly like the one a hundred years ago – at least her hair is the same – but that’s probably just this book getting to me. You never know what’s going to matter.
Another century, another revolution.
Previous episodes revealed that Hob Gadling is hardly a paragon of morality. Mercenary and bandit in the 1400s. Fought for the Cavaliers in the Civil War. He has degenerated since the last meeting; no longer a pauper and a drunk, but immured in the moral morass of the slave trade. And enjoying it thoroughly. The treatment of people as things is the theme of this episode. Lady Johanna Constantine is another such – a “wanderer amid the flotsam of lives she has sacrificed for her own purposes”. The Dreamlord is not one for her to trifle with, though, and leaves her trapped in her own ill memories. This is not the last time we will see her.
Between John Constantine’s own story and his ancestors, I’m becoming rather interested in him, given that my own prior knowledge of him was based on the trailer for bad-looking a Keanu Reeves movie.
Even before being imprisoned, Morpheus did have some ideas of morality; the slave trade at least he considers beyond the pale.
As we’ve seen Hob Gadling have his ups and downs over the centuries, it only makes sense that the tavern would have them as well. It was a simple, though comfortable place in the 1300s through 1500s, and a luxurious one in the past two centuries, perhaps to provide a contrast with Gadling’s material and moral degeneration over the same two meetings. Now Hob is doing well enough, again, but the location has gone downhill.
The very interesting concept of other people left alone by Death is raised, one I very much hope to see pursued further in later installments.
The question of learning from experience is one very pertinent to the Endless. Just as Hob has not necessarily gained in wisdom over five hundred years, immortality need not give Morpheus and his siblings greater maturity or wisdom than humans have. If anything, immortality is detaching. Hob says he can never make up for the slave trade, but he doesn’t seem, on the whole, unhappy or particularly interested in atonement. Life is not something to be used, for great good or great ill, but simply something that continues. He is the Everyman. Which is, perhaps, what Death intended, given her desire that Morpheus get to know regular human beings.
Morpheus, however, is proud, and rejects out of hand the idea that he might wish for companionship or friendship.
Plus ça change, plus ça même chose. The conversations in the modern-day restaurant are the same as those heard in 1389 and 1689.
Some things, however, do change.
Morpheus has spent seventy of the last 100 years imprisoned. Perhaps this is what has humbled, softened him.
The tale ends with brief, but beautifully heartwarming words.
“I have always heard it was impolite to keep one’s friends waiting.”
The intermission ends, and the audience return to the theatre, with little idea what is in store for them.
Welcome to the “Cereal Convention”. Follow along with me as I try to run through the pages, pointing out sites of interest. You may find my style blunt, but I’m just a harried tour guide here, trying to show off everything before you get bored and wander off. Try to keep up!
Two pages in and we’re presented with two different methods of dichotomy. Gaiman describes the wind as being knife-sharp and cutting, and presenting the people as if this bitter wind brought them here. It’s elegant with its double meanings. Meanwhile, the you have the very title of “Cereal Convention”, and the way the conventioneers speak. “Killer”, “dead”, “murder”, “bloody”, “killed”, “died”, “die”. It’s very childish, asking you to find it clever, even as it buries itself under needless repetition. Right off the bat, we get a sense that these people think themselves better than everyone else.
Next page, we meet a large man handling registrations. His hat is modified to get around certain trademarks, which should become apparent later on. Another page and we have the hotel manager. He is not one of the conventioneers, but you can tell he is sympathetic by his choice of reading material. He informs us that Rose and Gilbert are still in the hotel. Her brother has gone missing, and the police want her to wait there until they can find him.
We move on now to Rose, lost in shades of blue. Gilbert is not able to cheer her up, but he does tell her an old version of Little Red Riding Hood, all black and white and red. Her story is mirroring it, but she doesn’t know it yet.
Next page and the Corinthian arrives. The man in the pointy hat identifies himself as “Fun Land”, and he now has a wolf on his shirt. Hmm. Anyway, he and Nimrod are searching for a guest of honor who hasn’t arrived. But here’s the Corinthian to save the day, looking like a knight in shining armor! Huzzah!
The title page pops up, “The Collectors”, a bleeding American flag over the faces of serial killers. I don’t know if any of them are actual killers dredged up from history, nor do I know if any of the characters in the story are based on actual people. Gaiman doesn’t strike me at the type of person to want to do a lot of exacting research on this subject. (In fact, doing so could undermine the message of the piece.) But if I’m wrong, please let me know.
The story moves along. The convention is pretty much like any other. People sit in halls and listen to panelists. Kinda dull. We see Nimrod and the Machinist’s inner, true selves in shades of black and red.
Rose and Gilbert share an elevator with the Corinthian, and Gilbert almost wets himself in fear. He can’t bring himself to tell Rose exactly why, but he writes her a name and tells her to say it if she’s in trouble.
Another convention panel (on a subject we can’t talk about), and we are yanked away as the Bogeyman is revealed as a fraud. The Corinthian is speaking, and there’s a jagged box around his head in “normal” color, his speech balloons talking of teaching, while beneath it the rest of the group is shown in shades of black and red, his speech balloons explaining how dark they really are.
Moving forward again, Fun Land is drunk, and talking about his “Fun Land”, in ways that might keep you from ever bringing your kids there again. He starts to fixate on Rose, whose name, by the way, is a shade of red. Hmm.
We’re interrupted by another couple of collectors. One shows himself off in black and white, holding a cigarette like a gentleman, while in the foreground is his victim, breasts on display, male genitals barely visible. There’s so much darkly beautiful art going on that just dares you not to be repulsed by it.
The Corinthian is driving back, and it’s mentioned that there’s something in his trunk. We know from before that he met Jed, and we have no reason to think he prefers dead victims, so we get a small ray of hope in the midst of this….
The convention continues, and we get what I think is one of the best art pieces in the story. The drawing isn’t spectacular, and the speech boxes are disturbing, but they create the perfect image: Here’s a young man, broken up inside by what he is doing, broken up on the page.
But the very next page is one of the worst art pieces in the entire Sandman. It feels like the painter tried to save what the drawer couldn’t accomplish, using a circle of color and a line to show that Fun Land is still fixating on Rose. (To be fair, this is probably something that is very hard to draw well. Later, in Seasons of Mists, there’s a moment where a character has a dotted eye-line to show that she’s angrily staring down her brother. But it’s the color bubble here that really ruins this image for me. It’s just tacky. Especially compared to other uses of selective coloring in this story.)
But anyway, Fun Land has decided he can’t wait any longer, and is adding Rose to his collection. Rose, on a journey to find her brother, is attacked by a wolf instead. There is a fight, but Rose is barely able to utter the name Gilbert gave her: Morpheus. He appears, puts Fun Land to sleep, and implants something of a post-hypnotic suggestion into Rose to make her leave.
The Corinthian is giving a speech, the highlight of the convention. Morpheus is sitting in the crowd. The Corinthian notices and stutters. He finally takes off his glasses, and there are two mouths where his eyes should be, which talk in raspy voices. (This is why I found this old Sprite commercial to be very disturbing.) He stabs Morpheus, but to no effect, and the Corinthian is unmade down to a pile of dust and a disturbing skull.
But here’s what I find truly disturbing about the Corinthian: he’s supposed to be a dark mirror to humanity, so he translates this directive into becoming a gay serial killer, preying on the promiscuous. It’s… odd. Gaiman is no homophobe, so I choose to see this as a reaction to the then-recently begun AIDS outbreak, and Morpheus’s dismissal of him as a dismissal of AIDS as a “gay disease”. (But maybe I’m reading too much into this…)
Morpheus ends the convention, taking away the dream the Corinthian gave them. Meanwhile, Gilbert has discovered Jed and brings him to Rose. He is unconscious, but Gilbert describes him as having been sobbing. It’s a little bit too “pat” of an ending, but I can forgive it, if only for that subtle implication that Gilbert didn’t really find him through conventional means.
So here we are at the end, gentle readers. Three dreams found, with only Fiddler’s Green to go. Have we seen this last dream yet? Morpheus said they might be drawn to Rose, but the three we’ve seen were more closely associated with her brother Jed. What could that mean? And will that pattern hold?