Sunday, January 9, 2011
Review - The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman
Short review: Dream continues to clean up after his imprisonment, and foils a plot by one of the other Endless.
Teenage Rose Walker
And a man who will not die
Plus some "Cereal"
Full review: The Doll's House, following directly after Preludes and Nocturnes (read review), is the second book in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series detailing the activities of Dream. Dream is one of the Endless, along with his siblings Death, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, and Despair, they are essentially the embodiments of perpetual elements of human life. Having met Dream and Death in the previous volume, this set of stories introduces the reader to Desire and Despair as well, and begins to answer some of the questions raised in previous story lines and tie threads together.
The overall story arc of this volume involves more of the fall-out from Dream's enforced absence from his realm that was detailed in Preludes and Nocturnes as the Sandman sets out to collect some wayward subjects of his realm. The focus character in The Doll's House is Rose Walker, a fairly ordinary seeming teenager who turns out to be more important than she realizes, and more important than even Dream realizes as she becomes the central element in a gambit made by one of the Endless. The story of Rose Walker shows how intricately intertwined the stories in the Sandman series are, as she is the culmination of a minor reference made back in the very first story of the previous volume. The book explores what can happen when dreams are left to run amuck in the human world, essentially the flip side of Preludes and Nocturnes, which showed the dangers of humans having control over the power of dreams.
The four missing dreams take different paths, one nightmarishly inspiring an army of horrific imitators, two aspiring to elevate themselves to power, but dealing with the very smallest of arenas, and the fourth simply trying to discover what it means to be human. As such, the wayward dreams take on the characteristics of their nature, either becoming an escape or refuge, or respite from harsh reality, or a horrific living nightmare. Some of the errant dreams hope to evade their fates, challenging Dream himself in a vain attempt to stave off the consequences of their treachery, while the last accepts his own fate but rises to challenge Dream for the benefit of another. In between these stories is sandwiched the story of Hob, a man who simply refuses to die, and as a result becomes Dream's friend, quite probably Dream's only friend.
Eventually, the interference of the runaway dreams, the unique nature of Rose Walker herself, and the plotting of Dream's own relatives creates the crisis of the story. Through the book, it is clear that Dream can be cruel, but he can also be kind. But what becomes crystal clear is that though Dream is powerful, even he is bound by necessity, although he may regret what circumstances require him to do, he will not shirk from doing them anyway. But we also learn that Dream is not immune to the temptations suffered by mortals, and through this we learn the story of the unfortunate in Hell that Dream spurned back during his quest to recover his mask and just how callous Dream can be. In the end, the story turns out more or less happy although several elements, such as the way Dream leaves the human attendees at the "Cereal" convention, leaves much open to interpretation.
This, like the other volumes in the Sandman series, is Gaiman at his creepy and mysterious best. One can see, in graphic novel form, the ideas that spurred him to create American Gods. Gaiman mixes the ethereal world of the Dream realm with the harsh reality of the real world, and adds to it a raw edge of indifference and uncaring evil beyond that to create a truly memorable story.
Previous book in the series: The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.
Subsequent book in the series: The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country.
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