Sandman Re-Blog Issue #16: Doll's House, "Lost Hearts," or Desire Behaves Rather Strangely


I think the most important thing to take away from Doll's House in its entirety is that Rose is pretty awesome. I admit I was worried when we first met her, but she has more than redeemed herself. I'm not sure I've loved her more than this moment:

"I don't understand it, but I believe it."

No whining, no existential crises, just a simple acknowledgment of what's happening. Sure, she's a little confused as to WHY it's happening, but aren't we all?


That is one of the classic "twists" that creative writing classes try to prevent. You know the ones: it was all a dream, actually this is purgatory, we've all been trippin' on PCP, etc. But if ever the line "and then she woke up" is appropriate, it's here. It's a credit to Gaiman's restraint that he hasn't used this line until now.

In fact, he's killing two cliches in one stone: not only does the phrase end the previous story, it begins Rose's new story. And waking up is equally hackneyed at the front of a story as at the end. But it feels right here. Beautiful even.

That said, there is another twist that does not really work for me: that Unity is in fact the Vortex, and Rose somehow inherits that status. It's a handy way to keep Rose alive and fulfil Unity's purpose, but the whole creation of the Vortex mystifies me. So Desire had sex with Unity and therefore Unity becomes the Vortex? Til now, I thought it was some random aligning of the cosmos that selected Rose Walker, and I would have been more satisfied if that was the case. The new twist means that not only is Dream a servant, a doll, of humanity, he can't even protect his domain from his less powerful younger sister. And I don't like the implications of that. It weakens him as a character.

Also, at the moment Desire's scheming feels extremely pointless. Creating Morpheus's love for Nada, yes, that makes sense within the context of what we know about Desire. But to what end would Desire have Dream kill one of his own family? By manipulating him to do so, she is not influencing his desires at all; he merely acts to destroy the Vortex out of responsibility to his kingdom.

Separately, now that I'm thinking about it, isn't it possible that Desire's act actually SAVED the Dreaming? When Unity Kincaid came of age to become the vortex, Dream was trapped and wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. His kingdom was in tatters, his powers at an all time low. Unity might actually have destroyed the Dreaming completely. So by moving the Vortex down a couple of generations, didn't Desire inadvertently create a situation where he could act to save his domain? I wouldn't accuse Desire of anything altruistic; she probably didn't know. But oh, the vagaries of chance.


See, didn't I tell you domains are important? Gilbert isn't a who, but a place. He is a domain unto himself, but isn't even master of his own domain. It's such a lovely idea, that places have character and personality. This is one of the ideas that really stuck with me long after I first read Sandman.

"What a wonderful place!"

"Yeah, it was a friend of mine."


Doll's House as a whole sets up many characters and themes that will dominate the series in later issues; pay attention to the denizens of the Doll's House, for they do not emerge unscathed from their proximity to the vortex.

I am going to pay a lot more attention to Desire's actions, because even when I first read the series I did not give them a whole lot of consideration. Of course she's important as a facet of humanity, but I want to pinpoint her importance to the Endless, to this particular universe, apart from being an irritatingly smug thorn in everyone's side.


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3 Responses to “ Sandman Re-Blog Issue #16: Doll's House, "Lost Hearts," or Desire Behaves Rather Strangely ”

  1. Aha, this is why Rose is special. How many people get a genuine apology from the Lord of Dreams? Good to see the old man learning something at last.

    But you've got me thinking about magical mechanics now. I'd always assumed that Unity was cosmically selected to be the vortex, but being unconscious she was an inactive one. Desire saw an opportunity to get her pregnant and have the vortex pass to someone not locked in the sleeping sickness, and thus grow to full strength. Dream has to destroy the vortex, but what if it were in the form of a family member? He'd would have to choose between the destruction of the Dreaming and the wrath of the Furies.

    But: why then is Rose the vortex and not her mother? Because Morpheus was in prison? Because Unity gave her the ring? I'm still not sure how this works.

    I like the way Gaiman shows that 'and then she woke up' can be a perfectly fine ending. But the final page of the story seems to allude to another old skiffy trope: "For you see, we are all living in a jar of Tang!"

    Or in this case...a doll house.

  2. The jar of Tang thing is dreadful. I suspect I hate twist endings as an adult because I read so much Goosebumps and watched too much Twilight Zone as a child. "O, Henry!" is my last word on that matter.

    I had forgotten about the ring that Unity gave her, perhaps that explains it? I'm still very confused about the whole thing really. Why didn't Unity become the vortex when she woke up? As you said, why not her mother?

    The last few pages of this story are entirely set up to serve later stories. I understand that the information is necessary, but as Matt Cheney comments in his Sandman Meditations, it does feel overly expository.

  3. My brain was asleep. The ring relates to Rose's annular status as the vortex - she's already been identified as such by Morpheus by the time she meets Unity.

    For my part, I don't mind the end of this story at all. It sets up a few things for later, but that's not all it does. In the space of a few pages the two halves of the arc are resolved, we learn a lot more about the relationships between the Endless, and we get a nice taste of things to come.

    Still don't know why Rose's mum isn't a vortex though.


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