The thing about a plot coupon fantasy, is that it is also a quest. And a quest, if done right, results in the searcher finding more than simply the object or objects of his desires. In "Dream a Little Dream of Me," Dream begins his quest to reclaim his objects of power.
The issue itself begins with counting. A count marks time, like the beat of a heart. It also ends. The repetition of the numbers reminds us of fate, and the Fates, and the idea that all stories have endings. The other contribution to the idea of the inexorable fate of events is the quotation of song lyrics that permeate the issue, beginning with the title. "Dream a Little Dream" is the first song heard in the issue, and its opening line "Say nighty-night and kiss me" is misquoted as "Count ninety-nine and kiss me," picking up the count to one hundred from the previous page, continuing to build the air of fate that hangs over the issue.
John Constantine wonders idly if we've ever had one of those days where somebody seems to be trying to tell us something, and, as the continued musical references to the Sandman and dreams show, someone is certainly trying to get a message to him. (This harkens back to the idea of the universe trying to order itself in Morpheus' absence, and again raises the question: is it the role or the player who is important?)
In the end, the Sandman reclaims the dream sand. And in the next issue, makes his way to Hell.
Dave McKean's cover for "A Hope in Hell" is one of my favorites in the run. The horns growing from the curls in the Morningstar's hair, and the burnt pages from Dante's Purgatorio that line the sides. And it's the choice of the Purgatorio, rather than the Inferno that really makes it perfect. In Purgatory, there is still the hope of Heaven. Here, Dream commits the sin of bringing hope to Hell.
It is the first issue where he mentions being one of the Endless, and then gives some perspective on what that means, as he relates watching Lucifer Morningstar fall from Heaven: "his face undefeated, his eyes still proud." This is also the issue that first truly raises what will become one of the largest and most important themes of Sandman, that of change. Dream notes that Hell itself is changing, the demons that are in it are changing, and the Etrigan asks him "If I've changed, O King, then what of you?"
There is then one of the best set pieces of the run, the challenge between Dream and the demon Chronozon for the return of Dream's
precious helm. The epithets exchanged between the two thump with the pattern and rhythm of Anglo-Saxon poetry - none would jar in a Beowulf translation. But then, at the end, unadorned and true, Dream asserts: "I am hope."
Which is what our dreams are. So he wins, and now has two of his symbols of office again.
When the Morningstar asks what power dreams have in Hell, Dream shows the knife-edge of his cruelty, even more so than he does to the imprisoned Nada. He asks - and asks the Morningstar, who was once the best beloved of God - in particular, "What power would Hell have is those here imprisoned were not able to dream of Heaven?"