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While the Endless are beyond human morality, it is quite easy to notice the general characters of them: Destiny is cold and formal, Dream is moody, Delirium is happily childish (and really, really insane), Despair is quiet and withdrawn and Death... well, and Endless that is personification of something arguably worst that can happen is actually everyone's best friend.

And then we have Desire, that is a self-centered scheming bitch/bastard:

Not mentioning her plan that almost killed Dream - she/he raped sleeping Unity Kinkaid knowing that Dream will have to kill her granddaughter Rose and therefore spill her sister/brother blood and get torn by furies.

Why did Neil Gaiman decide to turn her/him into villain? Why (in universe) is she/he so mean towards Dream?

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    Not a full answer, but I remember an interview with Neil Gaiman where he pointed out that the series is from the Sandman's point of view, and of course it portrays him sympathetically. A series titled "Despair" would likely not characterize Dream so kindly. (No pun intended.) May 10, 2016 at 0:33

4 Answers 4

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Desire gets what it wants.

What Desire wants that is most relevant to Dream's story is to take his/her/its stuffy older brother down a peg or three. By necessity that makes it a villain, or at minimum, an antagonist.

(by default, my brain makes Desire a her, but I will try to stick to the neutral pronoun)

The earliest (in-universe chronological) beginnings of their rivalry is displayed in Endless Nights. In the story that focuses on Dream, The Heart of a Star, it shows Dream falling for a mortal named Killalla, bringing her to a meeting of stars, and actually thanking Desire for its influence. Although many of the Endless here are portrayed differently to show how they have evolved over time, Dream and Desire are pretty static. Dream is formal, and Desire is capricious. The story ends with Killalla falling for a star instead of Dream, which Desire finds funny and Dream does not, their rivalry begun.

It's strongly implied that Desire continues to play this "prank" on Dream over and over again, with relationship disaster after disaster through the millennia, not understanding or not caring that Dream will not change and only carries the hurt from these experiences. This escalates (Nuala, which feeds Season of Mists) and escalates (the story Three Septembers and a January) and escalates (Rose Walker / Dolls House). It's not like Desire isn't busy doing its own thing, but this is the side that Dream gets.

It is mentioned and demonstrated in the series, repeatedly, that getting what you want means getting what you once wanted. It is subtly implied that Desire understands this by the end, where it clearly gets what it wants and cannot find the same glee in the having that it did in the wanting. Whether it knew that all along but did not understand, will change now that its rivalry is ended, or continue to be a villain to various parties, is left for the reader to imagine.


Adding to this answer, and offering a different side of Desire, is Sandman: Overture...

... during which Desire is secretly helping Morpheus all along, masquerading as one of his aspects (The Cat of Dreams), in order to save the universe. Not only does Desire consider itself critical to continued existence and therefore immediately got involved, but Dream had flat out refused its help out of pride or their rivalry, and managed to bring about The End. Twice. Desire had to keep using time-shenanigans to figure out a solution where it could help everything work out. Unfortunately, this is treated as a last minute reveal, the nature of the plot forces Desire to forget it happened, and last and most wrenchingly, what does stick is the idea of getting Morpheus to kill a Dream Vortex that is family. So in the same breath, Desire helps save existence and conceives the plot of Doll's House. Your mileage may vary, but the story does go out of its way to point out that both siblings take their duties way too seriously, and are far more alike than either wishes.

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I agree with Radhil but would add that the Alianora story (also fleshed out more in Overture) is another example that Desire is not the villain he/she sometimes seems. (For my part, I mostly think of Desire as a he.) When Dream is imprisoned, Desire, out of all the Endless, is the only one that helps him. Yes, her help is double edged (as all her gifts are) but Alianora does free Dream and does love him. The fact that Dream treats her badly afterwards is not Desire's fault. It is a test Dream failed. Desire is always testing him.

I think it is because he/she sees him the most clearly. They are a lot alike and it's irritating that he's seen as this proud and mysterious king when he's clearly done things much worse than anything we see Desire do. He doesn't have to have the reaction he does to Killalla of the Glow kissing Sto-Oa but he does. He doesn't have to sentence Nuala to hell but he does. Desire wants to unmask him for who he is both to the other Endless but mainly to Dream himself.

This not to say that Desire doesn't have his/her own ugly impulses but he/she seems to be aware of them while Dream is oblivious to his own. And it is these same impulses in Dream (taking Lyta Hall's child, treating her so badly) that lead to his demise but finally transforming him into a more enlightened version of himself.

Conversely, the events of Overture also add a little sting back in Desire's tail. After Gaiman took such pains in the Kindly Ones and The Wake to insist that Desire had no hand in Dream's death, that has now been slightly, indirectly undone. It is Desire that comes up with the plan to save the Universe (the ship, the 1000, etc.) while knowing that only Dream can execute it. By following the plan, Dream leaves himself weak enough to get captured thus setting in motion Lyta Hall's and Daniel's fate.

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Villainy is not really a concept among "Universal" or quasi conceptual entities. They are merely fulfilling the role, as functioning forces of the universe. Gravity is not evil even though it crushes stars and collides planets.

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  • So essentially you are denying the Endless agency; they are forces, not beings, and everything they do is completely constrained by who they are. This seems at odds with almost everything, from Dream's trying to fix things to the changes in personality that Destruction and Delerium (nee Delight) have experienced.
    – DavidW
    Jun 12, 2020 at 22:21
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I have one story arc left to read yet but in my oponion the rivarly between Dream and Desire is based on jelausy (which is one of the areas that anyone can relate to desire).

When we think about dreams and desires in the broad meanings of terms we can see that they share a lot but there is one difference that shapes our counciosness as it is. Desires are primarily powered by ego, while dreams florish in the abscense of it. Desires are concrete and pretty straight forward, which doesn't mean that can not be strange and sometimes even deceitful, but buttom line you want something, there is a solid you and there is a solid otherness. Dreams however don't work that way, they're inconclusive by definition and elusive by nature. There's no you nor otherness that can be identify, it's the image of yourself manifestating in some weird place within yourself, and (according to the mithology of Sandman) that place is part of a relam ruled by a higher entity which albergates the dreams of every existing mortal.

Desires can drive you evwrywhere, to the most pleasent of expiriences or to the most disastrous places within yourself, letting you at the edge of Dispair, his/her twin. But dreams can rise empires, dreams can be shared in a way anything else can't. Even Dream himself in 'A Dream of a Thousand Cats' said that dreams shape reality.

So to sum up I think Desire is jelaous of Dream because they both have enormous influence towards the motivations that run people through out their lives but Dream has a (political) power she/he could only dream of.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. That's a big wall of text to read; you might want to break it up into paragraphs. The question also was more about why Desire was portrayed as a villain rather than merely an antagonist.
    – DavidW
    Feb 29, 2020 at 5:17
  • I do not think it is portrayed as a villan, that is not a word I'd use in the whole comic. We are talking about pure abstractions that work outside human morals, we even have the greatest villan of western civilization, Lucifer, and he's not a villan either, just another entity that represents another facet of human behaviour. Not even the kindly ones, which we all probably hated at the time, they're just fullfilling their role.
    – Kpsula
    Feb 29, 2020 at 16:04

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