The Reality of Dreams

We’re starting into the last week of classes before the Christmas holidays. This week, I always wear my Christmas necktie. Years ago, a former volunteer in the program through which I came to Japan made these neckties for all the guys in the program. It’s a long, large necktie made from cloth patterned with holly leaves and berries — very bright, vivid greens and reds. Some would call it hideous; I think it’s fun and festive, because it’s so obviously Christmas. It’s Christmas shouted from the rooftops — it’s Scrooge after his reawakening running around buying geese for people — it’s the main character at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life — it’s the Grinch swooping down the mountainside, bringing everything back. It’s the exuberance of Christmas in a necktie! Most every year, some students smile at it. A few comment that they like it. A fellow teacher smirked at it last year (in a friendly way).

Anyway, at this holy time of year, the walls of the worlds grow thin, and it’s a good time for storytellers to think.

I was thinking this week about the reality of dreams. Let’s see if I can explain what I mean. In the movie Inception, the main character has that intriguing line about how the most powerful virus is an idea. Once a person gets an idea fixed in his/her head, there’s no unseating it. I’ve experienced this phenomenon time and again in life. Someone gets a mistaken impression, some misinformation, etc., and believes it. You can correct it any number of times, and you come back in six months, and the person still believes the mistake — corrections are often meaningless. I’m sure I’m often that person, too, with some of the “solid facts” in my head being solidly non-factual. (Correct me if you can, please, but I’m warning you . . .)

Don’t we see this force of ideas on display in many great works of literature? Captain Ahab has this bee in his bonnet and can’t let that whale alone, no matter what the cost. Shakespeare — isn’t there the thing in Othello where the bad guy convinces him his wife is unfaithful, and even though she’s innocent, Othello can’t get the idea out of his mind, and he ends up destroying everything he loves, all because of that one planted idea? The Silmarillion — Feanor wants those silmarils back, and he will take on anyone — Man, Elf, or Valawho stands in his way.

Those are cases where things don’t work out well. But there’s a very positive side to this, too. Take an idea that’s good — a noble theme, a beautiful picture — plant that in the mind, and you’ve done something of service and value.

Take Middle-earth. It’s a place familiar to nearly all of us on this blog. We could fill pages writing the things we know about its peoples, its geography, its history . . . yet it’s “only” an idea — “only” a dream. Where is it? It exists in words printed on pages, enclosed between the covers of books. It exists in paintings and sketches done by artists. It exists in musical compositions, plays, and puppet theater. It exists on records, cassette tapes, CDs . . . and yes, thanks to filmmakers, a version of it exists on celluloid and DVDs.

We cannot get onto a plane or ship and go there. Yet it is a real land, is it not? It’s far more real to me than Norway, or Brazil, or the state of South Dakota — about those places I know next to nothing. But I know Middle-earth. I’ve spent hours and hours . . . I’ve spent years there! And so have countless other readers, viewers, listeners, and dreamers, both in this generation and in the generations of the past.

Yet Middle-earth began as a dream in the mind of one man . . .

The dreams I have at night seem to be forged of memory, emotion, the machinations of my subconscious, and perhaps at times an element from outside, the hints and utterances of the Divine — but I don’t think I want to go there in this post.

The dreams I have in the daytime — my writerly dreams — are forged of much the same things, with a bit more conscious shaping and/or interference, which is both a good and a bad thing.

I was thinking of the storm cellar in our side yard back at the house where I grew up. It was a brick dome, covered with concrete, half-covered with dirt, and overgrown by grass, weeds, and trees-of-Heaven. Nothing at all — a simple, rustic construction of mundane materials. Yet for my cousin and me, playing with our dinosaur sets, it became a mountain of cliffs and jungles, a place of infinite tiny, secret places for dinosaurs to hide. Later, for my neighbors and me, it became the Orca, or a similar shark-fishing boat. These notions exist only in our own heads, and (as Chris noted in a comment on the previous posting) they will vanish with us at no loss to the world. But the memories of those imagined things are more important to us than the bricks and the concrete, or any intent of the original builders of the place — our dreams, I would argue, are for us more real than the physical place. They survive, bright and vivid now, though the old cellar is falling to ruin. The barn of our childhood is gone, but it lives in my story “Star,” about the ghost horse, and in our memories.

The storm cellar -- cliff of dinosaurs, shark boat, fortress, ski slope, movie location, cave.

It seems to me that memory is an enormous tool in the storyteller’s kit — memory, that major component of dream. Is it not memory that gives the major fire, the truest authenticity, to the worlds we sub-create? When we can lay hold of the merest fragment of something we absorbed as children, and when we can get that into an expressed form, we have something alive and powerful. (This relates directly to what Mr. Brown Snowflake and Nick were saying in the comments on the previous post just now!)

And does it not seem that memories can be better and more solid even than the realities they’re based on? We take a memory, and we preserve, amplify, and focus it through art (whatever our particular art form may be). Then it has a life far beyond its original instance.

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck famously says:

“If we shadows have offended,

Think but this (and all is mended),

That you have but slumber’d here,

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend.”

I think Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables said to Puck: “Could you maybe apologize and not really mean it?” Heh, heh, heh. Dreams not real? — Pshaw, I say! Few things are as substantial and fruitful as a dream. The power of dream is beautiful and devastating. It can wreak ruin or create sanctuary for untold millions.

Three cheers for art in its various forms! Three cheers for art, which captures the shining moments as they flow past and makes them come-backable! . . . which finds their meanings, near-eternal as the belt of Orion, true as the light in leaves!

And may I take this opportunity to say: a merry and blessed Christmas to all!

16 Responses to The Reality of Dreams

  1. Marquee Movies says:

    Gosh, I really enjoyed reading this. And Fred, just so you know, that main character from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is George Bailey.

  2. I concur says:

    I think, my dear friend, that this is one of my favorite postings from you, and I could not agree more with all that you have said.

    Ahh, the old storm shelter. I remember it as ‘safe’ area for humans while playing Planet of the Apes and I also recall it as The Orca. Do you remember when R.H. nearly killed himself jumping off the side nearest the cars when he “bailed out” of his burning Corsair as we played Baa Baa Black Sheep?

    I liked the line in the Carl Sagan book “Contact” where Eleanor Arroway is told by her ‘father’ “You humans are very good at dreaming. There are dozens of civilizations that trade dreams.”

  3. Marquee Movies says:

    Jhagman, you made me laugh out loud! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all as well – go on home, they’re waiting for you!

  4. I concur says:

    Marquee: Your request of a pic of Fred in the tie beat mine to the blog only because I change my moniker every new post and I get the little “Your comment is awaiting moderation” notice before it hits the net. So yes, we have GOT to see Fred in this tie!

    I happen to have a specatcular second grade school photo of Fred in a sweater that can only be descirbed as “wow.” However, it pales when compared to my own incredible get-up from first grade and the insanely grotesque combination I happen to be wearing as I was walking out the front door of the school on the last day of third grade. No wonder no girls ever talked to me!

  5. fsdthreshold fsdthreshold says:

    Here’s a story for you! It’s still pretty warm over here. Today was bright and sunny enough that I was able to ride my bicycle to the university (about a forty-minute trip one-way). As I was riding home this evening between six and seven p.m. (which is full dark these days), I looked up and saw the moon. Now, I knew from the calendar that tonight was supposed to be the full moon, so it should have been big and round. But the moon I saw had a huge bite taken out of it! I did a double-take and kept watching it. At first I thought it might be a cloud hiding part of the moon. But no, the dark edge was too round, too well-defined, and it didn’t change as the minutes passed. I thought, “That has got to be a lunar eclipse!” It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen an eclipse that I wasn’t expecting. I guess I got a little inkling of what the ancients must have felt like.

    Has there been anything in the news about an eclipse? I haven’t seen anything over here, but I’m sure that has to be what I saw. It would have been in the early-morning hours of Tuesday in the States. I’m not sure if the moon would be up at that time there or not.

  6. Eunice says:

    Yes, a total lunar eclipse was supposed to be visible all over North America. The girls and I watched it between 10:30 and 11:30 Seattle time. Talk about a pre-Christmas miracle! The moon in the winter Seattle skies was actually visible (sometimes through mist) the whole time–even as gentle rain fell! Then, as soon as the moon was fully eclipsed, it became completely shrouded in clouds.

  7. jhagman says:

    Actually it was a lunar eclipse falling on the same day as the Winter Solstice- an event that has not taken in over 400 YRS. I missed it! It is pouring rain hear in SoCal.

  8. I concur says:

    One of those moments most of the bloggership waits for is about to happen, as Mr. Brown Snowflake will be non-responsive until at least Jan. 2 as he returns to his hometown.

    Fred, I will be making the usual rounds in Taylorville and will report back via email. Scott, I will be looking you up (as you already know).

    Shieldmaiden and Daylily: This means I will be going by the site of the former Book Center of lore and will travel down Old Oak Road to see the old Durbin homestead and the former abode of resident atheist Chris. A swing past the old addresses of Tim in Germany and Mike on West Main Cross will also be on the agenda (I like making little nostalgia drives). And, as Fred knows, this also means sanchos at Taco Gringo (rubbin’ it in a bit!)

    I want to wish all of you a blessed and most Merry Christmas! May the joy of Our Savior be with you (and especially Chris, heh heh). I hope everyone has a Happy New Year as well. My prayer is that your holidays be filled with love and laughter and that any travels you must make be safe and worry free.

    Most of all: may any snowflakes that fall on you be white, not brown! :-)

  9. Catherine says:

    Getting back to the dreams . . . this is tangential, but I was just thinking about this last night, and then when I read the post, I thought: “What a coincidence!” The first time I read a book I picture the settings, always, and those settings rarely (if ever) change . . . even if I imagine something inaccurately! And, like Fred has been saying, I picture the settings so vividly, I feel that I’ve actually BEEN there, and that this is my actual MEMORY, not the memory of reading the book!

    The reason I was thinking about this last night is because I realized that, in all the Christmas hoopla, the thing that makes me most excited about this season is pretending that I’m actually THERE, in Bethlehem, at the time of Jesus’ birth. Of course it’s a manger-scene Bethlehem, with none of the messiness, or rudeness of the stable, with angels hovering around and the Baby providing all the physical light in the stable. The thing is, in all these years (not that many, but enough), I have pictured Bethlehem the same way. I’ve read that perhaps the stable was a cave or even a room in a house, but to me it is always a wooden shack with a wide-open door. The shepherds’ field is off to the east. If I were magically transported to “my” Bethlehem, I could lead you straight in by the Nazareth road and take you unerringly to the stable. It’s that vivid in my mind . . . so much so that I almost don’t want to see the real Bethlehem. Not that I deny reality, but because the deep personalness of the story is based in that picture I have in my mind. It is my picture and no one else’s; it is probably well-influenced by the pictures and statues I have seen, but it is my own imagination. And suddenly for me the holy night is deeply, intensely personal; suddenly I have been there, regardless of reality.

    End of sappy Christmas note . . . God Jul, everyone!

  10. tandemcat says:

    Good post–and interesting to read it while in the dream-like setting of a train trip across Pennsylvania–even more so as I go on dreaming up the underground extension of Fred’s Earthwithin world called the Delving, with characters familiar to some of you like Ithamar, Ithuriel, Serun Darkinglow, Griseld, and Ralsoth, as well as some from ‘Threshold of Twilight’ (which include these) and new characters from my own world of dreams.

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