. . . mostly because I still haven’t seen Inception. Yeah, yeah, I will. Sometime. But! I’ve been thinking about the role of dreams in fiction.
This is mostly because I’m now reading The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. I enjoyed his Percy Jackson books, and The Red Pyramid, and I like this one so far. While I’ve found the three series pleasantly distinct in many ways, they all feature vivid dreams in which characters see events that are really happening as they take place. Gods and other beings use dreams to contact people. In The Red Pyramid, people’s souls/spirits/essences/floaty dream selves actually travel to where the events are unfolding, sometimes even being glimpsed by others on the scene. Since all the major characters of these books have supernatural backgrounds, this is taken in stride, and all dreams are taken seriously. As of yet, no one has suggested that hey, maybe this time, it was just a random sequence of subconscious brain blips. And Mr. Riordan has a field day being able to describe stuff that’s happening to other characters halfway around the world without having to switch POV characters.
This made me think of dreams in other books I’ve read. The fact that dreams are actually a pretty bizarre phenomenon when you think about it, are familiar to most people, have a rich tradition of symbolism and mythos, and are still not terribly well-understood, allows authors to use them all kinds of ways.
(Which phrase should alert you that you are about to encounter A LIST! Huzzah for lists!)
What’s that? You want a list of some ways authors use dreams, as remembered offhand by me? Well, if you insist. You guys and your wacky list obsessions!
- Not at all. This does not necessarily mean that characters do not dream, although it could. (That guy in ALIEN who never dreams? Spoilers – HE’S A ROBOT!)
- “That night, she dreamed of chasing her brother through a hedge maze full of wolves.” May be described in more detail, but generally just intended to show you the current state of the character’s psyche. May, alternately, skip telling you that it is a dream and launch directly into, “She stood in a dark, oddly rustling corridor. Hedges? Where was she? And what was that howling noise?” Depending on how it’s done and how critical a reader you are, you may catch onto the “dream” aspect of this little interval immediately, or may be confused until our heroine wakes up – probably in a cold sweat – at which point you will be annoyed. Probably. If you’re me.
- Message delivery in service of specific entities with that capability (e.g. the spirit of Martin the Warrior in the Redwall books), or one with whom the dreamer is connected (e.g. Harry and Voldemort; also common with love interests and with twin siblings).
- Message delivery in service of the character’s subconscious. These messages will be, understandably, more internal than those of the previous category.
- Prophesy. This is an interesting one, because characters often wonder whether their dreams could be prophetic or otherwise meaningful, whether they actually are or not.
- Spirit travel. I haven’t seen this often, but hey, it’s one to add to the list. And Harry Potter sorta kinda does this, sorta.
- “It was all a dream!” This is like the second wolf-hedge maze example above, only it encompasses the whole story. Thankfully, this is becoming less and less common as I systematically hunt down every person who does it.
Am I missing any, guys? Do you include dreams in your stories? In what way?