by Julia Buckley
It seems the older I get, the more I dream. There might be value in this, since many authors claim to find their inspiration in their dreaming. Our own Sandra Parshall has noted that she got the idea for her first mystery, The Heat of the Moon, after she ate too much pecan pie and had a restless night of dreaming. The great Robert Louis Stevenson, plagued by illness for most of his short life, once chided his wife for waking him, saying that he been dreaming "A Fine Bogey Tale." It later became the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson is said to have written the first draft obsessively, completing it in as little as three days.
I know how it feels to be burdened by a dream; sometimes I wonder if I should be turning this to my advantage. I've never kept a dream journal or really tried to recapture the dreams that I have at night, although I usually have a lingering memory of three or four dreams when I wake in the morning. By mid-day, though, they're almost entirely gone.
This weekend marked the birthdate of Mary Shelley (August 30, 1797), the author of Frankenstein. Shelley was a product of Romanticism, a movement which placed "an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth" (1). Shelley was the last, according to William A. Covino, to embrace the notion of 'magic' in composition--or at least a magical flow of ideas from a place of dreaming to an interpretive reality. Covino writes that "Romantic fascination with the magical imagination is explicit in . . . Mary Shelley's portrayal of a magical world ravaged by a monster of science in Frankenstein. English Romantics turned to magic in order to license the powers of the composing imagination, to find a discourse for intellectual and political revolution, and to define writing as a liberatory force that constructs realities" (2).
Dreams, I think, can be channeled from the unconscious into what Covino calls "the composing imagination." I'm not speaking of the mundane recurring dreams: the one where I'm back in math class, taking the final, and I've never opened the book (that one is disturbingly frequent), or the one where I'm back in the high school play, the curtains are opening, and someone tells me that I've memorized the wrong script. Those are obvious dreams; they speak of a fear of not being prepared for life.
The dreams that interest me far more are the subtle ones that will leave me with some tantalizing bit in the morning--a snatch of dialogue, a sinister character, a surprising ending. Not all dreams are linear, but some of mine are--that is, they follow a plot with exposition, conflict, climax and denouement. These are the dreams that seem to long for interpretation, for a place in my conscious mind.
Have any of you ever taken a dream into your writing? Or have you read anything that stayed with you to the extent that you dreamt about it?
This weekend, in honor of Mary Shelley and the wonderful, long-lived Frankenstein, I will try to tap into the magic of my subconscious mind. You do it, too. Perhaps we'll spark a Romantic Renaissance.
1. Mary Shelley
2. Covino, William A. Magic, Rhetoric, and Literacy: An Eccentric History of the Composing Imagination. Albany: State University Press, 1994.)
Photo: a sunset near my home.