Monday, September 1, 2008

Magic and the Creative Imagination

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.


Bill Cameron said...

Chasing Smoke is based loosely on a dream my wife had. So loosely that she regularly chastises me for "getting the dream wrong."

My own dreams are too prosaic to make it into a story. For example, the other night I dreamed that the UPS man delivered me an empty box. That was it. UPS, empty box.

If I was Samuel Beckett, that would probably be an entire play, but for me, nuthin.

Anonymous said...

Yep, this happened to me last week. We've been working on a reunion of two characters. One of my writing partners asked in a meeting the day before: how would you feel if you met up with someone unexpectedly after many years? Bingo! That was my dream that night. I did manage to write it down after I woke. I admit it was a first, but I'm the type person who loves to go to sleep just for the entertainment value. Lately I've been married, lost on a college campus, caught out doing my 'business' in a bathroom, and assorted other adventures. My dreams are usually mundane, but one night I was nearly murdered and that got the old heart pumping!

Sheila Connolly said...

I swear I woke up one morning with an entire plot in my head. Yes, I wrote the book; no, it hasn't sold, but it's not dead yet either. This is the first and last time to date that such a thing has happened.

I'm much more likely to wake up at three a.m. and realize I forgot to explain how the murderer got into the locked room...

Julia Buckley said...

How interesting, Bill! I love the empty box dream, and I'm tempted to read all sorts of interpretations into it, but that's for you to do. :) And how great that you and your wife discussed her dream and that it inspired your story!

Jan, your dreams sound vastly entertaining. You really should keep the journal!

Sheila, I'm amazed that you got the whole book written. Most of us SAY we will and then don't. I hope you sell it!

Sandra Parshall said...

I have some of my strangest experiences in dreams. Last night, for example, I dreamt about Ben Affleck -- someone I haven't even thought of in ages, and someone I've never thought of at any length. But there he was in my dream, making a rude comment because I had dared to speak to him. If I saw Ben Affleck, just about the last thing I would do is go up and speak to him, because I have no interest in talking to him and because I would never approach a celebrity in public anyway. So why does my unconscious mind believe I *would* approach him and he would react rudely? Very odd. I actually felt so bad about his reaction in my dream that I woke up -- I can usually wake myself up when I'm having an unpleasant dream -- and felt terribly embarrassed and ashamed. Dr. Freud, where are you when I need you?

Julia Buckley said...

Sandra, my husband still makes fun of me because I had a dream that a sheriff pulled me over on the highway and he looked just like Kevin Sorbo (an actor I BARELY know, but have seen on some commercials for stuff on the sci-fi channel). In the dream, the sheriff put his phone number on the ticket he gave me.

My husband has made fun of me ever since, and sends me pictures of Kevin Sorbo. He put one on a valentine one year. :)

Lonnie Cruse said...

Frankenstein is my second fave movie (next to Dracula with Lugosi, sigh) so I recently downloaded the audiobook of Frankenstein. Can't wait to listen to it. Loved your blog post. AND the picture.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Lonnie!

Listen for those themes of nature versus science in Frankenstein. Gives you an idea of what Shelley thought of experimentation.

Bill Cameron said...

Last night I watched the series debut of "Raising the Bar," which I hated. Then, last night my wife had to wake me up because I was shouting, "Jane Kaczmarek is in the house. She's SOMEWHERE IN THE HOUSE!"

Julia Buckley said...

Was it Jane you hated, or the horrible greasy hair of the main character? :0

Bill Cameron said...

I like Jane, though I found her character utterly unbelievable.

Here is my capsule review:

Incestuous crowd of hottie lawyers on each side of the legal divide who still drink and sleep with each other: boring. Batshit judge: profoundly unbelievable and way over the top. DA boss/sex offender: too stupid for words. Secretly gay bailiff or whatever he is: please stop hitting me in the head with the faux-irony hammer. Generalized, unrelenting, constipated earnestness: oh good grief. So, yeah, deeply awful. Not Saving Grace awful, but awful nonetheless. Hard to believe the same network gives us The Closer.

Julia Buckley said...

A hilarious review. You are the king of the well-turned phrase.