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Sometimes authors use a dream sequence to help their character discover hidden truths about themselves. Other times, the dream is an opportunity for author to speak directly to the reader, commenting more freely on what the story you’re reading is really about.
Unlike in films, which renders dream sequences visible, and therefore knowable, a written dream sequence is projected directly into the our minds, colored by our own imagination. In this regard, an novelist enjoys far more freedom than a screenwriter, conjuring phantoms without the constraints of a special-effects budget.
What follows are a series of dreams from literature, along with some commentary on the nature of dreams themselves, from authors who knowingly infected us with their personal vision of heaven — or hell.
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca, 1938
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999
“‘I dreamed I was buying new shoes last night,’ said Ron. ‘What d’ya think that’s gonna mean?’
‘Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow or something,’ said Harry.”
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, 1847
“Heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy.”
H.G. Wells, A Dream of Armageddon, 1901
“We are but phantoms, and the phantoms of phantoms, desires like cloud-shadows and wills of straw that eddy in the wind; the days pass, use and wont carry us through as a train carries the shadow of its lights – so be it! But one thing is real and certain, one thing is no dream-stuff, but eternal and enduring. It is the centre of my life, and all other things about it are subordinate or altogether vain. I loved her, that woman of a dream. And she and I are dead together!”
Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall, 2010
“In my dream I know I am falling. But there is no up or down, no walls or sides or ceilings, just the sensation of cold and darkness everywhere. I am so scared I could scream. But when I open my mouth, nothing happens. And I wonder if you fall forever and never touch down, is it really still falling? I think I will fall forever.”
Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings, 1964
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories, 1949
“I dreamed that there was a grain of sand on the floor of my cell. Unconcerned, I went back to sleep; I dreamed that I woke up and there were two grains of sand. Again I slept; I dreamed that now there were three. Thus the grains of sand multiplied, little by little, until they filled the cell and I was dying beneath that hemisphere of sand.”
Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting, 1975
“I was having that dream again, the good one where we’re all in heaven and never heard of Treegap.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Anima Poetae from the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1895
“If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke – Aye! and what then?”
Erin Bow, Plain Kate, 2010
“Often she dreamt she had two wings, and one was frightened, and one was happy.”