Did you know that scientists don’t understand why we dream at night? They don’t even know how we dream, only that our sub-conscience plays a role and that dreams happen during a part of our sleep cycle called REM sleep. What purpose do dreams serve us? Is it our body training us for a fight or flight situation? Is it a message from some higher power? Is it our own mind trying to tell us something? If you go online you will find thousands of websites that will help you translate your dreams. What do you think my mind was trying to tell me when I dreamt the following?
I dreamt that I had sold an American friend of mine a pink Ford Anglia (like the one in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and that for some reason I HAD to get it back. I sat in bed, groggy, for a full ten minutes, believing I had made this horrendous mistake before remembering that not only have I never owned a Ford Anglia, I have never even owned a car!
If we know one thing about dreams, we know that they can serve as brilliant inspiration. Paul McCartney claimed he heard the melody for Yesterday in a dream and wrote it down when he woke up. Albert Einstein reportedly dreamt he was sledging down a mountain and noticed that the stars changed their appearance in relation to his movement. Some people train themselves to be lucid dreamers which means they can control some, or even all, elements of their dreams. They can literally create and manipulate worlds in their sleep!
Today I’ll be looking at five famous novels that were inspired from dreams.
(You’ll notice that the most obvious entry, H P Lovecraft isn’t on this list. The reasoning behind this is simple. I’ve only read The Call of Cthulhu and not any of his Dream Cycle short stories so I don’t feel qualified to talk about them. Lovecraft is on my Kindle, I swear, I just haven’t got around to reading him yet.)
- Misery – Stephen King
Misery is one of Stephen King’s best known works, if you haven’t read the novel or seen the film you should still aware of the plot as it is has embedded itself the public consciences. A famous novelist, Paul Sheldon, is saved from a car crash by a super fan called Annie Wilkes who holds Paul captive until he re-writes the ending of his latest novel ensuring that her favourite character survives. To help keep Paul captive Annie gets him addicted to pain killers, ties him to the bed and, most infamously, hobbles him by cutting of his foot with an axe and cauterising his ankle with a blowtorch. In the film version linked below she breaks both his ankles with a sledge hammer and a block of wood.
This novel was inspired by a dream King experienced while on a flight to London. King had recently come under criticism by his fans because his latest novel, The Eyes of the Dragon, was a fantasy novel and contained none of the horror elements that initially made him famous. As a result, King felt he was tied to the horror genre much like Paul Sheldon is tied to his Misery franchise (and quite literally tied to Annie’s bed). Like his protagonist, King also had an addiction although his was to drink and drugs rather than painkillers. When asked about Misery, King was quoted as saying:
“Like the ideas for some of my other novels, that came to me in a dream. In fact, it happened when I was on Concord, flying over here, to Brown’s [a hotel in England]. I fell asleep on the plane and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer’s skin. I said to myself, ‘I have to write this story…”
When King woke up from his dream, mid flight, he grabbed a napkin and wrote down the following:
“She speaks earnestly but never quite makes eye contact. A big woman and solid all through; she is an absence of hiatus. ‘I wasn’t trying to be funny in a mean way when I named my pig Misery, no sir. Please don’t think that. No, I named her in the spirit of fan love, which is the purest love there is. You should be flattered.”
When they arrived in London, King and his wife stayed at Brown’s Hotel. That night, unable to sleep due to jet lag, King asked the concierge if he knew a room in the hotel where he could write for a couple of hours. He was led to a desk on the second floor landing (a desk Rudyard Kipling died at) and wrote the first sixteen pages of Misery, at that time called The Annie Wilkes Edition. Although certain elements of the book were dropped, such as Paul being fed to the pig and being skinned alive, the core element of Misery always remained.
2. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Bournemouth in a house called Skerryvore when Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were created. The tale of how Jekyll and Hyde came to be really is extraordinary.
One evening at Skerryvore, Stevenson was struggling with writer’s block and decided to go to bed. That night, Stevenson’ wife Fanny, was woken by her husband who was lashing out in his sleep and shouting. The follow extract is from a letter she wrote to a friend shortly afterwards:
In the small hours of one morning,[…]I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.” I had awakened him at the first transformation scene.
With the idea of two men inhabiting the same body fresh in his mind, Stevenson wrote the first draft of the The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in three days. There are rumours that he was able to write so quickly because he he had taken large amounts of cocaine which was prescribed to him by his doctors. He wrote 30,000 words within three to six days (a magnificent achievement) and then presented the manuscript to his family. They all loved the story… apart from Fanny.
Fanny’s main criticism was that the characters of Jekyll and Hyde were too much like Stevenson when he was in different moods. This resulted in an argument during which the manuscript was destroyed. According to Fanny she claimed she discovered Stevenson in bed and the ashes on the manuscript in the fire, suggesting that he burned it in a fit of rage. However in a letter discovered in the year 2000 Fanny wrote the following:
“He wrote nearly a quire of utter nonsense… Fortunately he has forgotten all about it now, and I shall burn it after I show it to you. He said it was his greatest work.”
Each of Stevenson’s children have different accounts of what happened to the manuscript but in any case, Stevenson re-wrote the the story in another three days, once again possibly under the influence of cocaine. Once he’d finished, he sent the manuscript to his publishers and it was met with wide acclaim by the Victorian public.
Interestingly, Stevenson refused to take all the credit for his work. He claimed that the scenes he dreamt came from his “unseen collaborators” and that when he entered a trance like state while writing (which many writers will be familiar with this) his hand was guided by the same force.
3. Interview with The Vampire – Anne Rice
Interview with The Vampire is just that, the story of an Interview with a Vampire. The Vampire in question is called Louis, he is 200 years old and he recounts the tale of his life to the interviewer. Although the novel was met with mixed reviews when it was first released, it was successful enough to start Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, a series which is twenty books long at time of writing and it was successful enough to be turned into a film in 1994 staring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Kirsten Dunst. The trailer is below but beware that it is LOUD… and it hasn’t aged well.
In the late 1960’s, Anne Rice had a bad dream about her daughter Michelle. She dreamed that her girl had “bad blood” and died as a result. Horrifyingly when Michelle was four years old, Anne’s dreams came to pass and Michelle died of Leukemia. This has a great effect on Anne’s mental health and it was during her bout with depression and OCD that she wrote Interview with The Vampire. Fans of the book series have noticed strong similarities between Michelle and the character of Claudia a vampiric little girl who never ages.
4. Stuart Little – E. B White
Everything in this list so far has been dark so here is a lighter entry.
Although E B White wrote Charlotte’s Web it would be unfair to ignore his others works including Stuart Little. Stuart is a mouse with the ability to talk, think and act like a human. He is adopted by the Little family and become the brother of George Little, a social outcast. Stuart is able to live a relatively normal life despite his size, he goes to school with George, he does chores around the house and he is a keen inventor.
If you are like me you will only know Stuart from his 1999 film, the 2002 sequel film or the animated TV show, however this little mouse was first dreamt up in the year 1926 by E B White. When questioned on how Stuart came to be, White responded:
“many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a rat. That’s how the story of Stuart Little got started.”
It took White twenty years to get Stuart published and like the early versions of Micky Mouse, Stuart’s appearance changed from a more ratlike persona to that of a mouse. The plot of the novel was split into two, one strand was used for the first Stuart Little film and the other for the sequel.
5. Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
You knew this would be on the list…
Frankenstein has been credited as kick starting the popularity of zombies in our modern culture and the novel Frankenstein, also called The Modern Prometheus, is commonly believed to be the first Science Fiction novel.
Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein, was in Geneva in the year 1816 with her husband Percy Shelley, their friends Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, the infamous Lord Byron and his Doctor John Polidori. All of the guests were considered outcasts of British society. There was also a lot of tension within the group. Percy Shelley and Lord Byron both loved Claire Clairmont despite Percy being married to Mary and Lord Byron dating John Polidori. It’s also possible that Percy and Claire had an affair the previous year although this isn’t confirmed. John Polidori lusted after Mary who may or may not have been pregnant with Percy’s child. Honestly, it sounds like an episode of Jeremy Kyle.
The year of 1816 was called the year without a summer and during their stay in Geneva the party took shelter from a thunderstorm. To pass the time they decided to have a horror writing competition. Later that evening Mary overheard Percy, Lord Byron and John discussing electricity and that night dreamt of a corpse being brought back to life after being struck by lightening.
And so… Frankenstein’s monster was born.
I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed this article. As always they are great fun to write.
Take care and… sleep tight.