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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

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Monday, July 19, 2010
Which Dreams Make the Best Stories?
 

Andrew Lang (1844-1922), a prolific Scots author best-known for his popular "color" books of fairytales, wrote a book on dreams that is one of my favorites. Titled The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, it was first published in 1897. Lang affected a cool skepticism towards this subject material, which allows him to slide readers cunningly into the deep end, as he recounts case after case of timefolding and interdimensional travel in dreams.

As a consummate storyteller, Lang was always alert for the story value of his material. His main question of dreams is which dreams make the best stories. He concludes that the dreams that make the best stories are those that reveal the “unknown past”, “the unknown present” and the “unknown future”. In other words, he especially likes dreams that reveal episodes in regular life that were previously unknown but can be subsequently verified. If we dreamed of being present in "an unchronicled scene" at the court of a long-dead queen, and a document confirming what we witnessed were later discovered, "then there is matter for a good dream-story."

Lang's references to his own dream life, though modest and brief, suggest he had experiential insight into his subject and that he believed he was a time traveler in his dreams: “In dreams, we see the events of the past. I have been at Culloden fight and at the siege of Troy."

He collects examples of what he calls shared dreams. Thus:

  1. Five members of the Ogilvie family, in different locations dream that a family dog — a poodle called Fanti — goes mad. Subsequently, the poodle lives on, sane and harmless, for the rest of his natural life. Lang leaves us to speculate on whether the dog's fate was changed when one of the dreamer's took action in his dream, throwing the poodle into the fire.
  2. Three members of the Swithinbanks family (father and two sons) dream the mother’s death on the same night and discover in the morning that indeed she died that night


Lang gives several examples of dream tracking (my term) in which dreams reveal the location of lost objects, making allowance for the possibility that the dreaming mind may simply be making better sense of details half-observed in waking life:

  1. A lawyer dreams that a check he has lost is curled around a street railing (he dropped it when he went out to post letters)
  2. A girl in Lang’s family dreams that the missing ducks’ eggs were at a place in a certain field, where they proved to be
  3. An Irish lady dreams a lost key was lying at the root of a certain tree


"You can cover a great deal of country in books," Lang said, and he is a most entertaining companion in the fields of dreams."

Reprinted with permission from New World Library author, Robert Moss. Visit his blog at The Robert Moss Blog.

The Secret History of Dreaming is now available in paperback.

His most recent book is Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination, and Life beyond Death.


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