Famous stories written from dreams

1st November 2022. Reading Time: 12 minutes Famous Paranormal Cases, Paranormal Theories, General. 1099 page views. 0 comments.

Writers can find inspiration from the strangest of circumstances.  Trust me, I know.  Many famous stories are a result of dreams, however some seem more like psychic visions so we have to wonder, is it just a creative story they are channelling or something more?  Here are some famous stories inspired by dreams or psychic visions.

Writers can find inspiration from the strangest of circumstances.  Trust me, I know.  Many famous stories are a result of dreams, however some seem more like psychic visions so we have to wonder, is it just a creative story they are channeling or something more?  Here are some famous stories inspired by dreams or psychic visions.

Sleep and creativity go hand in hand

When we first fall asleep, we enter what is called a hypnogogic state. We are sort of asleep, but we are also awake with a certain amount of awareness.  It is what I refer to as 'dozing'.  It can cause us to hallucinate and hear and see things that are not really happening. It can equally help us to tap into our unconscious mind to gain clarity and inspiration. Thomas Edison would famously enter a hypnagogic state when he was stuck creatively and would enter this state with a question in mind. He would hold a metal ball in his hand so that when he finally fell asleep, he would be awoken by the sound of the metal ball he had been holding in his hand. As the hypnogogic state is one that we tend to remember, he would awaken with creative inspiration or the answer to the question he was asking. It is also considered by many to be a state which allows people to communicate with spirits. Perhaps not having all the 'noise' inside our heads and having a clear mind is enough to open that door. While it is considered to be a hallucination, is this also a state in which we are at our most open and relaxed to connect with our unconscious mind? It is a small window for something to connect with us before we fully wake?

Image Source jeffwarren.org

While Edison would deliberately enter this state for inspiration, some other famous writers found their inspiration in a dream, a nightmare or perhaps even a psychic vision.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)

In 1816, Mary Godwin (who was yet to marry her soon to be husband and become Mary Shelley) spent her summer in the Swiss Alps.  Attending a party would change her life forever.  The host Lord Byron set a writing challenge “We will each write a ghost story,”  Mary was only 18 at the time spending her nights with Claire, Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori comparing ghost stories.  She felt she didn't really have a lot to offer and didn't feel inspired.  One of the group discussions about the principal of life, galvanism and re-animation would become the catalyst to a waking dream that would soon become one of the most famous stories in history.

When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, —I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. ….

Preface - Frankenstien

Depending on what your believe, Astrologist David Olsen in 2011 concluded that based on the information known, the waking dream occurred between 2am and 3am on the 16th June 1816.

“What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.”

Stephen King's Misery (1987)

Some of the most twisted stories are born from the dreams or more accurately nightmares of their creators.  H.P Lovecraft immediately comes to mind.  So too does iconic horror writer Stephen King.  He has made no secret of where some of the inspirations of his stories come from.  In the case of his 1987 book Misery, King found inspiration after falling asleep on an American Airlines flight to London.  In what has become a story retold many times (even by King himself), in 1984, he fell asleep midflight dreaming about himself encountering a psychotic fan.  When he awoke, he quickly scribbled notes on a cocktail napkin.

She speaks earnestly but never quite makes eye contact. A big woman and solid all through; she is an absence of hiatus. (Whatever that means; remember, I had just woken up.) “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.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000)

Upon reaching his hotel inspired and unable to sleep, King just had to punch out a short story.  Reception at Brown's hotel showed him to a desk on the second floor where he went on to write 16 long pages of his story.  The goal was a 30,000-word short story called The Annie Wilkes Edition and would tell the story of romance writer Paul Sheldon, who hates his most popular character Misery Chastain. After his legs are shattered in a car accident, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes who reveals herself to be his number one fan (tell me you just read that in Kathy Bates voice).  She keeps him, prisoner until he writes one more Misery novel just for her. She plans to have it bound in the skin of her favourite pig. Six months later, here’s the Annie Wilkes Edition, but it’s not bound in pigskin. It’s bound in Sheldonskin.  Obviously, this is a bit different to the story we all know, however the short story turned into a novel and one of King's most popular works.  Annie was a character that seemingly haunted King, even in his dreams which perhaps was a metaphor for something more.

Once in a while, something will declare itself so obviously that it’s inescapable. Take the psychotic nurse in Misery, which I wrote when I was having such a tough time with dope. I knew what I was writing about. There was never any question. Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number-one fan. God, she never wanted to leave.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000)

** King had a well-known drug and alcohol problem during this time.

Edgar Allan Poe's A dream within a dream (1849)

Image Source: 100 Best poems.net

Edgar Allan Poe was famous for his macabre and mystery poetry and short stories. While many of Poe's works blur the lines between dreams and reality, so too does their inspiration.  One of his most famous works constantly has people questioning their own reality and asking, 'Was it just a dream?'

In 1849, he published a poem titled 'A Dream within a Dream'.

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Poetry is often open to interpretation and it is thought that Poe was very aware of his mortality at this point. Battling with alcoholism he was said to struggle with daydreams and questioning what was reality which is fitting when you read into this poem. The main question posed in this poem 'Is it all a dream?'. He is unable to grasp even one grain of sand eluding to the point that it is all but a dream. I can draw comparisons to the movie 'Inception'. It made famous the concept of a dream within a dream (within a dream). The main character of the film had a spinning top that he would spin. If the top kept spinning, it meant he was dreaming. If it stopped spinning, it meant he was in reality as he was so deep in dreaming he could not tell what was real and what wasn't. This was also referenced in Picnic in Hanging Rock which I have spoken about in this blog several times. The story starts with the phrase '"What we see and what we seem is but a dream. A dream within a dream".

Lady Joan Lindsay's Picnic in Hanging Rock (1967)

Sarah visiting Lady Joan Lindsay's residence and sitting at the very typewriter Picnic at Hanging Rock was written.

What makes this story so unique, is that it is difficult to determine if it is a fiction or non-fiction tale about young girls who went missing one fateful day.  In fact, people come from overseas to visit Hanging Rock believing it to be a real tale!  In Joan's own words in the book itself:

‘Some of it is true, some of it isn’t’. It is up for you to decide! 

At 9:30 am on a normal day in 1966, Joan sat down as she did every day to start her writing. It was very wintery outside and the perfect day to sit inside and write. The night before Joan had a vivid dream she thought would make a good story. It centred on a picnic during summer at Hanging Rock which was a place Joan had holidayed in as a child. The dream was so vivid when Joan awoke at 7:30 am, she could still feel the summer breeze on her face (even though it was winter and freezing outside). The dream and characters were so real and vivid to her, that she had the basic plot completed by midday. The entire book was written over a period of only 2 weeks. Every inch of Joan was involved in this story. Every night when she went to sleep, more of the story would play out in her dreams. Joan told her housekeeper that she didn't know why the dreams were coming to her, but she didn't care. She had to tell this story, and that she did.

Joan however wasn't just a writer who was inspired.  Joan herself had a deep interest in spiritualism but supposedly did not like to show that side in front of her husband who did not believe in these things. Visiting her house, there are hints of this. The beds in her master bedroom are aligned in an odd position. They are in a specific spot at a specific angle for the best Feng Shui. In her office, papers are held down with a large rose quartz crystal paperweight. Her friends described her as a mystic. They said she knew things without being told. She knew things from the past and also what would happen in the future. It is also said that she could communicate with those who had passed on and had this gift since the age of 3 years. This is all according to her close friend Colin Caldwell.  With her psychic connections and abilities, were these dreams just dreams or were they a message from the other side? The fact is that Joan had always wanted to write a story centred around Hanging Rock - a spot she remembers well as a child. Was it that she just finally found her inspiration? We will never know for sure.

Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?

Thinking back to Poe and his infamous poem, how do we know what is real? When we dream, some see it as a form of pre-cognition. When we are visited in our dreams by people who have passed, it is said to be them coming to communicate with us. The themes of our dreams can be read and can give insight into what is happening in our lives. For example, I often dream that my teeth fall out which can represent insecurity. Our fears can play out in our dreams which in turn become nightmares. We are so connected to our dreams that even we sometimes can fail to establish if they are real. How many times have you woken up angry at your partner because they have done something in a dream to upset you? Once I didn't speak to my husband for 2 days because I had such a convincing dream, I thought it had really happened. I was angry, I cried and eventually I realised I had dreamed the whole thing. During the day our minds can wander - daydreams. Sometimes these are seen as premonitions whilst other times just figments of our imagination. How do we know what is real?

There is no real answer to this question of course. It is highly individual and only a person can establish if something really happened or not or what their dreams or feelings mean. This poem however makes you really think and in a lot of ways was well ahead of its time. More to point when you look at a lot of Poe's work and King, Lovecraft, Shelly and Lindsay, one has to wonder - what were they dreaming about?

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. - The Raven

Is there more than one reality? When we slip into a dream are we living our life in another realm? Are our dreams a reflection of ourselves almost like a form of scrying where you are more looking at a reflection of ourselves? Is a dream all but an emotional hallucination? Is a dream the key to the future? A dream is not bound by time. We may dream for what feels likes minutes yet it seems to be hours when we wake up and look at the clock. Does this mean a dream is a peek into what our consciousness is capable of? Is a dream an extension of our consciousness? Again I don't know any answers to any of these questions, I just find this topic rather enlightening when you really deconstruct it and needs discussion.

cover Image Photo by George Milton Pexels

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