The following material is excerpted from Chapter
Six: _Dreams and the Creative Self _
Thanks to Jean Campbell for permission to reprint.
THE EXPERIENCES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE
It is interesting and revealing to notice the number of well-known creative
artists who have openly discussed their use of the dream state and other altered
states of consciousness to enhance and explore their creative work.
Probably the best known literary products of the dream state are Samuel
Taylor Coleridge's famous poem, Kubla Kahn, written in 1798, and the ever
popular Frankenstein, the story of the first animated synthetic man, written by
Both grew directly from the dream state. Coleridge who, in somewhat desperate
straits at the time, fell asleep in a chair over Purchas's Pilgrimage at the
lines, "Here the Kahn Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately
garden thereunto; And thus ten miles of fertile ground were enclosed within a
wall," straightway dreamed not only the scene, but the lines to the poem
As he recounts in an edition of the poem published in 1816, he awoke and
began to write. Partway through the writing, a knock came at the door. It was a
bill collector; and by the time this unfortunate reminder of Coleridge's plight
had disappeared, frustratingly, so had the remainder of his poem.
Mary Shelley, who in the company of her equally famous husband Percy Shelley,
Lord Byron, and others had been reading aloud a collection of German ghost
stories, became part of a plan, suggested by Lord Byron, that they all write
ghost stories of their own.(Interestingly enough, none of the others in the
group wrote stories which were particularly noteworthy, though Byron's
unfinished attempt, published in 1819, is thought to be the source of
inspiration for another thriller, Bram Stoker's Dracula).
According to Mary Shelley's journal of April 1817, after listening to a long
conversation between Byron and Shelley on the speculation that, "Perhaps a
corpse would be reanimated," she retired to her bed well after midnight
where, stimulated by the evening's conversation, she could not sleep. "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," and thereupon came the vision of Frankenstein. Guided by the idea
that what frightened her would frighten other people, and encouraged by her
husband to expand the tale from its original few pages, she finished the book by
the end of the next year.
Some of the best known authors of that genre of literature known as the
children's story, those books which we read as children and live to read again
as adults and read to our own children, have also been familiar friends with the
dream world: C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, J.R.R. Tolkien,
to name just a few.
Robert Louis Stevenson recounts in his "Chapter on Dreams" in the
volume of essays Across the Plains that often he was aided in the dream state by
what he calls "the Little People"or "Brownies."
In time of need, Steven said, when he was stuck with a plot or didn't know how
the story would come out, these "Little People" would help him out,
often by telling him a story piecemeal in the dream state so that he himself
would not know the outcome. After worrying for several days, Steven says, he
once dreamed three scenes of Dr. Jekyll which became central to one of his most
famous works, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the eminently popular author of The Hobbit and a famous
ring-cycle trilogy The Lord of the Rings, felt so strongly about the connections
and the distinctions between the fairy tales he made so popular and dreams or
work resulting from dreams, that he commented in his essay "On
Fairy-Stories," published in The Tolkien Reader that
"I would also exclude (as a fairy-story) any story that uses the
machinery of Dream, the dreaming of actual human sleep, to explain the apparent
occurrence of its marvels. At the least, even if the reported dream was in other
respects in itself a fairy-story, I would condemn the whole as gravely
defective: like a good picture in a disfiguring frame. It is true that Dream is
not unconnected with Faerie. In dreams strange powers of the mind may be
unlocked. In some of them a man may for a space wield the power Faerie, that
power which even as it conceives the story, causes it to take living form and
colour before the eyes. A real dream may indeed sometimes be a fairy-story of
almost elvish ease and skill--while it is being dreamed. But if a waking writer
tells you that a tale is only a thing imagined in his sleep, he cheats
deliberately the primal desire at the heart of Faerie: the realization,
independent of the conceiving mind, of imagined wonder."
Tolkien goes on to say in the same essay that: "The tale itself may, of
course, be so good that one cannot ignore the frame. Or it may be successful and
amusing as a dream story. So are Lewis Carroll's "Alice" stories, with
their dream-frame and dream-transitions. For this (and other reasons) they are
It is far from the purpose of this book to make such esoteric distinctions as
the one Tolkien draws between the fairy-story and the dream-story, but it must
be seen that the dream state has earned sufficient recognition from a large
number of artists that it cannot be denied its place either as an impetus or a
result of artistic work.
It is interesting to note that the author of another ring-cycle, and one with
which Tolkien claims his little tale of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins has no
connection, Richard Wagner, also dreamed. Wagner spoke often of the blissful
dream state into which he fell while composing, and wrote in a letter to a
friend that the opening to his Das Rheingold came to him while he lay half-
asleep on a sofa in a hotel in Spezia.
Tolkien's ring story, which came at the outbreak of World War II, depicts the
triumph of valor and humility over the forces of darkness. Wagner's famous work
was, in many ways, the clarion call for the German master race.
Another famous German, Nobel Prize-winning author Herman Hesse, also
recognized the importance of dreams throughout his long writing career. Demain,
the most popular of his early works (which also bespoke the outbreak of World
War II), carries a dreamlike quality throughout, and the author's pacifist and
anti-Nazi sentiments are portrayed in the book's central figure, Sinclair.
Probably one of the most important dream scenes in all of literature is
portrayed in Hesse's novel Steppenwolf when, looking for his anima, Hermine, at
the Masked Ball, Harry Haller enters into a somnambulistic world in which he
sees the sign reading: "TONIGHT AT THE MAGIC THEATRE. FOR MAD MEN ONLY.
PRICE OF ADMITTANCE YOUR MIND. NOT FOR EVERYBODY...."
Hesse spent several months in therapy with Carl Jung, an event which not only
dramatically altered the course of his writing career, but was forever to
impress upon him the importance of the dream world and the world of metaphysics.
Certainly, however, the world of dreams has not claimed only those artists with
as strongly developed a sense of the mystical as Hesse, Stevenson and Tolkien.
One of America's most down-to-earth and practical, as well as representatively
popular authors, the beloved Mark Twain, also gave credence to the inspiration
of dreams, and with good reason: he was often the dreamer of precognitive
dreams. One of these came true in a tragic way, as told by Samuel Clemens to his
official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine.
One night Clemens, who was then a junior pilot on the Mississippi River
steamboat Pennsylvania, dreamed about his younger brother Henry, of whom he was
very fond. In 1858 Sam had been able to secure for Henry a position as clerk on
the Pennsylvania, and the two had great times together.
On the night of the dream, the Pennsylvania tied up at St. Louis. Sam spent
the night with his sister Pamela who lived in that city. Clemens reported that
in the dream he found himself in the sitting room of his sister's house. Resting
on two chairs was a metal coffin. Looking inside, Clemens found the body of his
brother Henry with a bouquet of white flowers, a crimson rose in its center,
lying on his chest.
When Clemens awoke the next morning, the dream as is often the case, seemed
so real that he believed it to be true. He thought he would go downstairs and
take one last look at his brother's face, but then, changing his mind, went out
for a walk. It was not until Twain reached the middle of the block that he
realized he had been dreaming. He ran back to the house in a state of joy, told
his sister about the dream and then seemingly forgot about it.
In the meantime there was friction on the boat and Sam left his job to go
aboard another steamer, the Lacey. Henry remained on the Pennsylvania as a
Clemens remembered that the night before the Pennsylvania started up river,
the first time they were apart, he gave his brother some advice about what to do
in case of a river accident. Two days later, the Lacey touched in at the port of
Greenville, Mississippi, only to hear from the wharf, "The Pennsylvania is
blown up just below Memphis at Ship Island. One hundred and fifty lives
Although it was hoped that Henry Clemens would recover from the burns he
sustained in the fire, he died six days after the explosion in an improvised
hospital in Memphis. Most of the victims of the disaster were laid out in plain
pinewood coffins; but for Henry, whose handsome features had particularly
attracted the attention of the Memphis ladies, a collection had been taken up to
purchase a metal coffin.
When Clemens walked into the room, everything was as it had been in his dream
with the exception of one detail. As Sam Clemens stood looking at his brother's
body, an elderly woman walked into the room carrying a bouquet of white flowers
at the center of which was one crimson rose. She laid it on Henry's breast.
TEACHING WRITING THROUGH DREAMS
Fortunately for all of us, the creative process does not end with the very
famous, but can be equally helpful to the struggling artist or the ordinary
individual who wants to explore creativity, which is a gift to all of us.
When I began teaching writing classes at a Virginia Beach high school in
1973, I had no real idea of developing my own techniques for teaching writing.
What I did know was that I enjoyed teaching writing more than anything else,
because it seemed to me to be one of the few places in which the public school
system made allowance for natural creativity.
What happened the day I walked into the first high school writing class was a
surprise even to me. I gave the assignment which I had intended as a
loosening-up technique, something geared to teach the fact that true creativity
comes from within: "Write a dream," I said, "a dream you've had
recently, or one you remember from your childhood. Write an interpretation of
the dream and then write a short story from it."
It was as if I'd said the magic word. When I said the word dream, a dozen
bored faces came alive. "You know how to interpret dreams?" one girl
"What does it mean when you sleepwalk?" another asked.
"What does it mean when you dream you were someplace and your friend
dreams he was the same place and you both remember it?"
The class began an adventure into the exploration of the unconscious mind
that intrigued one group of students after another for the three years I taught
in Virginia public schools and continues, for some of them, even now. It
produced that year the second-place award-winning short story in the state
student writing competition, and two years later, both the first-place short
story and first and third place poems in the same contest.
What happened? It is my belief that something in the magic of the class
unleashed the creativity of some extraordinary and even very ordinary students.
It started, naturally, from my own interest in writing. No subject, I
believe, can be taught effectively by someone who performs the act of teaching
as rote exercise, without enjoyment of the subject itself. And I had loved
writing from the time I could first hold a pencil. Yet an interest in writing
was certainly not the only thing that sparked the first class or the classes
after it. I had been teaching writing off and on since the first teaching job I
took the year after I graduated from college. Quite probably my maturing
understanding of people and their individual problems played a part, since I was
more willing to help students learn to let the words flow freely from their
minds to the paper without having to judge them. Yet there was something else.
Drawn almost unwillingly from that first class session into subject areas
that I knew from past experience could "get me in trouble" in the
ordinary teaching world, I began very cautiously to explore the depths of a
knowledge for which these young people did not even have a vocabulary, but which
they surely possessed.
I moved very cautiously at first, already concerned with the disapproving
look I had received from the vice-principal when I told her I was involved with
an organization which studied psychics, yet feeling pushed by the questions my
students began bringing me daily about their dreams. They even began bringing
their friends around between classes for lessons in how to interpret their dream
symbols. I pushed caution aside and devoted one class exclusively to
understanding how to interpret dream symbology, pointing out to them how writers
down through the ages have drawn on the same universal symbols to develop
allegory and fiction which has struck chords deep in our souls. The dream
teaching spilled over into my regular English classes at the request of students
there, making the teaching of fiction and poetry more of a challenge and less of
One day early in the fall, one of the writing class students, a pale, shy
girl named Christie who was living through the breakup of her parents' marriage,
came into the classroom early as I was hurrying to correct some papers.
"God spoke to me for the third time last night, she said confidentially
as she walked up to my desk.
Trying not to look too surprised, I asked in the same manner, "Oh, what
happened?" She proceeded to report a dream in which she found herself atop
a large cross. "On the first day, there was nothing," she said,
nothing, just gray. On the second day there was a huge storm, thunder and
lightning and huge waves. On the third day, the sun came out and God spoke to
me. He said, 'You have done good."'
From her hushed tones it was obvious to see that she had had what one might
call a mystical experience. Life had been tough for this girl. From what was
apparently a strong Christian upbringing she had lived through having her mother
walk away, the remarriage of her father to a woman whose morals she could not
condone, and having to care for a fairly large group of younger brothers and
sisters, step-brothers, and step-sisters.
I hesitated to ask her what God had said to her the other two times He talked
to her, but said, "Why don't you write about it?" as the rest of the
class was coming in. She wrote a poem of great beauty and maturity which I wish
to this day I had kept since she dropped out of school soon after that and I
lost contact with her.
Christie was not the only one whose writing seemed to grow as the members of
this class were allowed to explore their thoughts and abilities.
In an earlier chapter, I told the story of Susan, the cheerleader whose
grandmother had died. In the five years since her grandmother's death, the
experience had obviously run like an undercurrent in this girl's life, unheeded
by her parents or any of the others around her. It was to her grandmother that
Susan often took her concerns under the guise of dreams, yet obviously the
question nagged at her as to whether this was a "sane" thing to do.
When her question about whether any of the others ever dreamed about anyone
who had died was received by her peers not with scorn but with sympathy and
interest, she obviously took comfort from it.
Asked to write a story about her experiences, she produced a rather magical
little children's tale about a little girl whose grandmother kept an eye on her
even though death had separated them. Once again, here was a young person who
made rather ordinary grades, who did not come to class with any particular
writing ability, but had taken it because it was not a science class and fit
into her busy senior schedule. The amount of creativity in the story was
attested to by the warm response it received from other students.
Some of the stories they wrote had an obvious science fiction quality as they
began to explore their own experiences with time. The boy who asked, "What
does it mean when you and your friend both dream you are at the same place at
the same time and you both remember it?" had had a personal experience with
non-linear time which led him to explore the subject even further.
After some of the class members had experienced lucid dreaming (which they
accomplished with a rapidity even I found alarming after knowing adults who had
spent months with no success) one of the girls announced to the class a problem
which has puzzled philosophers for centuries.
"If David is at home and I call him," she said, "he exists,
but sometimes if David is at home and I don't call him, he doesn't exist."
Egged on by this outrageous statement, the class (including David) gave her
argument after argument while I listened with growing amusement. Finally, in
what appeared to be anger, she got up, walked out and slammed the door behind
I always tried to give my class as much freedom as possible without
disrupting anything in the rest of the school, so I let her go, thinking it
would be good to have a cooling-off period. We went on with a discussion of
other matters until almost the end of the period. Attention shifted and
everyone, including myself, forgot about this girl and her exit. About one
minute before the bell rang for class change, the door opened again. We all
looked up from our discussion. There stood our recalcitrant class member with a
mischievous grin on her face. Dramatically she paused in the doorway. "See,
I didn't exist, did I?" she announced to a round of laughter and applause.
If a tree falls in the forest without anyone to see or hear it, has it really
fallen? What teacher has not been delighted when a student comes up with a
fresh-faced discovery unaware that textbooks have discussed it for years.
The question of time was not so easily dismissed, however, by a few of this
group. One boy, Steve, had dreamed repeatedly as a child about lying in the
bottom of a boat watching the bank go by on either side.
Though he lived near the water all his life, he had no conscious recall of an
experience to match this one until he was much older. In the first "write a
dream" experience, I encouraged him to explore this dream, extending the
travel in his imagination until the boat reached its destination. By the time he
finished this exploration, I was confronted by a student who insisted that the
child in the boat was not Steve as he knew himself today, but another boy,
Joshua, who lived in frontier America and was escaping from the Indians. Was
there, he asked me, really such a thing as reincarnation?
How can we argue with someone's experience? I find that I can argue all I
want that something did not happen or that the facts were really different, but
people's perceptions seldom change.
I told him what I knew about reincarnation and led him to some books on the
subject, feeling that at any moment I might get expelled for teaching
inflammatory subjects.(Even though, while teaching my American Literature
classes, I found it very hard to teach Transcendentalism without approaching the
question of reincarnation, which was already known to some.)
The adventure for Steve did not end there. A serious student of any subject
which interested him, he began to ask questions about symbolism, about yoga,
about meditation. One day he came to class asking whether anyone ever heard
Asleep in his room for an after-school nap, he said, he heard the telephone
ring and had tried to answer it but no one was there. This event recurred. Then
going back to sleep, he heard someone calling his name. He thought it was his
younger brother, but going downstairs, he discovered that he had been alone in
the house and that his little brother, who was just coming in the door from
school, had not called him.
Not long after this incident, he came to me before class and said in an
urgent tone, "I really have to talk to you." I invited him to stay
after class a few minutes since I had a free period.
The story which unfolded would have made anyone a little nervous. On a class
field trip that weekend, Steve said, he had been riding on a bus crowded with
other students and, since he hadn't had much sleep, he decided to try to
meditate and clear his mind. Almost immediately, he said, he found himself
swimming in the ocean (in fact he was a strong swimmer and this was an
oceanography field trip) talking, or being talked to, by a porpoise who called
himself Thonar. The porpoise explained why, as an intelligence, porpoises had
left the land and many other things. "If I told this to anybody,"
steve said (telling it to me), "they'd think I was nuts!"
Well, I am sorry to say he was probably right. His experiences of
extraordinary phenomena had by that time so transcended the experiences of his
contemporaries that had he explained them even to a school counselor, he might
have been carefully examined an persuaded to drop his delusions. However, he did
not seem to be attempting to use his experience to compensate for any other lack
in his live so I agreed to keep what he told me confidential. In the meantime,
he went on to write a prize-winning short story incorporating some of what he
had learned in his dreams.
I must add that, in the case of some of the other students who came to me, I
was not so confident of their ability to handle their dreams without help. As a
teacher, I could only go so far in taking time to help individuals understand
their problems, and when one of the girls in writing class brought a friend who
had been consistently dreaming vampire dreams, both where he was pursued by
vampires and where he himself became a vampire, I recommended that he contact
one of the best counselors I knew for an intensive examination of his attitude
toward himself and others.
When school was almost over that year, some of the students began to say that
they didn't want the class to end, and asked me to go on teaching them over the
summer. I laughed at the compliment, thinking it was a piece of nostalgic
madness that sometimes gets into students at the end of a school year. And
finally, to humor them, agreed that if they would appear at my house at a
particular day and time, I'd teach a summer writing class. I expected they would
forget about it when school was over.
Instead, ten students showed up at the appointed time. Others sent word that
they were sorry they couldn't make it, but summer jobs were keeping them away.
Feeling surprised and honored, I began then seriously to think about developing
techniques for teaching writing which extended beyond the methods by which I
myself had been taught.
I was not too surprised when I returned to school the next fall to find
another group of writing students as interesting and as interested as the first.
The thing that did surprise me was when those students, and again the students
from the year following, began to become friends with one another and to form a
chain of friendship which extended far beyond graduation and even into the
present, and that each year, with new additions, the group would ask for the
class to go on into the summers.
It is my opinion that there was no magic used here, no special charisma or
anything of the sort. These people came to know each other and respect each
other through the language of dream--perhaps the deepest, most honest language
we have. And they liked it, found it meeting a need unmet elsewhere in their
world, and wanted it to continue. At present these former students are college
students, young business people, housewives, working mothers, and a variety of
other things which cover the occupational field. The thing which they have in
common, and which binds them to one another, is their continuing interest in
dreams and creativity.
One last amusing incident, and one whose creativity cannot be denied, is that
of Joe Fredd. Joe Fredd was the creation of one of the students as the result of
the first dream assignment, obviously an alter ego. In the assignment, which
asked the students to allow their characters to interact, Joe Fredd interacted
with the characters of many of the students in the class - an alternately
awkward and suave ladies' man.
As the class went on, Joe Fredd took on a life of his own. Through his
mischievous creators, he obtained a library card, signed hall passes, took
exams, and traveled to other classes. he became known to half the senior class
(and puzzled one or two of their teachers who received papers or exams from this
Today, several years later, Joe Fredd still exists and occasionally, via
letter or word-of- mouth I hear of his exploits. He entered the army, traveled
to foreign lands. I hope he never dies.
Jean Campbell is the host of the ASD Bulletin Board and you can visit with
her online every day at http://www.asdreams.org/subidxdiscussionsbboard.htm
or E-mail JCCampb@aol.com