My ears hurt, swelling with the high reverberating squeal of a raptor – an eagle perhaps – or something even larger. Then I see it. It is vast, scarlet scaled and leather winged. It is a dragon, and it is looking for me. I am chased up a blackened and fire-ravaged mountain side. I can barely hold on for the hand-holds are few, and they are sharp. The rock cuts my palms. My feet slip as they search for balance. I dislodge small stones which scatter and cascade beneath me, tumbling down into the endless pit. The dragon’s eyes are immediately over my shoulder. Its breath burns my cheek. I turn. A sharp pain slices my hand. I fall.
It is another night and I am at peace. The world is beautiful. I am sitting in a glass baobab tree, and I am cradled by small pink flowers. I am not sure why the baobab tree is all glass but it made this choice and I have no objection. Within its strange bulbous trunk, I can see the reservoir of water. It is half full. Inside that little gurgling lake in the trunk are tiny fish – little dashing sparks of silver light which swim within the tree. I look down from my comfy perch in the leaves. The leaves are not glass, they are ferny and pretty, and the little pink flowers smell gorgeous. The colours are vivid and the perfume is rich, similar to the sweet lilac which I remember with such nostalgia from my childhood. I decide to stay where I am until it is time to wake up.
A few nights later I am climbing through an underground cave. It is extremely deep, and has become home to thousands of bats. But being night, the bats are out on the wing, searching for fruit and insects and mates. And perhaps for blood. I continue to climb through the series of lightless caves. There are stalactites and stalagmites, and they break off as I touch them, cold and damp. I am looking for someone and I know he is looking for me. I see eyes in the black shadows. But are they his eyes? Or someone else who also knows I am coming? Shall I risk going on further, or shall I wake myself up?
I have read many theories concerning the basis of dreams, where they come from, what they mean and why we dream at all. There are several theories about what different dreams actually mean, and quite a few varying theories about why we need to have such sleeping experiences. To be honest, none of these have ever entirely convinced me. Most of us know of the so-called Freudian phallic symbols and the other neat little explanations for our vivid night lives – but are these true and if not, what is?
I doubt those explanations, not because I have any scientific training, nor because I have any better ideas myself about the dreaming process. Certainly stress and worries can affect my dreams occasionally, but most of my night-adventures are not noticeably driven by simple day-time problems. All I know is that my dream life has always been one of the most inspirational aids to my life, my emotional stability, and my writing. I do not remember my dreams every single night, nor – when I do remember them – are they always inspirational. But more often than not they are deep, detailed, exceptionally vivid, and often wildly exciting.
I have sometimes dreamed of events which have later happened in precisely the way I originally dreamed them. I have also met old friends, and talked with members of my family who have passes. Sometimes a series of dreams will be repeated, or an adventure from one night will produce a sequel on the next. One year when I was much younger, I enjoyed a particular series of dreams which continued and developed over almost a hundred nights, finally growing into a most complicated plot with many consistent characters. I have other dreams which seem to be direct lessons, teaching me exactly what I need to know for a challenging position in which I had found myself. Other dreams actually appear to solve some question I have been trying to sort out – and most of all, many are simply glorious adventures which inspire my writing.
Certainly I have learned a lot from my dreams. For instance, I spent one night trudging through brambles and thorns, trying to get to the bright hypnotic light I could see far, far off in the distance. It seemed to take me hours and was hard going. I got there eventually, but when I arrived, I realised there was a much quicker path, had I realised it. There was a little hill and I could have climbed this in an instance, and arrived at the glorious light in just a moment or two. But on the other side of the hill, I couldn’t see the light. By insisting on going the way I could see and understand, instead of taking a leap of faith, I had expended a night of exhaustion. Patience, in other words, can make things happen quicker – and giving up can sometimes be another way of getting what you want.
Another lesson came in minutes when I went through a swing door and found a form of paradise awaiting me. I learned then that the door that opens on opportunity is actually the same door that has previously closed on something else.
Have I taught myself these lessons? Where do dreams come from and how important are they? And could I possibly be an author of fiction without the wild exciting inspiration that comes to me night after night after night?
I am by no means the only author, especially of fiction, who dreams in this manner. I have come to believe that this is a common form of direct inspiration. In dreams I meet my characters, I live through amazing events, and I generally wake with half a book buzzing in my head, pushing me to rush to the computer and start making notes. I walk dark cobbled medieval streets, I look through tiny windows barely visible in candlelight. The soaring stone of castle walls rise up before me. I wander the deserted desolation of a battlefield where the blood and the fallen weapons are still strewn across the tramples crops. After nights spent in this way, I am almost compelled to write!
Of course sometimes the inspiration is not so direct – but at the very least my dreams serve as a widening of the imagination, almost as if I have been taken swimming through tides of awakening – refreshed and inspired without quite knowing how. I am frequently far more awake in my dreams than I am when I actually wake up and have to face the day.