Examples of how to write a dream
February 17, 2010 11:11 PM   Subscribe

What books or stories contain your favorite descriptions of dreams?

I've been reading Gold Rush, by Yu Miri, about a teenage boy going further and further off the deep end. Some flight-of-fantasy type scenes have been really well written, while other dreams seemed to be chocked full of obscure symbolism without paying any mind to how real people dream - or how I dream, anyway. But the book has made me think about the way dreams are portrayed in fiction, and if a perfect rendering of human dreaming in fiction is possible. (Before anybody says it: I have tried to read Finnegan's Wake, and it was fun for about two pages before it became... unreadable. But when I checked it out from the library, someone had left a dollar inside!)

Anyway, I've seen these previous questions, which were fun, but what I'm asking for here is recommendations for books, short stories or even poems that contain dream sequences you think are either A) exceptionally descriptive of the way you dream personally or B) exceptionally creative and interesting.
posted by Rinku to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I was given this anthology many, many years ago and it seems to be exactly the sort of thing you're after - a collection of poems, songs, stories and excerpts from novels all about dreams and the dreaming experience.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:16 AM on February 18, 2010

It's not a dream sequence, exactly, but The Leper's Companions reads like a dream to me.

Also this is more regarding dreams than showing them, but it's classic:


O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.


Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.


A dream itself is but a shadow.
posted by NoraReed at 1:16 AM on February 18, 2010

Little Big, by John Crowley, and you will _love_ this anthology:

Black Water: Anthology of Fantastic Literature.
posted by smoke at 1:32 AM on February 18, 2010

Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
Complete text here.
posted by spasm at 2:45 AM on February 18, 2010

The Bridge by Iain Banks
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:48 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

A.S. Byatt's novel The Biographer's Tale has a vivid dream-sequence based on a real dream recorded by the nineteenth-century scientist Francis Galton. It's an interesting attempt to imagine how someone in the nineteenth century - i.e. before Freud -- might have tried to interpret their dreams.

(Galton's original dream can be found here. "In my dream, a small ball appears inside my eye. I speak in the singular, because the two eyes then seem fused into a single organ of vision, and I see by a kind of touch-sight all round the ball at once. Then the ball grows, and still my vision embraces the whole of it; it continues growing to an enormous size, and at the instant when the brain is ready to burst, I awake in a fright.")

You might also enjoy Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare, a fantasy novel set in medieval Cairo. It's about a disease called the 'Arabian Nightmare' whose victims suffer excruciating torment in their dreams every night but remember nothing about it when they wake up.
posted by verstegan at 3:25 AM on February 18, 2010

A vision in a dream. A fragment.
posted by TedW at 4:44 AM on February 18, 2010

"and if a perfect rendering of human dreaming in fiction is possible"

I'm not sure that written fiction can capture dreams. So much of it is visual that even a great written rendering of a dream misses an important quality, at least, when I think about my own dreams.

The closest I've some to seeing something that matched my dream experience is the movie "The Cell", and I'm aware that's not what you asked for.
posted by Gorgik at 6:28 AM on February 18, 2010

A trippy nightmare about hothouse flowers and syphilis...unforgettable!
Against the Grain (A Rebours), by J.-K. Huysmans, 1884
posted by aquafortis at 7:13 AM on February 18, 2010

Check out the dreams of peasants in Anna Karenina. Anna has a terrifying nightmare of a hideous, French-speaking dwarf beating an iron rod when she meets Vronsky, and the dream occurs later when her life has spiraled out of control.

I know you're looking for dreams in books, but the dream sequences in The Sopranos were often excellent visual manifestations of that state of confusion you get when you try to remember why exactly there was a caterpillar crawling on your enemy's bald head.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:38 AM on February 18, 2010

I love the dreams written by Milan Kundera. Check out The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
posted by prefpara at 7:51 AM on February 18, 2010

The entire novel The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro appears to be a dream (or is told in the manner of a dream). It's all very surreal: time passes both very slowly and very quickly, characters seem to change (e.g. the narrator meets a woman for the first time, and though it is true that this is their first meeting, it's simultaneously true that they are an estranged married couple with a child), the narrator has a task to accomplish and is constantly sidetracked by other unrelated things/people, space is oddly layed out (e.g. walk into the kitchen end up in a concert hall).

I found it very consistent with the way my dreams tend to work, but I also found that that made it a frustrating read.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:57 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Borges was very pre-occupied with dreams, and lots of his fiction features great writing about them. The short story "Ragnarok" comes to mind first, and consists entirely of a description of a dream.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:06 AM on February 18, 2010

The chapter entitled "Snow" in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is about Hans Castorp's dream/hallucination as he slowly freezes while trapped in a blizzard.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:43 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven
posted by neuron at 2:43 PM on February 18, 2010

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