Some men see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”
~ George Bernard Shaw
A long time ago (and we’re talking a very long time ago), someone I was very close to told me I was nothing but a dreamer. At the time, the comment hurt. It was a careless comment made to a teenager, and yet it stuck with me for years.
But is being “just a dreamer” really such a bad thing?
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was inspired by a dream.
In the summer of 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who was 19 at the time) and her soon to be husband poet Percy Shelley visited the poet Lord Byron at his villa beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Stormy weather frequently forced them indoors, where they and Byron's other guests sometimes read from a volume of ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged his guests to each write a ghost story. Mary's story, inspired by a dream, became Frankenstein.
When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think... 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. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world.
~ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, from her introduction to Frankenstein
The Robert Louis Stevenson described dreams as occurring in "that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long." He wrote extensively about how his passion for writing interacted with his dreams and said that, from an early age, his dreams were so vivid and moving that they were more entertaining to him personally than any literature. He learned early in his life that he could dream complete stories and that he could even go back to the same dreams on succeeding nights to give them a different ending. Later he trained himself to remember his dreams and to dream plots for his books.
His wife related how one night Louis cried out horror-stricken, but when she woke him up he protested saying, "Why did you waken me? I was dreaming a fine bogy-tale!" The next morning when he arose he exclaimed excitedly, "I have got my schilling-shocker -- I have got my schilling-shocker!"
He described his novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as having been "conceived, written, re-written, re-re-written, and printed inside ten weeks" in 1886. "For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."
Stephen King had this to say about his novel Misery: "Like the ideas for some of my other novels, that came to me in a dream. In fact, it happened when I was on Concord, flying over here, to Brown's. I fell asleep on the plane, and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer's skin. I said to myself, 'I have to write this story.' Of course, the plot changed quite a bit in the telling. But I wrote the first forty or fifty pages right on the landing here, between the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel."
So there you have it. Yes, I confess. I am a dreamer. And proud of it!