Friday, 15 April 2011

Lucid Dreaming and Tolkien


The Notion Club Papers - an unfinished, posthumously published novel by JRR Tolkien - open with the character Ramer's accounts of what are often termed Lucid Dreams - that is, dreams in which the dreamer is aware they are dreaming, has some degree of control of the dream, and in which the dream experience feels real.

One question is whether Tolkien uses Lucid Dreaming as a literary device (although at the time he was writing there was no concept of Lucid Dreaming - but there was a long tradition of dreams of this type - whether shamanic, mystical, prophetic or pure imagination or fantasy - e.g. 'opium dreams'); or whether, on the other hand, Tolkien was using Ramer to report his own experiences.

I have argued in my Notion Club Papers blog that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Tolkien was indeed expressing his own dream experiences in a fictional form.


This inference has now been confirmed for me by a personal experience of Lucid Dreaming.

From this it is even clearer that Ramer's experiences are consistent with being precise reports of Tolkien's experience of Lucid Dreaming.


From the perspective of the NCPs, the striking feature of a Lucid Dream is the feeling of sensory contact with the dream world.

In most instances, dreams are 'dreamy' - they have a feeling of imprecise unreality due to the constant shifting of association and the shortness of memory - so that the dream is happening to the dreamer (who is trying, but failing, to make sense of it), rather than in Lucid Dreams being dreamed-by the dreamer.

The Lucid Dream is not 'dreamy' - except in that it is known to be a dream, and that events unfold in a somewhat slow motion and emphatically experienced way. By contrast, it is more sensitively appreciated and considered than normal everyday reality: as if realer than real.


Furthermore, in a Lucid Dream moral agency is preserved: the dreamer consciously makes choices. This chimes with Tolkien's discussion in NCPs that there is potential for evil influences to enter dreams, but that this can only happen if the influences are invited by the dreamer.

By contrast, normal dreaming is not subject to the agency of the dreamer, and the dreamer is not responsible for what he dreams - because he cannot help what he dreams.


Assuming that Tolkien was indeed a Lucid Dreamer - and one for whom this was a regular experience, rather than my own one off experience - this leads onto further speculations.

The Lucid Dream turns out to be phenomenologically (experientially) identical to Tolkien's description of how elves might create Faerian Drama (as described in the essay On Fairy Stories and again discussed in the NCPs) - I mean the presumed elves experience of creating this kind of drama.


Furthermore, the rather overwhelming experience of Lucid Dreaming raises may of the problems about fantasy, its validity - and the nature of that validity, and the potential benefits and hazards; matters with which Tolkien so often grappled in his writings.

After all, Lucid Dreaming approximates to being given Absolute Power, and none knew better than Tolkien that Absolute Power has a strong tendency to corrupt.


In sum, I am suggesting that Faery, for Tolkien, was directly experienced via Lucid Dreams; and in that sense he was an intermittent visitor to Faery; and perhaps in that sense it was fear of a cessation of Lucid Dreaming which provoked Tolkiens mid-life poem The Sea Bell/ Frodo's Dreme/ Looney - and when the Lucid Dreams had actually stopped in Tolkien's experience, provoked Tolkien's late story of Smith of Wootton Major. The story was his farewell to Faery.


I make the tentative guess that Tolkien was always aware of the fragility and unpredictability of his ability to experience Lucid Dreams of Faery; and that when Tolkien stopped having Lucid Dreams in later life, he was (as it were) no longer 'allowed' to visit Faery himself, but had only fading memories of these experiences, and the hope that the ability would be passed-on to others - as the Faery star was passed-on by the eponymous Smith.



The Crow said...

I have lucid dreams regularly.
I had one last night, in fact:
Walking in a perfect forest, with my wife, I saw three cougars, close by, climbing trees, and whispered urgently to her that we should now begin quietly moving backwards, away from this possible threat.
Thankfully she did not argue, or demand explanation, but moved with me and away to safety.
No feeling of danger, but of rather of caution and hyper-alertness.
The kind of dream that leaves me rested, satisfied, and more aware than before.
And, as you say, more real than real.

Bruce Charlton said...

Why am I *not* surprised by this revelation? ;=)

Take care, though; I perceive that these experiences have their dangers.