How Much Do Dreams Shape Society?

On the occasion where a person has a troubled nights sleep haunted by dreams that mercilessly cloud their minds with sometimes frightening images, they may try in vain upon waking to banish them from their heads.  But some of these horrifying nightmares have actually been major precursors to major cultural developments and world events.  How many books would you guess had been written by authors after a particularly strange dream?

It may be hard to believe, but many historical novelists of the past received their inspiration not from careful introspection and reflection on the human condition, but rather from simply falling asleep and having a bizarre or frightening dream. 

Where would we be without Robert Louis Stevenson’s image of the duality of man made frighteningly real in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?  While the idea may seem strange out of context today, it was far stranger when the book “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” first reached readers in 1886.  And yet Stevenson said, when asked where he got the idea for a potion that allowed the transformation to take place, that it had come to him in a dream.

But Stevenson was not the first, and certainly not the only classic literary novelist to receive inspiration from a mysterious and unknown source.  In a single conversation one night both John Polidori and Mary Shelley received the inspiration that would become a dream and then later become an instant hit.  Frankenstein was finished less than a year later and by the time Mary Shelley was nineteen she had already contributed substantially to what would become one of the staple cast of characters of modern horror literature.

Similarly John Polidori received inspiration from a dream, which would give him reason to write the classic story “The Vampyr.”  In Polidori’s dream he envisioned a creature that came with the night and drank only blood to survive.

And speaking of vampires, Stephanie Meyer’s pop hit series “Twilight” was inspired similarly by a dream welling deep from the subconscious.  The series later went on to be a sensation and movie series for young adults and in its own way entrenched itself into western culture’s collective unconscious.  All because of a dream.

And of course, famed horror legend, HP Lovecraft wrote often his own brand of  inspirational horror stories from dreams for a time.

But not all of these feverish strikes of inspiration resulted in books being written.  Telescopes, inventions, rockets, movies, paintings, pieces of music, and even sculptures have come to artists while in a dream-like state.  And while we cannot look at each one – there are far too many to list – these few are immediately recognizable staples of modern society and culture.  So this holiday season have pleasant dreams, and if you don’t – don’t necessarily block those dreams out right away.  You never know when inspiration is about to strike.