Thursday, April 7, 2011

All I Have to Do is Dre-e-e-e-eam, Dream, Dream, Dream, Dre-e-e-e-eam….

Throughout the Lord of the Rings, as well as the other related texts that we’ve read, we have read about many characters having dreams that, in the end, are not just dreams. Even Tolkien, in one of the assigned letters for Wednesday, admits to having a recurring dream of a “Great Wave” which, in the books, he gives to Faramir. He also states that the dream was even passed on to one of his children.  This was a particularly interesting point for me, out of all the readings, because it helps to emphasize the importance that Tolkien gives to dreams throughout his legendarium; these aren’t just dreams- they’re Dreams. There is a sense that one can live in “another life” through them, experience a history from a world that might seem far and different from our own history and reality, and that somehow, we can discover that these two histories and realms, one “real” and one “mythical”, lie more intertwined than we thought.

Admittedly, not all the dreams that we read jump from one world to another. At the end of Wednesday’s class, we talked about J.W. Dunne and his theory that a person’s mind could travel into the past or the future while the person is dreaming. Frodo’s dream while at Tom Bombadil’s is a good example of this kind of theory. He dreams of a man dressed in white standing on the top of a tower, and as he is picked up and carried off by an eagle Frodo hears the sound of galloping hooves approaching. It feels like an important dream from the start, but the reader does not know how significant it truly is until Gandalf speaks at the council of Elrond about how Saruman had trapped him and how he had been rescued by Gwaihir the eagle. Frodo recalls the dream, and Gandalf is astonished to hear of it. The first dream that we read for Wednesday and the dream/vision/experience he has with the groping hand on the Barrow-Downs seem to mean that Frodo is able to somehow, while in his sleep, see things outside his immediate surroundings.  

To me, though, the more interesting part of this topic came from reading the other texts. Outside of LotR, we can still see the power of dreams because Tolkien repeatedly puts the topic into his writings. In The Lost Road, the character of Alboin, who to me shares many similarities to Tolkien in his younger days, constantly has dreams that, in a way, take him to a world far away with a history and culture so different from his own. Alboin had “…only the feeling that he had seen things and heard things that he wanted to see, very much, and would give much to see and hear again…these fragments of words, sentences and verses” (pg. 49). He becomes engrossed in “Eressёan Elf-Latin” (as his father describes it) and in names and places that seem to randomly pop up in his mind and his dreams. The “Dreams”, which appear in greater frequency as he gets older, give Alboin the mood and desire to:

“…go back. To walk in Time, perhaps, as men walk along long roads; or to survey it, as men may see the world from a mountain, or the earth as a living map beneath an airship…to see with eyes and hear with ears: to see the lie of old and even forgotten lands, to behold ancient men walking, and hear their languages as they spoke them, in the days before the days, when tongues of forgotten lineage were heard in kingdoms long fallen by the shores of the Atlantic.”   (Pg 49)

The interesting thing about this passage is the emphasis on “going back”, as if he was looking back in time towards a lost (but real) history that belonged to another land but had somehow become woven into the history of his own land. He spontaneously refers to Nύmenor and Eressёa as if they were places he had personally known. While the whole world is moving forward, the thing he wants most is to go back. To what? He doesn’t know exactly, and neither do we. Still, it is a fascinating thing to that like Elf-friends, who can link the “Faёrie” and the “real” world, the Dreams can link people to the past and the future as well as to different worlds that may not end up being different at all.

Tolkien reflected on his own dreams and how they were related to his mythology. In his Letters, he talks about how his dream about the big wave was the reason for why he wrote (recorded?) the “Downfall of Nύmenor”.  In addition, he says, “They [the stories] arose in my mind as ‘given’…always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there’, somewhere; not of ‘inventing’” (Letter 131, Pg. 145). Thus was it with Alboin; there was an impression that he felt he was not creating anything- merely finding a history and land that had been lost and sharing it with his present world.

So if these things were not being ‘invented’, would that mean that they were, at some point, real? We might have to discuss our definition of the word “real” (which I won’t do), but I think, in a way, that that’s exactly what it means. There is the possibility that Tolkien’s legendarium is not ‘invented’, just made up of myths and other things that he took from other cultures and languages. But there is also the chance that it is not ‘invented’, and instead came from the realm of Dreams, which themselves are mysterious and impossible to fully understand. Either way, it is comforting to me to think no matter how this amazing mythology ultimate arose, it came from a place deeper than we could ever understand.

-Seleste M.

P.S. I did not think discussing this topic would be so tricky, though I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I hope it’s not too confusing to follow…. It’s just SO interesting! And wonderful! J


  1. Nicely put. And yet, what if we did try to understand, following Flieger's suggestion to look to Tolkien's use of Dunne? This is the real question that I asked at the end of class on Wednesday and which you pose here: what if the things that Tolkien's characters learned from their dreams are not "invented" but "real"--what would that mean for us as readers who ourselves want them to be "real"? Or, perhaps, as you suggest, it is in fact more satisfying *not* to try to answer this question, leaving it a deep mystery.


  2. Tolkien really is much more concerned with the past than the future, or even the present, in his stories; with “going back,” as you quite accurately put it, to experience times and places now lost. This theme seems to continue through all of Tolkien’s work, actually: as a philologist, he often focused on tracing words back to their very earliest origins; as a translator, he focused primarily on mythologies of different nations, some of the earliest stories of their people. And the languages and myths of other nations (and his own) were, of course, the inspiration for Tolkien to create his own mythology for England.

    With regard to dreams, have you considered the significance of some of the more ambiguous dreams in LotR? Most of them seem to be premonitions of future events, but some of them are difficult to interpret. For example, at Tom Bombadil’s house, Frodo dreams of Gandalf’s rescue from Orthanc, but Pippin dreams of the close winding willow branches and Merry dreams of water rushing to drown him and then of a soggy bog. Are these past events (Old Man Willow?), future events (the cleansing of Isengard?), or something else entirely? And of the four Hobbits, why is Sam the only one that night who doesn’t dream at all?

    You make a good point about Tolkien’s work being ‘true’ in different ways, even though the ultimate, complete universe was Tolkien’s sub-creation. By using elements of languages, myths, characters, episodes, and, of course, Dreams, Tolkien used fact to put together a mythology so thorough, so complex, and so profound as to be ‘real.’

    Courtney Jacobson