Restless Nights

Lovecraft suffered from night terrors as a child (he called this assault by “night gaunts”), and that is one of the few things I have in common with him. I also suffered from severe nightmares in my younger days – including terrifying hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, where nightmare elements would appear to be present in my actual surroundings as I fell asleep or woke up. I’ve seen floating heads, disembodied hands crawling toward me, and a skeleton with flaming eyes climbing down the wall near my bed – a horror I still recall, and fervently hope never to repeat.

Knowing Lovecraft’s history, it seems natural that he would make nightmares a recurrent theme in his work. Both of today’s selections are earlier short stories (written in 1919 and 1922 respectively), and both concern the territory of sleep and dreams. Pick either reading assignment, then examine Lovecraft’s use of dreams as a theme, starting from the story you choose.

Remember, even Cthulhu dreams.

Reading (A): Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Reading (B): Hypnos
Task: 200 words or less on Lovecraft and dreams

About Headmistress

Sarah L. Crowder, current headmistress of Vacation Necronomicon School, was once a pupil at the prestigious Miskatonic Academy for Girls -- though she did not graduate, as the school closed under mysterious circumstances shortly before her studies were completed. She spent many years contemplating both the arcane arts and hidden dimensions of commonplace life, and now lends her talents to our little online haven for workaday scholars.
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11 Responses to Restless Nights

  1. Nina says:

    “Beyond the wall of sleep” was impossible to comment on (some of my best friends are degenerate hill people), so I read “Hypnos”, too. Having just finished Keith Richards’s autobiography, I found this story gave me a strange feeling of deja vu; Richards too went on drug binges with Pan-like friends and woke up strangely aged. I find it interesting that Lovecraft (in both these stories) sees dreams as a communal pursuit. I think for most of us, the horror of nightmares lies in the solitary nature of the experience. I’m wondering if Lovecraft did this to avoid using an “I” narrator. If you have to describe a nightmare where the unspeakable horror of it drives you mad, you are stuck with having to describe the unspeakable horror and having to indicate the madness. Lovecraft managed both in “The Haunter in the Dark”, but perhaps in these early stories he hadn’t learned how to do it yet.

  2. Headmistress says:

    @Nina – I didn’t even know that “white trash” was a term in use in the 1920s. I think it makes sense that he would present dreaming as a communal pursuit if he was in fact inspired by his nightmares – he was already sharing his horror with the world, so why wouldn’t his characters share their dreams with each other?


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  4. Headmistress says:

    @Borrowind – Very well done. The mythology connection seems so obvious…now that I’ve read your take on it. (Though I read a great deal of it in my youth, my knowledge of Greek & Roman mythology is decidedly rusty these days.)


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  6. Paul says:

    In the end, I didn’t explore the theme.

    Because I remembered something from my childhood that perhaps I shouldn’t try too hard to recall…

  7. Headmistress says:

    @Paul – What a terrifying experience!

  8. Kit says:

    H.P. Lovecraft’s work, with its creeping horrors and pervasive sense of unreality, is often dreamlike in its surreal quality. Characters are often left wondering if they had a nightmare — at least, until they discover some physical proof, to their horror.

    The short stories “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Hypnos” both make clear the link between dreams and insanity. Both narrators are accused of having broken reality, and an neither case do the protagonists manage to convince anyone of the reality of their wild tales. In the latter, the reader is left wondering about the truth of the narrator’s experience.

    The stories also vary in the treatment of the dream worlds. Though “Behind the Wall of Sleep” posits its share of dangers, the dreamer is clearly equipped to handle them. Contrast “Hypnos,” in which the dream world is rendered permanently dangerous. But in either case, even the knowledge of realities beyond the waking world is dangerous.

  9. Kit says:

    @Borrowind — and here I thought it was just my slash goggles!

  10. Headmistress says:

    @Kit – Yes, this: “…even the knowledge of realities beyond the waking world is dangerous.” That definitely seems to be a recurring theme for Lovecraft.


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