Tag Archives: Dream

Short Story Review: Polaris

I have a whole book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. One of the first ones in the book is a short piece entitled “Polaris.” It comes in at only 4 pages or so. But that is all it needs. Polaris is a clever little piece about the mystery of the North Star and dreams (the entire book is a collection of dream related stories, actually).

 

It tells the story of a man living in a house by a swamp who spends a great deal of time watching Polaris. Its position fixed in the sky gives him considerable pause to ruminate and wonder about hidden meanings. To him, it seems as if the star has a message, perhaps to him, but one that has been lost in time. So, he begins to dream. He dreams of an ancient civilization 26,000 years in the past; a civilization called Lomar that flourished at an earlier time at which Polaris held a similar position in the firmament (according to astronomers, the actual position of the North Star does change, but very slowly, as a result of a wobble of the Earth’s axis. This phenomenon is called precession (I think) and it causes the apparent motion of Polaris in the sky. It takes the star approximately 26,000 years to complete one cycle and return to the same position—it’s a clever little scientific insert into the story). After some time he assumes an identity in that civilization of a craven man who possessed incredibly keen eyes. As a result, he is tasked with watching for the advance of a hostile army of creatures called Inutos: “squat, hellish yellow fiends” that have been plaguing the ancient kingdom. Atop the watchtower, the accursed narrator is bewitched by Polaris and falls asleep. Instead of keeping faithful watch, he dreams of a future time in which he is a man grown accustomed to sitting by his window in a house by a swamp to stare at the North Star. He cannot wake from this dream, and no matter how he tries to explain his predicament to those around him, they do not believe him. There is no record of a long lost civilization called Lomar; the only beings to ever dwell in these frozen wastes before are the Esquimaux: “squat, yellow creatures.” (Another name for Eskimos is Inuit, a word deliberately close to Inuto) By the end of the story, the narrator’s descent into madness is all but assured as the division between dream and reality is so obscured. Which story is the dream? And which the truth? Is the narrator a dreaming watchman who has failed his countrymen in the lone task to which he was appointed? Or is he a modern day man who has lost his grip on reality? Or … is he a modern day man who is the reincarnation of a dreaming watchman who failed his countrymen? The story does not answer these questions; it simply asks them and leaves the reader wondering and with a profound distrust of the seemingly mundane North Star.

 

The only weakness in the story that I can think of is the possible accusation of racism against Eskimos. But that seems a trifle unfair and a bit too PC for my tastes. He described the Eskimos and imagined a conflict 26,000 years in the past with an imaginary ancient civilization. In the conflict, the Eskimos are the aggressors and every culture in history has been an aggressor at one point or another. If you seek to be offended by such, you can choose to be so; but for myself, I don’t think imagining conflicts between cultures or even using the terms “squat” or “yellow” to describe someone or a group of people is necessarily racist. I can see how it can be interpreted that way, but I choose not to (then again, I’m not an Eskimo). Putting all that aside, I thought this was a great story.

 

Overall, I’ll give this short story four and a half stars out of five. Most excellent!

Book Review: Through the Looking Glass

Continuing with the classics theme, I read “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll. It is, of course, the sequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Like the story that preceded it, this one too is a dream. And again, Lewis Carroll fills the story with plenty of dreamy clues and surreal hints.

 

It begins innocently enough in the living room of Alice’s home where she finds herself wondering about the house on the other side of the looking glass. How it resembles her own home so perfectly—at least, the parts she can see. Soon, she finds herself transported through the glass into Looking-Glass House where she has an encounter with the White King and White Queen and reads an excerpt from a Looking-Glass Book about the fabled Jabberwocky (a creature which makes no appearance in the story except through the reference of some poems, songs, and conversations).

 

After that, Alice goes out into a garden of living, talking flowers and meets the Red Queen who sets her on a quest to travel across the land (a land designed much like a chessboard) a full eight squares, so she can ascend from pawn to queen. She takes a train to the second square (or would that be the third?) encountering a few random critters here and there. She goes on traveling from square to square, all in a row, encountering strange creatures and beings at every stop. There’s Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and a well-meaning white knight who keeps falling off his horse. Finally, she reaches the eighth square and is queened by the Red Queen and the White Queen who sit down on either side of her for a nice chat about queen etiquette or some such thing. Then, she is treated to a grand feast, but there is some confusion about whether or not she should actually eat her food—all of it talks and takes offense at being sliced up. Then, of course, she wakes up and finds out it really is all a dream.

 

Strengths: well, again, Lewis Carroll was able to convey the surreal qualities that mark dreams for what they are. Also, I thought the chess game matrix that overlay the entire dream to be a clever tactic; it provided a loose structure to the dream that might have otherwise been lacking.  Weaknesses: well, since it is only a dream, I found that, like in the previous story, it was difficult to get invested in the characters or even the land as it demonstrated a tendency to morph from one scene to another. So, its strength was also its weakness. Other than that, it was a good fanciful yarn that helps one grapple with the whole subject of dreaming and the sleeping mind. There was nothing dark and sinister in it; it was really quite enjoyable and suitable for children.

 

Overall, I’ll give the book three and half, maybe four stars out of five.

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I’ve been kind of in the mood to read classics lately, so I decided to review “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll for this here blog. I’ve never read it before. Yes, can you believe it? A westerner who hasn’t read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I didn’t know what to expect, really. A friend of mine told me once that the Alice in Wonderland series was very dark, but I didn’t get that at all from reading this book. He must have been smoking something, or I totally missed some grand sinister undercurrent.

 

Anyway, the book tells the story of young Alice who, while sitting outside with her sister, falls asleep and has a dream. I guess that’s a spoiler. The whole thing is a dream. I never knew that growing up (of course, I’d never read it). Every retelling I’ve seen on TV or in the theatre never gave me the impression with certainty that it was only a dream. I was always under the impression that Alice traveled to some strange new mystical world where magical things were commonplace. I guess not. She just nodded off in her sister’s lap.

 

Anyway, as an adult it was fairly easy to figure out that it was a dream. Lewis Carroll gave plenty of clues. There was a kind of discombobulated nature to the flow of the plot. Alice would be in one spot doing one thing, then things would kind of change in a vague surreal way so that she was now involved with something else: First she’s crying; then she’s swimming in a pool of her own tears with a mouse who showed up out of nowhere. There really isn’t a cohesive plot structure; it’s just a series of unrelated events with fantastical characters—talking animals, sentient playing cards, etc… The highlights were a game of croquet using animals for both mallets and balls, and a trial regarding stolen tarts. The Queen of Hearts, although she quite often yelled to have someone’s head chopped off, was far less sinister than I expected. Then, Alice woke up, and it was over.

 

Strengths … well, it gets a few points for being unusual. But that’s what you get for writing about a dream. It did capture the surreal nature of dreams fairly well. Well enough that I figured out it was only a dream. Weaknesses … well, since it’s only a dream, I really didn’t get too invested in the story. I found it kind of dull. Alice’s thoughts were interesting and did seem child-like, so that’s another testament to the author’s skill. The events in the story and the story itself were child-safe—not dark at all from what I could tell.

 

Anyway, I’ll give it three and a half out of five stars.

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 2/17/13.