Friday, February 24, 2012

Lovecraft 101 - Beyond the Wall of Sleep

Beyond the Wall of Sleep
This tale is a lot of fun and typically what one would expect from a Weird Tale story (though it was actually published in a periodical called Pine Cones, oddly enough). It has the playful ghost story style arc. Where a story is set up by a narrator, fantastic unbelievable things happen, and then the narrator connects them to real life in order to prove the story true.
Beyond the Wall of Sleep is the story of a slow witted backwoods bumpkin who is suddenly imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. It is narrated by one of the interns who not only watches over the suffering man, but has been given opportunity to run diagnostic tests on him. The man suffers from horrible dreams and upon waking goes into fights of incredible rage and violence. Though he has no experience of folk tales or stories of fantasy, the doctors cannot determine where he comes up with the great stories of alien worlds he tells upon waking.
Illustration by Jeff Powers © 2012
At its heart this story was inspired by HPL’s musings on the dream and the power of the subconscious. It is something that comes up often enough that certain tales are often lumped together into what are known as Lovecraft’s Dreamland Cycle. Lovecraft was very familiar with the works of psychiatrists (though he refers to them as alienists) such as Sigmund Freud and their ideas on the dream. And I think he plays with those ideas quite a bit.
In Polaris we saw the idea that we could travel to strange worlds in our dreams, but also that our very lives may actually be dreams themselves. The Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once wrote, “After he woke up, he wondered how he could determine whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi."
In Beyond the Wall of Sleep, HPL not only shows the transportative power of the dream, but that it is communicative as well. The world beyond the minds of dreaming humans exist and it can be communicated with as the narrator strangely finds out. This is where Lovecraft truly excels and set himself out from the others. The frightening part of his tales is that there really is something bigger beyond ourselves, that we cannot ever truly comprehend. We are miniscule specs in the grander scheme and powerless against the universe. This is how Lovecraft’s work garnered the title of Cosmic Horror. Unseen alien forces, parallel dimension glimpsed in dreams and unrevealed truths that could shake a man’s sanity. This is barely scratching the surface of Lovecraftian fiction.
You can read the entire text here: Beyond the Wall of Sleep

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