3 Famous Books Inspired by Dreams

“In ancient Greece and ancient Rome — people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then.
People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Title page of the first London edition (1886)

Robert Louis Stevenson allegedly wrote up three of the key scenes in his book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after dreaming them.

Stevenson was a sickly author who needed to earn a living from his writing to support his family. He had long wanted to write a book about the duality of man’s nature, and the alternation of good versus evil. He titled the book he wanted to write Jekyll & Hyde, but he did not have a plot.

According to the World of Lucid Dreaming, he spent two days wracking his brain for a plot until on the second night he was ill with a fever and dreamed the first few scenes (the transformation scenes).

Stevenson was suffering from a bout of consumption (tuberculosis), and his bleeding lungs were being treated with cocaine (which was the treatment at the time). Apparently, his wife heard him screaming in the night and woke him up from his feverish dream, and he was not too happy and said to her, “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.”

He wrote down all the opening scenes he remembered from his dream and completed his manuscript in a frenzy of activity throughout three days (no doubt helped by the cocaine he was taking). At this time he wrote it with no allegorical undertones.

According to the University of Oxford website, his wife read it and strongly suggested a rewrite as she said it should be written using allegory. Stories containing allegory often use a character to represent a moral virtue or vice. She saw it not just as a story (which is how it was written) but a tale of good versus evil.

After initially resisting her suggestions he agreed with her and rewrote the story of over 30,000 words in another three days after allegedly burning the original manuscript (It is unclear if he burnt the original script or his wife did).

Although unwell, he wrote without letup as he was invigorated with inspiration. He was so sick, he wrote that at the time he could barely speak due to the hemorrhaging from his lungs, and he had to use a slate and pencil to communicate but said he was passionate about the book as the dream had made such an impression on him.

The revision then took place over about four or six weeks.

According to Mental Floss, the book was published in 1886 and solved his financial issues securing the future for him and his wife.

It sold 40,000 copies in the first six months. Plays were made from the story, and it was widely preached about from pulpits. By 1931 it had been adapted for film over 24 times.

The book became famous worldwide and the term Jekyll & Hyde has been adopted into popular language (meaning someone who swings between good and evil behavior).

The Plot & Characters

According to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Study Guide, it is an intellectual horror story about the fundamental nature of man, at a time set in Victorian England when “appearance” especially amongst, the upper class, constituted “everything.”

Stevenson tears this apart in his representation as Dr. Jekyll as the upright wealthy doctor and Mr. Hyde who transforms into a murderer.

As an interesting side note, it is also believed that the overall plot of the book was inspired by a friend of Robert. L. Stevenson, Edinburgh-based French teacher Eugene Chantrelle, who was convicted and executed for the murder of his wife in May 1878.

Chantrelle, lived a normal life until he was arrested for poisoning his wife with opium. Stevenson was present throughout the trial and listened as all the evidence unfolded. Chantrelle also was accused of multiple other murders in France and Britain. This trial no doubt had an impact and influence on the main character of Dr. Jekyll that Stevenson wrote about seven years later.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the most famous novella he wrote. It caused a sensation, as it exploited “Victorian anxieties regarding human identity, respectability, and the fear of regression” according to the article Great Writers Inspire.

Jonathon Livingstone Seagull

by Richard Bach

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Livingston_Seagull

According to Richard Bach, he was fascinated by the sea as a young person.

One night when he was out walking alone, he heard the words from a disembodied voice “pop” into his head. The words were, “Jonathon Livingstone Seagull.”

When he got home, he said it was if a movie screen opened in front of him and all the opening scenes of the story were being played out.

He sat down and wrote everything down as quickly as he could, but he could not capture the end of the story as “the wall” came back and hid it from his view.

Richard Bach wrote (in answer to a question from a reader on Goodreads) that he believes there are times in our lives where our mortal and spiritual lives mix right on the edge of our consciousness, and sometimes the wall comes down, and the spiritual “splashes” into our everyday life.

After initially writing down the scenes of the seagull story it was another eight years before he said he woke from a dream and realized he had the “end” of his original story.

He wrote down the ending.

He searched his unwritten manuscript folder and found his handwritten notes from years earlier.

He put the two manuscripts together, and they were a perfect match.

He submitted the manuscript 18 times and 18 times it got rejected before one editor saw it and fell in love with the story.

On his blog he asks:

“Since everything else in my mind has changed with time, how did I write a story that stayed true for me all the rest of my life?”

He says, Easy answer: I didn’t write the story.

He asks, “who imagined the whole story, and who sent it to the young writer I was?”

He answers: “I don’t have a clue. I had no idea where it came from. I still don’t.”

He reports, “I loved seagulls, loved flying. If I were a seagull, I thought, I’d fly differently from the flock. Was that enough that my subconscious mind would make this whole story up, then display the first part for me to see?

He goes on to say he has no answer.

The stories of Jonathon Livingstone Seagull were published as a book in 1970 and by 1972 over a million copies had been printed. Readers Digest did a condensed version which was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 38 weeks.

In 2014 the fourth part (an extra 17 pages) that was never published as part of the original book as Bach felt it did not belong in the 1960s was added to the story, and the book was reissued as Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition.

It was a near death experience in 2012 that inspired Richard Bach to add the fourth part to the book and issue the revised edition.

Plot

  • The plot is about a seagull who is passionate about flying, but not just normal flying he likes to do loops and rolls and dives and suchlike.
  • His unwillingness to conform leads to him being expelled from his community of seagulls.
  • One day Jonathon meets two gulls who take him to a higher plane of existence. While he is there, he not only makes friends with another gull who loves flying, but he meets the wisest seagull who teaches him how “to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe.”
  • He is taught lessons, such as that he needs to keep working on love and the importance of forgiveness and of being true to yourself.
  • One of the most famous lines in the book is said by the wise seagull Chiang when he tells Jonathon that the secret is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived.
  • He goes back to earth to find all the other seagulls which have been outlawed for not conforming, and to share his learnings with them.
  • One of his students becomes a teacher as well.

Stuart Little

by E. B. White

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Little

Elwyn Brooks White, known more commonly as E. B. White wrote the hugely popular children’s story, Stuart Little and also Charlotte’s Web.

He reported that in the spring of 1926 he fell asleep while traveling in a train carriage on the way back from West Virginia to New York.

He dreamed about a tiny boy who acted like a rat, and who looked a lot like a rat. When he arrived home, he typed up a few stories about Stuart Little and read them to his 18 nieces and nephews.

It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that the story was published in book form, despite a few prods and inquiries and him being encouraged to publish the stories earlier as a children’s book.

The book was published in 1945 and either inspires praise or lukewarm reviews.

The modern version of the book is about a mouse adopted by the Little family, and it recounts his adventures and efforts as he tries to become an accepted member of the family, gain his brother’s affection, and attempt to stay despite the family cat not wishing him to be there.

The cat does not want a mouse as his master and plots to get rid of him. Stuart has to show courage, love, and tenacity to be able to show his family that even though he is small and different he can do great things.

It has become a children’s classic.

The story of a 2-inch boy in New York who resembled a mouse is according to Encyclopedia Brittanica, “noted for its understated humor, graceful wit, and ironic juxtaposition of fantasy and possibility.”

In 1999 the book was made into a movie, and a sequel was created in 2002 that was more true to the original book.

It has been adapted for audio, video, television, and computer.

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” 
― Vincent Willem van Gogh

Deborah Christensen is a writer, artist, published author and a disability support worker. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia and also has citizenship in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. She lives with her husband, and a rescue dog called ‘Lily’ and has six adult children (and one amazing grandchild) who live away from home. She’s on Twitter @Deborah37035395 and Pinterest and is the author of the best selling award winning memoir Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery From Abuse and a Religious Cult.