It’s my nightmare season.
I had my first one just this week. After twelve years, I ought to expect them.
Each is a little different, but it’s just a theme and variations. I’ve named them “the teacher nightmares.”
I stand in front of the classroom. I have all of my plans in my head, ready to go, and I haven’t remembered to prepare any of the materials.
Chaos slowly consumes the classroom as the children, sensing weakness, descend into anarchy. Nothing I say or do makes any difference.
I am completely ineffective.
Granted, as nightmares go, my “teacher nightmare” is a mild example. I wake feeling uneasy, and it takes a while (and a few successful lessons) to be fully comfortable again.
Some of the other dreams that drift in from time to time…they aren’t so easy to shake.
Am I right in supposing that each of us has at least one nightmare that we can’t forget? One that haunts us and lends weight to the fear of the sailors in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when they realize that they are in danger of running aground on the isle where such dreams take on flesh and bone?
No, my annual nighttime expressions of classroom anxiety aren’t my worst dreams- not by a long way. At least they serve a useful purpose- they keep me on my mettle as far as planning and preparation!
After all, fear is a powerful motivator.
The start of ‘nightmare season’ got me thinking about novels that use dreams- specifically nightmares.
For instance, in Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, Jane’s pre-nuptial nightmares blend in to a frightening reality, warning her that the future may not be as bright as she hopes. (If you haven’t read it yet, yes, I KNOW it’s long, and has a great deal of backstory at the beginning. I still LOVE IT!)
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte (Charlotte’s sister) uses a nightmare in the beginning of the novel to introduce the main storyline- the tragic relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine.
Other classics such as Frankenstein, Moby Dick, and Macbeth involve characters tormented by nighttime terrors.
More recently, the ever popular Harry Potter’s nightmares not only terrified, but provided valuable (though at times, unreliable) information, and Katniss Everdeen’s nightmares strengthened her bond with Peeta, her fellow Hunger Games contestant.
Of late, I’ve worked on writing some nightmares myself. My male protagonist in my WW2 novel is a platoon sergeant. While James is able to keep his fears in check and put on a brave face during waking hours, sleep brings little rest. He is haunted by dreams- flashbacks twisted to remind him of every way he has failed and could fail the men he’s responsible for. He runs the risk of being crippled by survivor’s guilt- made inneffective by his fears.
If you’re writing just now, and are working towards well-rounded characters, it’s worth taking some time to consider how fear motivates them. How will they react when their nightmares appear to be coming true? Will fear and foreboding galvanize them to action, or paralyze them?
Can you think of any other examples of nightmares/dreams in stories you’ve read or written or watched? Did they ‘work’ for the story?
In any case, I’ll close tonight by wishing us all sweet dreams. 🙂
EPILOGUE: Teaching day one went well. No supplies forgotten, minimal anarchy, no bleeding or tears. Chalking it up as a win 😉