The Landscape of Dreams

This post marks my first participation in the “Short Story on Wednesday” meme hosted by Breadcrumb Reads. I learned of this meme via Che’s wonderful blog From Kafka to Kindergarten. Please give them both a visit.

“Rummy things, dreams. Wonder what makes mine fit into each other so…” -George Cottar, in “The Brushwood Boy”

Note: This post contains minor spoilers; I don’t think it would “ruin” the story for you, but you are welcome to read the story first if you’d like. It can be found on line here.

One of my all-time favorite short stories has got to be Rudyard Kipling’s “The Brushwood Boy,” which I just read for, I think, the fourth time. I’ve even posted about the story once before on this blog. It was one of my 52 stories in this year’s “Project: Deal Me In!” For those new to my blog, this is a project wherein I read one short story a week, determined by a random draw from a deck of cards (52 cards, 52 weeks in a year; convenient, yes?). Each story is assigned to a specific card, and the suits roughly represent types of stories (e.g. Hearts were favorite stories that I’d read before). This Saturday morning I drew the three of hearts and was thus led back to this enchanting story.

In it, we follow the somewhat condensed life story of one Georgie (later George) Cottar, an English boy of great imagination and easy manner, and something of a dreamer. We are first introduced to him as a three year-old who has had a fright, seeing “a policeman” on the grounds of his family’s property. We see later why this might disturb the young boy.

Away to school, we see him start off slowly, but eventually rise to leadership, via his athletic prowess and unaffected manner. His dreams take a back seat as “ten years at an English public school do not encourage dreaming.” Later, he takes his place in the British Army and thereby, due to “the regular working of the English Empire” ends up at a post in India. His successful rise remains uninterrupted there as he “sought popularity as little …(there) as he did in school, so therefore it came to him.”

Through this time, he begins to dream again, and notices that although most of his dreams are the normal dreams that we all experience, there are also a class of dreams that return him continually to the same dream landscape. He even begins to create a map of this landscape, adding to it whenever he has another of his special dreams. He also has a companion on his travels in this dreamscape, the imagined Princess Annieanlouise, from his childhood fantasies and imaginings. Together, their travels in this landscape and “The City of Sleep” are only interrupted when “Policeman Day” enforces their sad return to the realm of wakefulness.

Part of his uniqueness is that George somehow remains “an innocent” throughout his tour of duty, much to the disbelief of his fellow officers and his parents. It is only upon returning home to England (“There’s no place like England – when one has done his work”) that he finds that he is not the only person who is familiar with “his” landscape. I don’t want to go I to greater detail which would truly spoil the story, but it never fails to evoke goosebumps from this reader.

Another reason why I find this story so special is that I, too, “discovered” a landscape to some of my dreams. During my college years, I began to notice that I had several dreams that, though not “recurring dreams” in the classical sense, did appear to have common geographic elements. I even went so far as drawing a rough sketch of my landscape. Sadly, over the years, my “warped and faulty reservoir” (nod to John Steinbeck) of memory has become less and less able to remember my dreams, although sometimes I do still wake with a lingering trace of memory of having been wandering on “The High Path” along the mountain ridge of my own “dream landscape”…

(Rudyard Kipling)


  1. Dave Young said,

    December 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Have You News of My Boy Jack?
      ‘Have you news of my boy Jack?’
    Not this tide.
    ‘When d’you think that he’ll come back?’
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
    ‘Has anyone else had word of him?’
    Not this tide.
    For what is sunk will hardly swim,
    Not with this wind blowing and this tide.
    ‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?’
    None this tide,
    Nor any tide,
    Except he did not shame his kind-
    Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
    Then hold your head up all the more,
    This tide,
    And every tide;
    Because he was the son you bore,
    And gave to that wind blowing and that tide! 

    Rudyard Kipling 


  2. HKatz said,

    December 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I enjoyed your review and have bookmarked the story to read. I’m familiar with some of Kipling’s poetry and novels, but not his short stories. Thinking of my own dreams, I can’t recall a geography common to multiple dreams; consciously I’ve always enjoyed making maps of imaginary worlds (or worlds that blend imaginary elements with real life geography), but I don’t know if this has ever been inspired by a dream.

    I read a good deal of short fiction too and write about short stories often on my blog (I found your link via Breadcrumb Reads). This week I’ve written about two short stories, one by Wallace Stegner and another by John Cheever, both on fathers and sons.


    • Jay said,

      December 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks for the comment & visit. I left one at your site as well.

      I also have a mostly unread book of Kipling’s “Plain Tales from the Hills” that I want to focus on in the new year.



  3. Che said,

    December 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the shout out 🙂 isn’t this meme fun? I’ve read a few Kipling stories ages ago but I don’t remember them. I’m off to read this one right now.


    • Jay said,

      December 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      Hi Che,

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

      My book club read Kipling’s Riki Tikki Tavi as part of our Short Story Month in 2011. That’s about all I’ve read of his, though as I mentioned in a prior reply I do have his collection of stories “Plain Tales from the Hills” on deck…

      Yes. I like this meme. A lot. 🙂



  4. Dale said,

    December 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    This was a great story! I think it was my favorite of the ones we read in our book group. I plan on reading more Kipling in 2012.


    • Jay said,

      December 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      Me too Dale! Re-reading this story has whetted my appetite.



  5. Risa said,

    December 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    That was a really nice review! I’ve bookmarked the link and hope to come back to this one soon and savour it. From what I’ve read in your post, the fantastical element seems to be a theme I have seen echoed in some well-known high fantasy books — The Wheel of Time comes to mind right now.

    Oh, and I find your method of choosing your stories very intriguing thought I haven’t understood the way it works entirely…


    • Jay said,

      December 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks Risa! (and thanks for hosting Short Story on Wednesday) 🙂

      As far as my method for choosing stories goes, of course, the hard part is initially coming up with a list of 52 stories to read. Once I’ve done that, then I divide them into suits, etc., and include a couple of wildcards too if I want to read something not on the list, and then I just draw one card a week (or several depending on how far behind I’m lagging…)

      My original post that was the genesis of the project can be found here.

      I haven’t heard of The Wheel of Time, but I will check it out.



  6. Paula Cappa said,

    June 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Dream landscapes are common to me as well. I’ve got to read this story!


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