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)

Back from the City of Sleep – Kipling’s short story, “The Brushwood Boy”

Reading so many short stories lately has motivated me to share with you a recommendation… Rudyard Kipling’s story “The Brushwood Boy” is one of my all-time favorites. It’s simply magical. The hero of the story, over the years, has crafted a kind of dream landscape that he visits over and over in his slumbers. He assumes he alone knows of this dream world, but finds out otherwise. I won’t include any other spoilers here ’cause I’m hoping you’ll take the half hour or so to read it for yourself. (you can find it free online in many places).

It includes the following beautiful verse/song:

Over the edge of the purple down,
Where the single lamplight gleams,
Know ye the road to the Merciful Town
That is hard by the Sea of Dreams-
Where the poor may lay their wrongs away,
And the sick may forget to weep?
But we – pity us! Oh, pity us!
We wakeful; ah, pity us! –
We must go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep!

Weary they turn from the scroll and crown,
Fetter and prayer and plough
They that go up to the Merciful Town,
For her gates are closing now.
It is their right in the Baths of Night
Body and soul to steep
But we – pity us! ah, pity us!
We wakeful; oh, pity us! –
We must go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep!

Over the edge of the purple down,
Ere the tender dreams begin,
Look – we may look – at the Merciful Town,
But we may not enter in !
Outcasts all, from her guarded wall
Back to our watch we creep:
We – pity us! ah, pity us!
We wakeful; oh, pity us! –
We that go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep

Maybe I’m reminded of this today because I’m verrrry sleepy after an insomniacal night and am thinking of the comfort that Georgie’s dream world provided…

Below: an illustration (by F.H. Townsend) from the 1899 publication of the story.