I have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted reality there, but then I realized that this review is probably going to be douchey enough as it is without adding a scare-quoted reality to it. Anyway, Ursula LeGuin’s worlds are typically not my worlds; when I’m reading her books, I tend to bump into walls and trip over furniture, where other readers intuitively know the lay of the interior decorating. And, that is just the way reading goes, I think. Neither bad nor good. Sometimes an author puts the couch were we would like to sit, and other times not. This book, though. This is the LeGuin for me. This book is lovely in a way I can understand.
I grew up in a sometimes-fundamentalist home, so for those who didn’t, this comparison might sound like an insult. Please know that I don’t mean it that way. It strikes me that in some pretty superficial ways, The Lathe of Heaven
is to Daoism what Narnia
is to Christianity. In making that comparison, I am really comparing two things I love, even though they are both representing two very different value systems. I think that both present an emotionally symbolic world in which the roots of a belief system can grow in a simple and understandable way. I think both do a really good job of not sacrificing story to allegory, but still forming a perceptible spiritual message.
The other preliminary thought I have is a spoiler about Heather, so I’ll hide it. It strikes me as really interesting that Heather starts out as a femme fatale, swings over to being a domestic goddess, and then winds up somewhere in the middle. I don’t have anything profound to say about that, but it did make me think about how any woman can play those parts and it would not be informative of who she really is. It made me think about how it is easy to adopt caricatures and difficult to know who we really are. It is easy to play a role, but difficult to be human.
But, that is really only about the structure of Lathe
, and what I really want to talk about is dreams. In Lathe
, George Orr has “effective” dreams that change his reality. That is the basic premise that you find out at the opening of the story, and I will try not to spoil the plot beyond that. Joel was making the point that the story is a reflection on writing, which I think is an interesting, but narrow, reading of the story, and honestly was not how the story resonated with me at all. I think it is a good point, though, and worth noting. A writer re-creates the world, and in that way probably also shapes other people’s perceptions of the world. I think in many ways, though, we all do that, writing or no writing.
I guess the way the story resonated with me was more literal than Joel’s reading. I do think that any of us can have a dream in the Martin Luther King, Jr., sense, and that dream can guide culture, but I also think that literal dreams can do that, and maybe that is more where the book fascinated me. In college, I once went to sleep with no interest in a boy in my class and I woke up with a crush on him that it took me months to get over. And all that happened was that, in a dream I had that night, he looked at me a certain way. Dreams seem mysterious and mysteriously powerful to me. I had a dream like that this week, and the content of it is not very important, but there was a snake in it, and the snake was also human, and the dream changed something to me, so I thought of this book. I’m not sure what it changed, but it was just different than other dreams.
Once, in college, my best friend from high school had a dream in which we were both preparing for her wedding. About a year later, I had the same dream but from my point of view, which I didn’t realized until later that night I started describing the dream to her and she knew all of its details before I told her, but from her own point of view.
In my part of the dream, after she got married, I went to help an ex-boyfriend move his things into a new house and there was a soundtrack in that part, which is something I don't think I've had in another dream. After I woke up, I was walking to work and I put the Velvet Underground Loaded
CD into my discman (I had bought it the day before). “Who Loves the Sun” came on, I realized it was the song in my dream, and I looked up and saw my ex-boyfriend sitting in front of the house he had moved into in my dream. The whole day was off, with the people I cared about in my dreaming and waking life crossing over.
I don’t have a moral or a lesson to that story, but it was an experience I had that made me wonder whether my dreams were creeping in to my reality, like they do with poor George Orr. And I do think many dreams can shape the world in a way I don’t understand, in a way that makes me small and brittle. I think LeGuin captures that literal power of dreams very gracefully, without creating a heavy-handed allegory, leaving room for many applications of the tone and texture of the story. I also love what she does with George and his therapist, and the yin and yang of their personalities, though I can't think of more to say about that than just stating it. I’m glad I found a LeGuin that is for me; I’m glad somebody wrote a story about dreams.