Slumbering stories: these books say sleep has the power to…

  1. Make you a better person
    1. In Charles Dickens’ famous novel ‘A Christmas Carol’, main character Ebenezer Scrooge is not the most pleasant or generous of men (which is where we get the term ‘scrooge’!) But while sleeping one December night, he’s visited by three ghosts - the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. They give Scrooge insight into his own meanness - reminding him of his past and how his love for money lost him his girlfriend, showing him the present and how his lack of charity is leading to the death of a good-hearted sick boy, then revealing the future and the fact he’s so hated that no one comes to his funeral when he finally pops his clogs. When he wakes up, Scrooge decides that it’s better to be a kind soul after all, and turns over a whole new leaf. Now that’s one heck of a sleep.
  2. Tell you who you really are
    1. Although Sigmund Freud is most well known for suggesting that all men secretly want to sleep with their mothers, he also had some big theories about dreams and what we can learn about ourselves when we’re asleep. Whether it’s nightmares about losing all of your teeth, visions of walking into school in nothing but your underwear, or feverish hallucinations of being chased by monsters, his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ can decode exactly what your sleep-time thoughts say about you. And at the other end of the literary spectrum, this same theme appears in children’s book ‘The Princess and the Pea’. A prince is searching for a bride, but how can he tell if the woman he likes is royalty or not? Apparently by placing an uncooked pea underneath a pile of mattresses and seeing how well she sleeps, as only a real princess would be sensitive enough to feel it! Thankfully, the Prince’s girlfriend suffers a terrible night, confirming that she’s the real deal. So it seems it’s not only sleep but the lack of it that can reveal people’s true selves.
  3. Change things in your waking life
    1. In Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, heroine Catherine decides to get married simply on the basis of a dream she has. She says, “I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas”. In ‘Iliad’, an epic poem by Ancient Greek writer Homer, the god Zeus plants a fake dream in the mind of Agamemnon, persuading him to attack Troy - which is exactly what he goes and does when he wakes up! And what about the brilliant madness of Alice’s dreams in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ - giant psychedelic mushrooms, a mad hatter who only talks in riddles, a seemingly endless tea-party, an infuriating talking cat and a queen who wants to chop off her head. But Alice makes all kinds of observations within her dream that connect with her real life, giving her new wisdom about the world when she wakes up.
  4. Give you a holy hotline
    1. Old-English poem ‘The Dream of the Rood’ (another word for crucifix or cross) describes a holy encounter the unknown author had while napping. He tells of how the wooden cross on which Jesus was crucified spoke to him in a dream, sharing its story from the time it was a tree to the time it bared Jesus on his dying day. The cross is seen as a loyal servant of God’s, being mocked and pierced with nails just as Jesus was and suffering alongside him to pay for the sins of humanity. Then, when Jesus is resurrected, so is the cross - and the cross then tells the author to share the message of hope with everyone he knows. So all in all, a pretty spiritual snooze.
  5. Distract you from reality
    1. Roald Dahl classic ‘The BFG’ (Big Friendly Giant) certainly has a lot to say about what you miss out on when you’re asleep. The BFG himself takes a dim view of the sleeping habits of ‘human beans’, saying that we spend too much time sleeping - not noticing that children everywhere are being gobbled up by giants! Little insomniac Sophie ends up enjoying a wonderful adventure with the BFG and helping to save the world from the nasty child-chewing giants, all because she can’t get to sleep. And in the fifth Harry Potter book, ‘The Order of the Phoenix’, the hero of Hogwarts lets his dreams run away with him when he realises they offer him a connection to Lord Voldemort. Although it’s useful at first, allowing him to send life-saving help to Mr Weasley after he gets attacked by Voldemort’s snake, it later leads to the death of his beloved stepfather Sirius as Harry’s dreams are manipulated by the Dark Lord. Ultimately, as always, the wisdom of Dumbledore sums it up best: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”