I love folksy beliefs. Chief among those that interest me is the belief that if you die in your dream, you really die. I don’t imagine this is true, because I have died in my dreams, and I’m still here to relate the experience. Sometimes in my dreams, I don’t merely die; I’m already dead. But Charles Beaumont taps into this fear of dream-death in his short story “Perchance to Dream,” which is also the name of the collection of short fiction the story appears in. Beaumont, one of the most influential Twilight Zone writers, died of Pick’s disease (and, possibly, early-onset Alzheimer’s) at age 38, but his contributions to the horror and science fiction genres are nonetheless abundant. This is the first of his works I’ve read, but with the compilation Perchance to Dream safely in my hands, I intend to read many more.
The story centers around 31-year-old tortured protagonist, Phillip Hall, who hasn’t slept for 72 hours. Beaumont conveys his dilemma well. I was immediately impressed by Beaumont’s quick, smart, concise writing style and his realistic dialogue. I’ve been exploring a lot of late 19th century and early 20th century horror fiction, so I’ve gotten used to more stylistically verbose pieces, and reading this story was a marked – and in some ways, refreshing – difference.
Hall starts relating his trouble to a psychiatrist who appears intelligent and receptive. Immediately, Beaumont experiments with the hazy distinction between imagination and reality, vis a vis Hall’s story, which details Hall’s childhood ability to move things with his eyes. With a glance he made soldiers in the Napoleonic wars jump off a cliff and a dragon brutally kill a knight. No small feat. In response to Hall’s story, the psychiatrist assures Hall that the moving pictures were imaginary. Hall agrees, but I didn’t accept his assent. To me, it seemed like Hall was trying to appease the psychiatrist by attributing unusual occurrences to his imagination.
The idea that intrigues me the most is the prospect that Hall has access to some mysterious element – perhaps some alternate dimension – of the world that allows fantasy to become real. This very access, then, becomes the impetus of his dilemma, when he relates to his psychiatrist a recurring dream, that advances a little every night, that he believes will result in death. Because I love amusement parks, I was intrigued by Hall’s dream; he finds himself on a boardwalk in Italy, alongside a beautiful woman who wants him to ride a rollercoaster. However, to Hall, this rollercoaster ride portends certain demise.
To reveal more of the plot line, I think, would be to reveal too much. Suffice it to say, Beaumont’s story is a quick, intriguing read that likely transformed into an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone, and episode I have yet to see. My sister purchased this book for me for Christmas and urged me to review Beaumont’s stories alongside the Twilight Zone episodes they created. However, I haven’t attained any of these episodes yet, so you’ll have to settle for my review of the story. It’s certainly a worthwhile read – and a nice break from the excellent but sometimes more complex, involved horror of the late 19th and early 20th century.