Dreams, Foretellings, Foreshadowing, Prophecy and Memory
‘Dream on, dream on, of bloody deeds and death:
Fainting, despair; despairing, yield thy breath!’
The Ghost of Buckingham to the sleeping Richard in Shakespeare’s RICHARD III
Dreams and Foretellings
Literature has dream stories in abundance and two of the most famous are the Alice stories, namely ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS. In the later, the nature of existence of Alice alarmingly comes into question when she sees the Red King dreaming. Alice is told it would be best not to wake him as the Red King is dreaming of Alice herself, and so, if the King woke, she would simply disappear, like a snuffed out candle. And it is this aspect of Dreaming that is explored in DARK, where The Dream acts as a metaphor for existence itself.
In fact, The Dream motif is there in many Time Tales. Marty in BACK TO THE FUTURE often wakes up and immediately starts asking for his mom and saying he’s just had a terrible dream. And, as just said, dreaming is an idea that runs all through DARK. Many episodes actually begin in one of Jonas’s dreams – often more nightmares – for Jonas to discover when he wakes up that none of it was real. Ironic indeed, because in the last episode of the final series, pretty much everything – Jonas, Martha, Adam, Eva, the eternal Time Loops created when Time stops – all come to an end as if a mere fantasy. In fact, across all three series, it’s only that dinner party in the last episode that is ‘real’. The rest is as if it was a soon forgotten dream.
There is an area of philosophy called Epistemological Scepticism, and basically it suggests that we cannot know anything for certain. And the experience of dreaming is often used in its reasoning. Dreaming is central, for example, to René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method in his MEDITATIONS. “If I believe that my dreams are real while I am experiencing them,” he enquires of himself, “then how can I tell what I am now experiencing is really real and not in fact a dream?” THE MATRIX and INCEPTION should really have mentioned Mr Descartes with at least a line saying ‘Based on an idea by’ in the credits.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu also famously asked himself a similar Dream question when one night he dreamt he was a butterfly. In his dream, he flew from flower to flower and felt free, but then awoke and realised that he was Chuang Tzu who had only been dreaming he was a butterfly. But then came the big question, “Was I Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu?” His mother should probably have pointed out that if he were a butterfly then that made her a caterpillar, and since was no such thing, so he had better get up out of bed and chop some wood like a dutiful son and stop being silly.
Children, of course, naturally ask themselves that dream question without the aid of French or Chinese philosophers. And often this childhood fascination with dreams stays with us all our lives. Especially with writers of fiction and perhaps most especially with writers of Time Tales.
In the SWIDGERS book series, the Swidger teenage hero William has never dreamt. Ever. In fact, he does not believe Swidgers even can dream. But he’s curious about dreaming and Granny, who affectionately calls human beings The Commonality, says that their ability to live in a ‘second world’ should not be envied. On a visit to Dungeness in early Book One, THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS, it is under a starry night that Echo tells William the Swidger Fable of The Universe and The Dream. The Universe, says Echo, was once dreaming it was a real Universe and then woke up from its dream only to discover that it was. And then something made it shake in fear:
‘One night, long ago, after a dog-weary day, perhaps on an evening such as this, the Universe was fast asleep. Dreaming. And what was its fantasy? It was dreaming it had become a real Universe. Oh, such happy thoughts. But then the Universe was shaken from its sleep. Something disturbing had frightened it. The Universe slowly began to open its eyes. ‘Oh my,’ it said, suddenly seeing the deep blackness of the night, ‘it was only meant to be a dream.’ The Universe then shuddered for that night sky was now as real as real can be. And cold. And lonely. And lost. Oh, if only it could go back to its dream, thought the Universe, it had been such a happy dream where all was good and pure and in its place. So that’s what the Universe tried to do. Remember its dream. But somehow it was always just out of reach. But, William Arthur, our Universe never gave up. It’s still hoping, one day, to dream its dream again. If Time will allow. And when it does, all will be well once more.
‘You see, that is what we are, young Swidger,’ Echo whispers to William, ‘the hope of a dream in a world, a sad world, that awoke too soon.
Just a silly story, thinks William, but that night, William dreams for the first time. It’s a dream as crazy as any The Commonality has ever had, yet even in its absurdity, William finds, as is often the case with dreams, a special truth and a meaning. And much later in the story, William comes to understand the importance of the Swidger Fable of The Universe and The Dream.
And that’s why dreams are so important for understanding the nature storytelling itself, whether they be Time Tales or otherwise. Dreams, like stories, take us to other worlds and here we learn to see things not as they are. And yet, that ability can sometimes lead to new understanding. Just ask Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ. In SWIDGERS, as the narrative progresses and William matures, it is by understanding the full meaning of Echo’s elusive tale that helps make William become a fully mature Swidger. And in doing so, a Time Traveller too.
As said before, the dream world for human beings allows us, The Commonality, as Granny would have it, to travel in Time. The dead mix with the living, and Time Past is experienced as Time Present. Dreams can involve Time Future in the form of Premonitions. The Bible repeatedly warns against those who prophesy false dreams (Jeremiah 23:32; Zechariah 10:2; Deuteronomy 13:1-3), but equally there are those characters in the Bible such as Daniel and Joseph who are called on to interpret dreams. And God Himself took time out from His busy schedule to appear to Abimelech in a dream (Genesis 20:3).
Some people reject dreams as silly nonsense, others find in them great meaning. Freud made a career of doing the later. Sometimes people battle to decide whether what they have witnessed is a dream or whether it’s real, as Scrooge famously does in A CHRISTMAS CAROL:
Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, ‘Was it a dream or not?’
The Ghost of Christmas Future is the spectre that Scrooge fears most. And with cause, but what it had shown him has changed and will change the course of his life:
‘Spirit!’ he cried, tight clutching at its robe, ‘hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’
For the first time the kind hand faltered.
‘Good Spirit,’ he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: ‘Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.
The kind hand trembled.
‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in The Past, the Present, and The Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
Scrooge will be open once more to memories, and so live The Past, he will embrace the pleasures of friends and dining, and so live in The Present, and he will have hope in his heart and give it to others such as Tiny Tim, and so will live in The Future. Because that is what Scrooge means by his words, I will live in The Past, the Present, and The Future. Well, whether it was all a dream or not, there’s no denying it worked a treat. Especially for Tiny Tim, who according to the text and Dickens’ empathetic capital letters “did NOT die”. So God bless, Every One.
Dream Foretellings are not strictly speaking Time Travel Tales in the way that THE TIME MACHINE is. Yet, as seen with Ebenezer Scrooge, what we are shown of our future selves can have a great effect on that future. Even if it was a dream. Dream Foretellings are worth mentioning because they are a key part of stories such as MINORITY REPORT and STRANGER THINGS, plus stories dealing with Chronesthesia, the psychological phenomenon of mental Time Travel that is there in movies such as JACOB’S LADDER and THE JACKET (based on the American novel THE STAR ROVER written by Jack London). And besides, as has been said before, dreams are the nearest we as human beings will get to see Past and Future for real, or at least believe it to be real. Well, that is until that illusive Time Machine is actually built…
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
- R. R. Tolkien
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, there exists The Book of Prophecy. The history to The Book of Prophecy is that it was discovered by the woman who later fled to the year 1986 and married a man called Dr Jang Dong-sik. Unfortunately, this lady died during childbirth but their daughter, Yoon Tae-yi, in one timeline at least, becomes Park Sun-young, the mother to Detective Park Jin-gyum.
The Book of Prophecy essentially foretells the fate of time travellers and the future, as it were, of time travel itself. The book is, therefore, a much sought after prize. One night, robbers come to steal it and in the process Dr Jang is killed, but not before he gives the key last page to his young daughter. Alice Time Agents arrive moments later and neutralise the killer. They then take possession of The Book of Prophecy, but without realising the final page is missing, which, it is later revealed, the young Tae Yi hid in the pocket of her nighty.
As the series progresses, the contents of The Book of Prophecy are slowly revealed. As with the Delphic oracles, the words and phrases of The Book of Prophecy turn out to be somewhat cryptic – ‘A mother who went through The Door of Time to stop her daughter’s death tries to change the past and shake the future’ … ‘The child born while opening the Door of Time will end up controlling time’ … ‘She opened the forbidden door of time, and saw the world she shouldn’t have crossed. Now the punishment she must bear has been determined’ and, importantly, ‘Her destroyer son can only be killed by her marvellous creation’.
Puzzling over the meaning of many of these phrases leads to this scene between the Professor Yoon Tae-yi and the journalist Kim Do-yeon:
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: We found this in the house. The sentences don’t make sense. She, son, price, creation. Those words must contain another meaning. Never mind what I said. It might just be a page from a novel.
Kim Do-yeon: I don’t know about the rest, but I know “The murderer of all beings and destroyer of all things.”
Professor Yoon Tae-yi: What does it mean?
Kim Do-yeon: Time. Many ancient books call Time the murderer of all beings and destroyer of all things. Every person dies of old age, and Time turns the hardest rock into sand. But that doesn’t seem to be all there is to this. In ancient Civilizations, Time sometimes mean the Absolute Being. Time is invisible to our eyes, yet it creates and evolves everything.
At least in part, what keeps the interest going in ALICE (AELLISEU) is the mystery behind exactly what the predictions in The Book of Prophecy mean and what will be the result if they do come to pass. Also who is the son and what is the price? Where does Detective Park Jin-gyoem fit in? Is Park Jin-gyoem the child born while opening the Door of Time? Is Park Jin-gyoem also her ‘marvellous creation’ or is that a reference to time travel itself? And who is the mother who tried to stop her daughter’s death? Answers please, on a postcard to: ‘Netflix, Everywhere in the World’.
“In every crowd are certain persons who seem just like the rest, yet they bear amazing messages.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Every anxiety is a mild form of premonition, and from that point the shade deepens till we get the forebodings and haunting that merge into lunacy.”
Arthur Alfred Lynch
In Time Tales, Premonitions are usually left ambiguous for dramatic reasons. In the film PREMONITION (2007), with Sandra Bullock as Linda Hanson, the police call on Linda, a young wife, and tell her that her husband has been killed in a car accident, yet the next day she wakes up and there his is downstairs having breakfast. And waking up on another day her husband is dead again, yet the following morning she finds him there in the shower. What the heck is going on? Are these Premonitions or is time somehow fracturing? Or indeed is the husband definitely dead and what Linda is going through is a mental breakdown? The film remains intentionally ambiguous throughout. In a way this is because the bigger theme is forgiveness (Linda discovers her husband intended to have an affair, but didn’t go through with it). Anyway, whether it’s a supernatural premonition, a breakdown, or a rift in space-time, the film is ultimately about is the need sometimes just to say sorry. And on those terms it is an effective grieving story.
To list every story that involves premonitions or precognition would take many hours – and that’s just a good guess rather than actual precognition – but here is a brief selection: THE DEAD ZONE (2002), where a man wakes up from a coma with the ability to see into other people’s futures; NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), a phony stage mentalist mysteriously begins to see the future for real; CLEMENTINE’S ENCHANTED JOURNEY (1985-1987), an animation series featuring a young girl who has precognitive dreams; UNBREAKABLE (2000), where a man learns extraordinary things about himself following a terrible accident; FINAL DESTINATION (2000), a young man has a sudden premonition of an air crash; HEROES (2006-2010), ordinary people suddenly develop special gifts, including one who can see into the future; FLASHFORWARD (2009-2010), every person on Earth suddenly experience black-outs and awaken with a vision of their future; NEXT (2007), a Las Vegas magician who can see into the future two minutes ahead and so is asked to help the FBI prevent a nuclear attack.
In SWIDGERS, in the very first chapter of the first book THE TIME THAT NEVER WAS, the young Swidger hero William experiences some sort of experience where events happen, but then time stops, only to restart again with those events reversed. This then repeats, only with differing scenarios. What’s going on? Is William going mad? Or maybe these are visions of the future? But how can they be when they keep changing? Or maybe it’s time that is somehow fracturing? The why and how of all that is happening to William isn’t fully revealed until much later, after all it is mystery story. And since it’s narrated from William’s point of view, the reader works out the truth behind all that is happening at the same time as William does. In fact, throughout the tale you are always right there with him. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons the book has proved so popular with young and old readers alike.
“My mother had a premonition and she felt that hairdressing would be very good for me.”
“For most of my life I’ve been a listener. At least in the beginning, I think the reason I listened so intently was to have a chance of hearing the train before it ran over me.”
Steve Rasnic Tem
Foreshadowing in a story simply refers to some sort of hint of what is to come. And the key word here is ‘hint’, for foreshadowing is primarily a subtle narrative device offering the reader or viewer a sense of what might be rather than explicitly setting it out in graphic detail. Foreshadowing differs from foretelling in that foretelling is usually a feature within the story structure, usually a plot incident or turning point, whereas foreshadowing is to be found more in what you may call the fabric of the story. In the movies this fabric of the story is what is referred to as the mise-en-scène, literally ‘the putting onto the stage’, and it includes costume, properties, production design, shot composition, location, lighting, hair and makeup, and even film stock.
A famous example of foreshadowing mise-en-scène in the movies is the placement of oranges in scenes in THE GODFATHER where a death is about to occur. The point here is that it is essentially the filmmaker who has placed the oranges on the table, not the killer, and so it’s that which puts the oranges in the foreshadowing category as opposed to foretelling.
In fictional writing, foreshadowing is achieved more through language, imagery and metaphor, but novelists also have at their disposal weather, location and their descriptions of what characters wear. “The leaves fell early that year” is the well-known opening line of Ernest Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS. It’s a simple observation about nature and the seasons, yet first lines of novels set a mood and this image of premature loss powerfully foreshadows the many early deaths that the story will reveal. The mercy killing of Candy’s old dog in OF MICE AND MEN and the very idea of shooting a creature which causes no harm in TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD both chillingly foreshadow the taking of the lives of innocents later in those stories.
What then of foreshadowing in the Time Tale? It’s worth saying straight away that every person in every department in the movie making process, from cinematographer and production designer to prop master and costume supervisor, is there to add their creative input – that’s why they’ve been employed. The movie series that certainly has most fun with intimations of what will come to pass is the BACK TO THE FUTURE franchise. And here, Joanna Johnston, the costume designer for the trilogy, most definitely came up trumps. In BACK TO THE FUTURE II Doc Brown wears a brightly coloured shirt with the pattern of a train being pursued by two riders on horseback, thus foreshadowing events in the follow up movie BACK TO THE FUTURE III. And in BACK TO THE FUTURE III that now faded shirt becomes the Doc’s bandana. In the Wild West, Marty meets his uncle Joey, who we know from the first film will become a convict. Of course, Uncle Joey in the 1880s is only a toddler but when he is seen in his playpen, wearing prison-like black and white stripes, Marty come out with that great line, “Better get used to these bars, kid!” This is not strictly story foreshadowing as we already know what happens to poor Joey, but it’s still a fun gag.
The production designers and set decorators also put in their imaginative penny’s worth. In the opening credits of BACK TO THE FUTURE there is a tracking shot of various clocks, and one even includes a figure of the silent movie actor Harold Lloyd hanging off the big hand pointing to eleven o’clock, foreshadowing what actually happens to Doc himself on the clock tower towards the end of the movie. There’s various playful background moments too, for example in BACK TO THE FUTURE III, the clock tower clock can be seen being unloaded from the train and in another shot the Hill Valley Theatre is under construction.
“Queer, how I misinterpreted the designations of doom.”
“Memory is what I have instead of a view.”
Hannibal Lecter in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, screenplay by Ted Tally, adapted from the Thomas Harris novel
Memory and Identity in Time Tales
Memories of The Past determine for most of us what The Past is. And so it is our memories that determine, at least to some degree, what and who we are. In TRAVELERS (using the American spelling of the series), people from the future, using something called The Theory of Quantum Entanglement, travel to our century – “Welcome to the 21st” – and when here, their consciousnesses take over bodies they knew historically were about to die. Their ultimately task is to alter events in our time so as to save their future and all this is controlled by The Director, a highly advanced Artificial Intelligence programme. In their world, these consciousnesses were in human bodies, but they never had a name, they were just numbers. And most had never seen the sky or consumed, for they lived within a protective dome and ate a protein based gruel. But now they exist as flesh and blood in hosts who can breathe the air, see the sun, touch the trees and even eat real fruit and vegetables.
The priority of the Travelers is always The Mission, yet as the series goes on, the nature of flesh and blood, and the memories it creates, become more and more a part of their lives. But not only that, some host memories, those that are defining and strong, live on in the host’s brain. Some Travelers are more dispassionate than others, but there are those who are deeply moved by these memories that have somehow been left behind. For example, when Special Agent Grant MacLaren, Traveler 3468, played by Eric McCormack, is nearly killed in a plane crash, but as he lies on the operating table, some of the residual memories of his host’s former life begin to surface and haunt him. Not many perhaps, but those that still do exists are powerful and loving. And it’s these memories that give Grant a new perspective on who he is. Or was.
In another episode, the body of Marcy must be ‘re-set’ to save her physical body, but this means starting again from scratch (‘Alt-Control-Delete’). In effect, all the memories Marcy (or her consciousness) has built up in the body of her host will be lost. In effect, this induced ‘amnesia’ will mean that Marcy will not remember the times she had with David, including sexual intimacy and the emotional connection she had made. Marcy recognises that these memories are now part of who she is, for flesh and blood and sex and love matter in what it is that makes us human and alive. Nevertheless, she has no choice but to go ahead with the procedure. Yet afterwards she finds a way, by means of an ice-cold bath, to access these precious ‘lost’ memories. In TRAVELERS, it is often these philosophical tangents that make the series so fascinating and engaging.
As the series goes on there is increasing use of something called a Memory Inhibitor and this is not just used on non-Travelers to avoid uncovering the secret network. Sometimes after a difficult mission or one that is morally ambiguous, the Memory Inhibitor is used on Travelers themselves at their own request. This happens, for example, when Grant MacLaren’s mission is to kill a child, Aleksander, who was previously saved by Philip, the historian of the team. Aleksander was a path to become a force for ill, but even so he’s still a child. It’s that question, if you had the opportunity to kill Hitler as a baby, would you really do it? As it happens, Aleksander was not shot by Grant MacLaren, but instead a Traveler takes over his body and Grant’s memories of that day are wiped. Only, not quite. Some memories are so strong they somehow survive.
SWIDGERS is a Time Adventure book series and the name ‘Swidgers’ is taken from a family in one of Charles Dickens’ lesser known fantasy Christmas stories called THE HAUNTED MAN. The tale revolves around a man suffering from depression who is offered by a Phantom, in physical form just like himself, the opportunity to forget the past, only when he agrees, this has terrible consequences for those around him. It’s only with the redeeming power of Milly, wife of William Swidger, that things are at least partially put right. The message of the tale, as with many of the stories of Charles Dickens is that memories, both good and bad, are a necessary part of who we are. And that’s an idea that fits in well with the SWIDGERS book series itself.
TRAVELERS is a Body Transfer Tale and there are many in science fiction, notably TOTAL RECALL, ALTERED CARBON, ROBOCOP, SELF/LESS, plus the French television series TRANFERTS (or TRANSFERS in English). And you could possibly add BLADE RUNNER, where fictional memories are part of the android’s mental faculties. These are not Time Travel stories of course but their themes are the power of memories of the past and their connection with the nature of our identity. And since these stories are often dealing with the intentional wiping of memories, destroying The Past, they are in their own way Time Tales.
THE I INSIDE (2004) is a memory Time Tale and a Time Travel Tale in that it is a story that concerns an amnesiac who leaps through time between 2000 and 2002 as his memory returns to him. Or seems to. It can be read as one of those movies like JACOB’S LADDER and THE JACKET where the diegesis or action is taking place inside the head of the protagonist who has been in a coma or still is in a coma.
“Time moves in one direction, memory in another”
“My memory of my home was that it was very happy, and that there was more fun and life than there was anywhere else.”
Time, Memory and Space
In the Korean time travel series ALICE (AELLISEU), written by Kim Kyu-Won, the architect version of Park Jin-gyeom says that “to some people, space is life itself.” It is revealed that he became an architect to store ‘time passed’. He believes that while memories and feelings weaken and are forgotten over time, fascinatingly, space, especially homes, save time. The times you laughed, the times you cried, the times you were happy and times you were sad. All live on, stored or perhaps captured in the space of the house itself. This concept is more often explored in supernatural ghost stories, but there’s room for it in Time Tales too.
“A good life is a collection of happy memories.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
A word now about Chronesthesia. There is recognised in psychology the phenomenon that is called Time Travel through the power of the mind. “Chronesthesia’,” says Endel Tulving in CHRONESTHESIA: CONSCIOUS AWARENESS OF SUBJECTIVE TIME, “is tentatively defined as a form of consciousness that allows individuals to think about the subjective time in which they live and that makes it possible for them to ‘mentally travel’ in such time.’ Essentially Chronesthesia is the capacity to mentally reconstruct personal events from the past, as well as to imagine possible scenarios in the future. In short, to think yourself into the Past or Future. This is basically what the character Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) does in SOMEWHERE IN TIME. Incidentally, CHRONESTHESIA was, oddly enough, the original title for the movie that is now known as LOVE AND TIME TRAVEL, a romantic comedy where mysterious messages, dreams and a flurry of coincidences allow the hero to change his own life and the lives of others.
And now a quick word about Instinct. Human instinct, what is it exactly? One way of looking at Instinct is as lifelong experiences that, with time, is compressed into a single moment of thought. People talk being wise after the event, but aren’t those who have lived a little sometimes able to be wise before the event? And that’s what instinct is.
“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”
James M. Barrie