Dream world (plot device)

Dream world (plot device)

Dream world (also called dream realm or illusory realm) is a commonly used plot device in fictional works, most notably in science fiction and fantasy fiction. The use of a dream world creates a situation whereby a character (or group of characters) is placed in a marvellous and unpredictable environment and must overcome several personal problems to leave it. The dream world also commonly serves to teach some moral or religious lessons to the character experiencing it – a lesson that the other characters will be unaware of, but one that will influence decisions made regarding them. When the character is reintroduced into the real world (usually when they wake up), the question arises as to what exactly constitutes reality due to the vivid recollection and experiences of the dream world.

According to J.R.R. Tolkien, dream worlds contrast with fantasy worlds, in which the world has existence independent of the characters in it.[1] However, other authors have used the dreaming process as a way of accessing a world which, within the context of the fiction, holds as much consistency and continuity as physical reality.[2] The use of "dream frames" to contain a fantasy world, and so explain away its marvels, has been bitterly criticized and has become much less prevalent.[3]


Fictional dream worlds


Dream frames were frequently used in medieval allegory to justify the narrative;[3] The Book of the Duchess and Piers Plowman are two such dream visions.

The Cheshire Cat vanishes in Wonderland.

One of the best-known dream worlds is Wonderland from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as well as Looking-Glass Land from its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. Unlike many dream worlds, Carroll's logic is like that of actual dreams, with transitions and causality flexible. James Branch Cabell's Smirt and its two sequels taken together form an extended dream and most of their action takes place in a dream world.

The action of The Bridge by Ian M. Banks and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson take place in dream worlds. Other fictional dream worlds include the Dreamlands of H. P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle and The Neverending Story's world of Fantasia, which includes places like the Desert of Lost Dreams, the Sea of Possibilities and the Swamps of Sadness. Dreamworlds, shared hallucinations and other alternate realities feature in a number of works by Phillip K. Dick, such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ubik. Similar themes were explored byb Jorge Luis Borges, for instance in The Circular Ruins.

In The Wheel of Time book series, Tel'aran'rhiod is a dream world that exists in close proximity to the real world. Objects and physical locations that do not frequently change in the real world have parallels in Tel'aran'rhiod. Ordinary people can occasionally slip into Tel'aran'rhiod, and events that occur within this dream world have physical consequences. A person that dies in Tel'aran'rhiod will never wake up again, and in several cases it is shown that physical injuries gained there persist to the waking world. Tel'aran'rhiod can be controlled similar to a lucid dream, and several characters in the series can enter and manipulate Tel'aran'rhiod at will.


In the 1939 movie, Oz from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was altered from a fantasy world (in the novel) to a dream world of Dorothy's; characters who were independent inhabitants of Oz were transformed into dream parallels of introduced Kansas characters.[4]

In The Matrix, Neo and the rest of the humans live inside a dream world. Their brains are hooked up to a computer network that creates this dream world. However, some may argue that this is not a dream world, as it seems completely normal and indistinguishable from reality (aside from time differences). In the 1980s, the Nightmare on Elm Street series of horror films introduced a dark dream realm inhabited by the supernatural serial killer Freddy Krueger.

In the movie Sharkboy and Lavagirl the main characters enter a world dreamt up by a small boy in order to save the real world. Down Town is the land of nightmares where all people who are in comas go in the movie Monkeybone.Dreamworlds also appear in Total Recall and Vanilla Sky;

The film Waking Life takes place almost entirely in a dream realm. In the 2010 film Inception, main characters create artificial, vivid dream worlds and bring others into the dream worlds and perform various things with their brains, without them knowing. This may involve 'Extraction' (stealing memories and secrets), 'Inception' (planting an idea into the mind) and others.

Comic books, graphic novels and animation

One of the earliest newspaper comic strips, recounting Little Nemo's adventures in Slumberland, had a dream world theme.

Writer Neil Gaiman was tasked with re-imagining a Golden Age character, "The Sandman". In his version, the Sandman becomes Dream, the Lord of Dreams (also known, to various characters throughout the series, as Morpheus, Oneiros, the Shaper, the Shaper of Form, Lord of the Dreaming, the Dream King, Dream-Sneak, Dream Cat, Murphy, Kai'ckul, and Lord L'Zoril), who is essentially the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. At the start of the series, Morpheus is captured by an occult ritual and held prisoner for 70 years. Morpheus escapes in the modern day and, after avenging himself upon his captors, sets about rebuilding his kingdom, which has fallen into disrepair in his absence.

Dreamworlds also appear in Rozen Maiden, in the Outback(s) of The Maxx; in Dream Land, the main setting of many Kirby games, in the webcomic The Dreamland Chronicles, and the movie Sailor Moon Super S the Movie: Black Dream Hole also have dream realms in their universes.

The American Dragon Jake Long episode "Dreamscape" takes place mainly in a dream realm. Similarly, the Xiaolin Showdown episode of the same title also uses the dream world in its plotline.

In Clamp manga series such as X/1999, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic, the dream world is very important to the events that occur within each story. It is later revealed in xxxHolic that the dream world itself is its own world, as part of the Clamp multiverse. Similarly, in the Bone graphic novel series by Jeff Smith, the primary plot device is a dream world called "The Dreaming." It exists independently from the real world, and it is


The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Waking Moments" uses several dream realms and false awakenings. In the UFO episode "Ordeal," Foster's abduction and rescue is explained away as a dream. The whole of season 8 of Dallas was retroactively explained, at the start of Season 9, as a dream had by Bobby Ewing.

Video games

The video games Link's Awakening and Super Mario Bros. 2 take place in a dream of Link's and Mario's respectively. Also, in the video game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there is a short quest which takes place in a dreamworld. In the video game, Fallout 3, a main storyline quest involves the main character going into a virtual reality simulator, referred to as "Tranquility Lane," a dreamworld simulation of a 1950s suburban neighborhood. In the Jay Jay the Jet Plane cartoon series, adventures where air-breathing jet planes cannot go (underwater and in space) happen as dreams. In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure part 3 "Stardust Crusaders," Jotaro and his friends and grandpa are put in a dream world which takes the form of an amusement park by Mannish Boy and his Death 13 stand.

Other dreamworlds are the Maginaryworld from Sonic Shuffle, and in Nightopia and Nightmare (collectively known in a place called the "Night Dimension") from Nights into Dreams... and its sequel for the Wii, Nights: Journey of Dreams. The Life and Times of Juniper Lee

In the first two games of the EarthBound series, the protagonist (Ninten in EarthBound Zero and Ness in EarthBound) must travel to a dream world named Magicant. However, the two Magicants are different from each other. Ninten visits his Magicant, which is light pink and has seashell spires and clouds, multiple times during the story, until it is revealed to not be his own Magicant but instead just a collection of the memories of his great-grandmother, Maria. Ness's Magicant is a surreal, spacelike land in a purple sea that Ness only gains access to once he records the eight melodies into his Sound Stone, which he then must travel to the center of in order to overcome his weaknesses, characterized by a boss battle against his 'Nightmare' (with an appearance similar to the 'Mani-Mani Statue', a mysterious object encountered in another dreamworld called Moonside), and absorb the power of the Earth into his heart. The whole of Zanarkand in Final Fantasy X was a dream, along with the main character, Tidus. In Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie, the game is split between two worlds initially known as the Real World and the Phantom World, named such because any being from the Real World is rendered unseen by the inhabitants of the Phantom World, like a phantom, and are only capable of becoming visible after drinking a special elixir. After a time, it is revealed that the Phantom World is in fact the true Real World, while the former Real World is called the Dream World, created from the dreams of the people of the Real World, in which each inhabitant has a Dream World counterpart. In addition, the main antagonist of the game, Deathtamoor, plots to try to merge both the Real World and Dream World with his own "Dark World" in an attempt for world domination. In the upcoming video game Driver: San Francisco, main character John Tanner suffers a car accident that leaves him in a coma. The game take places in his dream, but the character himself doesn't realize he's dreaming. Instead, he thinks he had a lucky escape and with this, thinks that he got an ability to possess other people. During the game, many billboards will turn black and show "wake up" messages.

See also

  • Deus ex machina for when the author of a series deletes the last part of its timeline and reverts to a previous situation, by stating that the rejected matter was a dream by a character.


  1. ^ J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories", p. 14, The Tolkien Reader, Ballantine Books, New York 1966
  2. ^ "Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences...
    ... Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon." – H.P. Lovecraft, from "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", as reprinted in The Dream Cycle of H. P. Lovecraft: Dreams of Terror and Death (Del Rey, 1995)
  3. ^ a b John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Dreams", p. 297 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  4. ^ L. Frank Baum, Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Wizard of Oz, p. 96, ISBN 0-517-500868

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