Visions of the Future: Dream Narratology in (Proto-)Science Fiction

Jim Clarke

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Dream narration has a lengthy history in the Western literary tradition, functioning as the earliest iteration of the frame story. Dream narratives can be found in the Bible, and in Greek and Latin classical literature, but perhaps reached a zenith during the Medieval period, when dream visions became a central narratological strategy in theological texts and secular romances alike. Deriving from this Medieval tradition, early speculative literature utilises the dream narrative to construct and legitimise literary speculations about the future. Futurological dream narratives are thus mediated and undermined by the distancing mechanism of dreaming. Yet paradoxically, they are also legitimated by Christian traditions of belief in predictive dreaming and divine visitation through dreams which were not deconstructed until firstly the Age of Enlightenment and more fully following the advent of Freudian psychoanalysis. In a further subversion, these traditions were often challenged and questioned by early Science Fiction, even as it adopted the legitimating form of Christian dream visions.
My paper intends to examine how early SF exemplified this usage of dream narration for centuries after the Medieval dream poem tradition had waned. I hope to demonstrate that the mechanism of dream narrative within science fiction was not eradicated by the advent of seventeenth century ‘Protestant’ rationalism, as has been argued by SF historian and scholar Adam Roberts, but instead has persisted in a tradition that encompasses the work of H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon and other modern authors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-72
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Postgraduate Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014

Bibliographical note

Under a CC-BY-NC-SA license


  • Science fiction
  • dreams in literature
  • Medieval poetry
  • narratology


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