The Two-Way Mirror #14: Harry’s Dreams, Part I: Muggle Dreams
Dreams add a bit of magic to literature and life. What do they add to a book that is already about magic? Rowling constructs the Harry Potter universe cleverly enough to give it limits, so that we can identify with it despite its fantastic character. For example, even wizards have to deal with the issue of death. The question is, in the magic world as in ours, to what extent can these limits be crossed? To what extent can wizards and witches defeat death, time, space, and matter? And will dreams in the Potter world somehow aid in the defeating of one or more of these limits in a concrete way? Are dreams a simple magic detail, one of Rowling’s creative flourishes, or are they an integral part of the plot that will continue to grow in importance and participate in the climax of the series?
Every volume of the series so far has had its share of Harry’s dreams, culminating in The Order of the Phoenix with Harry’s ongoing and disturbing oneiric experiences. Before OotP and to some extent The Goblet of Fire, dreams occupy very little space. Barely more dreams are mentioned in The Sorcerer’s/Philospher’s Stone than in The Chamber of Secrets or The Prisoner of Azkaban, which present one and two dreams respectively. But it seems noteworthy that dreams are not omitted altogether from any one of the volumes. Have dreams found their peak and purpose in the events of OotP, or is there more in store?
Most of the dreams in S/PS seem to be memories:
“‘I had a dream about a motorcycle,’ said Harry, remembering suddenly. ‘It was flying.'” (31)
The connection between dreams and memories is made clear with reference to the night when Harry’s parents were killed. Initially this is described as a voluntary memory:
“Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead.” (36)
But eventually, it becomes a nightmare:
“Harry wished he could forget what he’d seen in the mirror as easily, but he couldn’t. He started having nightmares. Over and over again he dreamed about his parents disappearing in a flash of green light, while a high voice cackled with laughter.” (267)
Besides being closely associated with memories, dreams are also linked to strong desires. We learn that:
“When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened.” (37)
These dreams appear to be more like daydreams. The same connection between dreams and desires is evident when Harry tries to rule out the reality of his whole magic encounter with Hagrid by calling it a dream:
“‘It was a dream,’ he told himself firmly. ‘I dreamed a giant called Hagrid came to tell me I was going to a school for wizards. When I open my eyes I’ll be at home in my cupboard.’ But he still didn’t open his eyes. It had been such a good dream.” (76)
But most dreams that function according to “definition,” taking Harry into an alternate world while he sleeps, are nightmares. We find out in S/PS that these nightmares are quite frequent, but Rowling gives us very little specific detail. One of them is clearly connected to the experience with the killed unicorn that Harry had in the forest and Harry’s memory of the death of his parents:
“Harry couldn’t sleep, but the truth was that Harry kept being woken by his old nightmare, except that it was now worse than ever because there was a hooded figure dripping blood in it.” (327)
The interesting and only truly detailed dream that Harry has towards the beginning of the book shows more striking insight than this nightmare about the connection between Voldemort and the blood-dripping figure. That earlier dream showed nearly prophetic insight about Professor Quirrell and Voldemort’s relationship to snakes:
“Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn’t want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully – and there was Malfoy, laughing at him as he struggled with it – then Malfoy turned into a hook-nosed teacher, Snape, whose laugh became high and cold – there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.” (161-62)
Harry senses in this dream that there is a connection between Voldemort and Quirrell, and that there is something fishy about the turban. His dream is indeed visionary. The snakelike turban that wraps itself around Harry’s brain seems to point even further down the road to Voldemort’s snake like invasion of his mind in OotP.
Moving on to the second volume of the series, CoS, Harry has only one dream that seems rather silly:
“He dreamed that he was on show in a zoo, with a card reading UNDERAGE WIZARD attached to his cage. People goggled through the bars at him as he lay, starving and weak, on a bed of straw. He saw Dobby’s face in the crowd and shouted out, asking for help, but Dobby called, ‘Harry Potter is safe there, sir!’ and vanished. Then the Dursleys appeared and Dudley rattled the bars of the cage, laughing at him.” (28)
Harry then awakes to Ron’s rattling the bars that uncle Vernon attached to his window. As “normal” as this dream is, we may wonder about the importance that the sign UNDERAGE WIZARD takes on later in the novel. By OotP, we see how tragic the consequences of such a labeling can become when crucial information is withheld from Harry because “e ez too young,” as Fleur might say. The psychological factor apart, why does Harry dream that he is in a zoo? I find this detail fascinating. The only other time we have seen a zoo in the past has been when Harry frees the snake in SS/PS. If Harry’s dreams are in any way visionary, could this be a hint that Harry identifies with the snake that was once held behind bars in a zoo? And might he identify with this snake because of his connection with Voldemort and Voldemort’s connection to snakes? This is food for thought.
PoA offers us two very interesting dreams. One is clearly prophetic, as it foretells information that Harry learns only later down the road, such as that his father’s alias was “Prongs” and his Animagus shape was a stag, as was the shape of Harry’s Patronus, whose color is silvery white:
“He had a very strange dream. He was walking through a forest, his Firebolt over his shoulder, following something silvery-white. It was winding its way through the trees ahead, and he could only catch glimpses of it between the leaves. Anxious to catch up with it, he sped up, but as he moved faster, so did his quarry. Harry broke into a run, and ahead he hears hooves gathering speed. Now he was running flat out, and ahead he could hear galloping. Then he turned a corner into a clearing and -” (265)
… and he woke up. While the vision partially predicts events that are near at hand, there is an element in it that may point to later developments, as Harry’s previous dreams seem to have done. Why is Harry running after the silver white stag (or unicorn, or…)? Harry is in a hurry to catch up with something that concerns him intimately and that is forever fleeing ahead of him. What does this dynamic symbolize in Harry’s (future) life?
The second dream of PoA is just as interesting, though it doesn’t have the same enchanting sense of foreboding as the previous dream. This dream is more on the humorous side:
“Harry slept badly. First he dreamed that he had overslept, and that Wood was yelling, ‘Where were you? We had to use Neville instead!’ Then he dreamed that Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherin team arrived for the match riding dragons. He was flying at breakneck speed, trying to avoid a spurt of flames from Malfoy’s steed’s mouth, when he realized he had forgotten his Firebolt. He fell through the air and woke with a start.” (302-303)
If we stop and think about it on the other hand, we will notice that there are again insightful ideas that get formed in Harry’s mind. Though perhaps by all standards Neville is the all-time worst Quidditch replacement Harry could find, the idea that he could be replaced by Neville is much deeper than it looks on the surface. We learn in OotP that in many ways Neville is indeed Harry’s double. Then, does Harry’s dream predict even more than the special connection that Harry is sensing between himself and Neville? Will there be a situation in which Neville will have to replace Harry because Harry won’t be able to be present? The transformation of riding brooms into dragons seems to be a foreboding of war against the Slytherins. And why does Harry lose his Firebolt? Why does he fall? Is this again a vision of a future situation? Could it be that Harry will not be able to make use of something essential to his participation in the war (the equivalent for a broom at Quidditch would be a wand in the war). Might Harry’s wand get destroyed, for example? Might the opposing Death Eater side reveal staggeringly frightening weapons that “should not be allowed”?
There is no doubt that each dream that Harry has in the first three volumes of the Harry Potter series has a visionary dimension to it. Does then this dimension allow each dream to take on an even higher prophetic function, allowing us to foresee situations that are to come in the remaining books?
With the fourth and fifth books, we enter a different age of dreams, concerned more with magical powers rather than with the regular Muggle magic of dreams. I shall discuss these dreams in a future editorial: Harry’s Dreams Part II: Wizard Dreams. Will the sixth and seventh books then add any new dimensions to our experience of dreams in the Harry Potter world so far? Or will dreams die out altogether? And why would that be?