It’s been awhile! There’s actually been a ton of Dreamland work and development in the last few months, I’ve just been bad at posting about it. For now, here’s something to chisel into the eternal granite of WordPress: a list of “core” Dreamland books and stories.
Obviously, I have to begin by listing the Dreamlands stories of HP Lovecraft (1890-1937). By far the most important is The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but his short stories “Polaris,” “The White Ship,” “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” “Celephaïs,” “What the Moon Brings,” “The Quest of Iranon,” “Ex Oblivione,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” “The Strange High House in the Mist,” “Hypnos” and “The Other Gods” are also worth reading. His poem cycle Fungi from Yuggoth is also Dreamlandy. (On the other hand, Lovecraft’s very loose Dream-Quest sequels “The Silver Key” and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” are so different in tone from Dream-Quest they could be considered to take place in a different universe.)
Just as much as Lovecraft, though (or perhaps even more), Dreamland is heavily inspired by the works of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957). His most Dreamlandy works are the short stories in The Sword of Welleran, Time and the Gods, A Dreamer’s Tales, The Book of Wonder and The Last Book of Wonder. Like Lovecraft’s writing, all these works are out of copyright and available on Project Gutenberg in most countries.
Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Böe is highly recommended: an amazing reinvention/revitalization/critique of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.
Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story could easily take place in the Dreamlands, and the original book version (not the movie) perfectly demonstrates the game mechanic of “spending Memories to create marvels.” Fantastica is Dreamland as much as Ulthar is.
Gary Myers, The House of the Worm, The Country of the Worm. More Dunsany than Lovecraft in style, these are perfect little Mythos-horror Dreamland tales.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. A masterpiece.
Margaret St. Clair, “The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles”. If more writers had written stories like this, there would be a Dunsany Mythos.
Cody Goodfellow & Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (editors), New Maps of Dream (2020). An upcoming anthology of mostly horror-themed Dreamlands stories.
Jody Lynn Nye, Waking in Dreamland (series). Young Adult Dreamland-ish fantasy.
Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, etc. LeGuin was a huge Dunsany fan and famously used his style for this leftist allegory.
Joanna Russ, “My Boat”. Like Vellitt Boe, this 1976 short story is one of the early attempts at a more progressive take on Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. Today, it may seem dated in other ways, but a valiant effort.
Clive Barker, Imajica; Weaveworld. Not explicitly Dreamland, but as “weird adult isekai”, it’s Dreamland-adjacent.
David Barker & W.H. Pugmire, Witches in Dreamland
Brian Lumley, Hero of Dreams; Ship of Dreams; Mad Moon of Dreams. Basically these books are pulp sword-and-sorcery with Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath placenames.
Clark Ashton Smith, miscellaneous short stories. None of Smith’s stories are exactly Dreamland or isekai (I think), but his weird decadent fantasy could easily take place in Dreamland rather than far-future or far-ancient Earth.
Travel Narratives & Gazetteers
Ancient travel narratives, which often blur fact and fiction, may provide ideas for Dreamland’s strange cultures. These kinds of books certainly influenced Lovecraft’s “Kadath” and Dunsany’s “Idle Days on the Yann”.
Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo
Herodotus, The History
Pliny the Elder, Natural History
Ibn Battuta, The Rihla (The Journey)
Ibn Jubayr, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr
Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness
John Mandeville, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
Faxian, Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms
Xuanzang, Great Tang Records of the Western Regions (Saiyuki)
Herman Melville, Mardi, and a Voyage Thither
Anonymous, Shanhaijing: Classic of Mountains and Seas
Anonymous, The Wonders of the East
Fairytales, Myths & Children’s Books
Fairytales of any culture may provide ideas for Dreamland plots, particularly those with traditional elements such as love stories, prophecies and talking animals. The Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales (ATU) and the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, both of which can be studied online, classify thousands of types of (mostly European and North African) fairy tales by elements and motifs.
Andrew Lang (editor), The Blue Fairy Book, etc.
Idries Shah (editor), World Tales
Abolqasem Ferdowski, The Shahnameh, translated by Dick Davis
Anonymous, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights
Anonymous, Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange
Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nightmare
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland; The Hunting of the Snark
William Morris, The Well at World’s End, etc.
George MacDonald, The Golden Key; The Princess and the Goblin; Phantastes, etc.
Christina Rossetti, The Goblin Market
Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist
E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros, etc.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (series)
Maurice Sendak, Outside over There; Where the Wild Things Are, etc.
Mercer Mayer, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, etc.
Dr. Seuss, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew; On Beyond Zebra; The Sleep Book
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Kingdoms of Elfin
E. Nesbit, Five Children and It; The Magic City, etc.
Edward Lear, miscellaneous nonsense poems
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
Angelia Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was. Not Dreamlands or even fantasy exactly, but very much like an updated Dunsany in style; existential tales of an imaginary, timeless (postapocalyptic?) kingdom.
Kenji Miyazawa, Night on the Galactic Railroad
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
These authors ditch the Medieval fantasy trappings of Dreamland, but capture the exoticism, alienation and feeling of “losing yourself in a foreign land.” They also to be more overtly violent and sexual.
Alberto Manguel & Gianni Guadalupi, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (nonfiction)
Robert Sheckley, Futuropolis (nonfiction)
Darran Anderson, Imaginary Cities (nonfiction)
François Schuiten & Benoît Peeters, The Obscure Cities (graphic novel series)
Henri Michaux, Voyage en Grande Garabagne; Au Pays de la Magie; Ici, Poddema (in French)
David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus
Franz Kafka, The Castle, etc.
René Daumal, Mount Analogue; A Night of Serious Drinking
Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
Alfred Kubin, The Other Side
Samuel Delany, Dhalgren
William S. Burroughs, The Naked Lunch, etc.
Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino’s Journey
Shaun Tan, The Arrival. Gorgeous wordless children’s book, a surreal take on the immigrant experience.
Jorge Luis Borges, miscellaneous short stories
Leonora Carrington, miscellaneous short stories
Leena Krohn, assorted works
J.G. Ballard, assorted works. Creator of a thousand dreamscapes, technically science fiction, but in truth vivid fantasies of imaginary societies, ruined cities and postapocalytic jungles and deserts.
The Symbolist and Transcendentalist art of the 1800s (and its late 20th century pop culture New Age successor, Visionary art) comes close to capturing Dunsany-style Dreamlands with its spiritual subject matter, focus on beauty, and lavish temples and palaces. Orientalist art from the same period offers European painters’ perspective on Middle Eastern cultures, with varying degrees of romantic idealization and/or racist stereotyping. Surrealist art, from Alfred Kubin to John Bergin and Aeron Alfrey, envisions a darker, more horrific Dreamland.
Pseudo-scientific books of imaginary plants, animals and monsters, such as Parallel Botany and Inventorum Naturae, express the ease with which “normal” and “fantastic” blur in Dreamland. They also make great handouts to show to players.
Henry Fuseli, nightmare paintings (1781-1802)
Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799)
Max Klinger, assorted artwork
Arthur Rackham, assorted artwork
Edmund Dulac, assorted artwork
Alfred Kubin, assorted artwork
Sidney Sime, assorted artwork
Salvador Dali, assorted artwork
Remedios Varo, assorted artwork
Leonora Carrington, assorted artwork
Fritz Schwimbeck, assorted artwork
Max Ernst, A Week of Kindness, assorted paintings
John Bergin, From Inside (graphic novel)
Aeron Alfrey, assorted artwork
Gilbert Williams, Illuminations, The Hidden Worlds
Luigi Serafini, Codex Seraphinianus
Leo Lionni, Parallel Botany
Una Woodruff, Inventorum Natura, Amarant: The Flora and Fauna of Atlantis
Harald Stumpke, The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades
Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents
I may write more about these works and authors later. Please add your own suggestions in the comments!
6 thoughts on “Dreamland Books & Stories”
The original PROMETHEA series by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray has long, extended sequences that blur dream and reality together.
A HOUSE-BOAT ON THE STYX by John Bangs is a thought exercise where mythical and real characters all get together at a party and discuss things. This idea was examined briefly in GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, in the land of Glubbdubdrib.
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME by Richard Matheson is a book about the afterlife, which has a dream-like quality. The 1998 movie adaptation doubles-down on the phantasmagoric imagery.
PAPRIKA is a seminal anime about a psychologist entering people’s dreams to fix psychological problems, and it only gets weirder from there.
PARANOIA AGENT is a violent and strange anime where a Jungian group-consciousness creates monsters whose various powers depend on who’s leading the narrative at the moment.
A fan favorite, the SANITARIUM video game has the title character wandering around various dream-scapes, struggling to solve puzzles. Much of the experience is how your avatar appears as different characters in different worlds. The video-game adaptation of I HAVE NO MOUTH BUT I MUST SCREAM is more of a personal nightmare than a dream.
The PERSONA series has normal characters entering a Jungian dream-like world, where they have strange powers, to fight monsters inspired by both myth and by psychology. The boss enemies are almost always a manifestation of someone’s subconscious.
@Xin Jin Meng — Thank you so much!! I actually have another page for movies, where I mention Paprika and What Dreams May Come. I’ve never read Promethea (embarrassingly).
My real blind spot is video games, so video game suggestions are great. Hopefully I can eventually come up with a full page list of Dreamlandy games.
It may be worth to include “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” from 1499, as it is a story about a quest within the dream. I haven’t read it, only learned about it from some novel I read couple years ago. Here’s summary on Wikipedia:
The old partial English translation may be found easily online.
Arthur Machen’s “The White People” as it is a story about travel to strange fantasy world, with fairytale atmosphere and underlying horror.
@Krzysztof — I had never heard of “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”!! :O Thank you so much!! I don’t know if “The White People” is quite Dreamlandy enough to count for me, though its vision of fairy-like creatures is in tune with the inhuman way I’m depicting fairies in the game.
The artists Michael Hutter and Herve Scott Flament could be interesting for you.
And I watched “The Secret Garden” right now, which has some dream-like elements, too.
Thank you so much, Hutter and Flament are perfect!! I’d never seen their works before!