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cartoon of a brown bat cartoon of a brown bat

Pirandello's Bat

Dreamed before 1964 by Anonymous #22 as reported by J.B. Priestley


In 1963, writer J.B. Priestley put out a request on a BBC show for examples of strange experiences with time, whether waking or dreaming. Over a thousand responses came: predictive dreams and visions of varying clarity, accuracy and credibility. The following year he published many examples (though withholding most dreamers' names for privacy reasons) in his book Man and Time. This is one of the thousand.

It's distinctive in that he found it one of very few in which the scene lived in the dream anticipates a book yet to be read. I dream I'm in book-worlds all the time, but then, I'm a voracious reader. This dreamer's an actress--why be surprised she dreams herself into a script?

--Chris Wayan

At the time she had this dream my correspondent was a very junior member of a drama group in West London. At a meeting she attended, the director announced that the next production would be a play by Pirandello, though he was not sure which one it would be. And in those days this girl had not only never seen or read anything by Pirandello but had never heard of him.

The night after the meeting she dreamed she was in Italy, where she had never been, and she found herself in a long narrow room with arches along one side, leading into a rose garden. The floor was elaborately tiled, and at a long table men and women in medieval clothes were eating and drinking. Her partner took her by the hand, raised her from the table, and took her out through one of the arches toward the rose garden. As they passed under the arch, a bat flew in from the garden and she reached up and caught it, holding it in her hand.

cartoon of a brown bat

The dream was "so vivid and made such an impression" on her (no words are more familiar than these, ever since these letters arrived) that she told two or three people about it, the following morning.

Later, she went to the public library and took out a volume of Pirandello's collected plays. To her amazement, "the very first play I started to read has as its setting the exact room of my dream complete with rose garden seen through arches. More amazing still, later in the action--the most improbable stage direction I have ever met--a bat flies in."

cartoon of a brown bat

I agree she might have invented a vaguely Italian scene, not unlike Pirandello's setting--but not, I believe, that bat.



Priestley overlooks a couple of lesser evils you can try on that bat, if you just can't tolerate predictive dreams: clairvoyance or telepathy. After all, the book existed before our aspiring actress opened it; all she had to do was read it in her sleep. Yes, it was shut, on a library shelf, in the dark, across town... but this still may taste better to some readers than seeing the future. And the director, though he may not have decided which Pirandello play to stage yet, would certainly have read the major plays; how you stage a bat may have already flitted through his mind. Perhaps it flew across London that night, brain to brain. cartoon of a brown bat

I did say lesser of two evils...

--Chris Wayan

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