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PRIVACY GROWS CHARACTER

Dreamed 7/5/1996 by Chris Wayan

I'm in my parents' living room on a sofa, talking with a literary scholar. He tells me, quoting J.R.R. Tolkien at length, that good writing leaves privacy for characters. Tolkien was deliberately vague about some things--as he says in the essay TREE AND LEAF, fairy tales should not be realistic, their style should not be photographic--you need to leave room for readers to recall their own favorite tree, their own childhood hill, not the tree or hill the writer imagines.

This critic admires the character of Meriadoc the most. Recites four or five passages where Tolkien deliberately won't tell us Merry's private thoughts--especially his business concerns--because a real person wouldn't divulge that to a stranger! Not knowing things about him makes him realer, just as Middle-Earth is a real landscape partly because there are a lot of places we never get to see--thus, we sense subliminally that it's not just a backdrop for the story. staring eye looks down

As he expounds this theory, I hear it mostly as a backdrop. For in the foreground is the thought: "Wow, he knows Tolkien better than I do! Yikes!" Amusement at his obsession, or envy that I didn't see what he did?

But as I get past that, I mull over his theory's implications. We're so used to big detailed novels with photographic sharpness that we forget... that's historically unusual in tale-telling--and in societies. Everything's public in the age of the talkshow--but are we so sure that seeing all and telling all hasn't CAUSED an erosion of character? What if some things only develop in silence and solitude?

Maybe privacy's an essential nutrient, and American crassness is a deficiency syndrome!

His theory applies to me, too. What about my own dream-journals? Is my recent dream-drought really just trying to protect my privacy? Do I even have ROOM to grow my character, when I record everything? Like having a spy camera on you!

NOTES IN THE MORNING

We have met the censors, and they are us.

YEARS LATER

Five years later I built the World Dream Bank. Its thousand-plus dreams may look like I ignored this dream's warning; but in fact I did listen. Rather than set up a dream blog, or keep my whole dream journal in the cloud, I presented only a tiny fraction of my dreams, the ones I thought would interest readers the most. I kept, and keep, 95% of my dreams private. And I recommend that.



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