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Shoot the Mirror!

Dreamed October 15, 1927, by Sir Oliver Lodge


Last night I had what seemed to me a vivid dream, which as it struck me was the plot of a novel, at any rate of a short story. But directly this idea entered my mind a great deal of the plot rapidly faded, and when I ultimately woke little was left but a general idea, with what seemed a dramatic conclusion, which at the time of the dream surprised me. That was rather the notable feature, that the conclusion came as a surprise.


All I now remember is that there was a family, father, mother, two brothers, and a sister. The elder brother was a good fellow, but had been accused of a crime, and was by all thought guilty, except by his sister. She knew that the younger brother had really done it. The younger brother, however, was favorably regarded by everybody, and no suspicion fell upon him. But the sister was disgusted at his acquiescence on the punishment being inflicted on the elder brother. What the punishment was I don't know; and about the crime I am vague, except that a pistol had been used. There were plenty of incidents about it in the dream, but they have evaporated: it was somehow a brutal piece of work.

The conclusion was that she prevailed on the younger brother to take what she considered 'the only way out,' with these words handing him the pistol, and pointing to a large looking-glass. The youth, in the presence of his family, took the pistol, shuddering, and pointing it at his image in the looking-glass, pulled the trigger. The girl had whispered to him that it was loaded, but she had really withdrawn the cartridge. Consequently the explosion expected, and which I in my dream expected, did not occur; the pistol missed fire. Nevertheless the youth fell, to the consternation of his family, who sent for the doctor, thinking it was syncope; but the doctor pronounced life extinct.


Why he should be shooting at his image instead of at himself I have no idea. It seemed in the dream a natural and fatal thing to do. But the conscientious death from a misfire is quite on approved lines.

I felt at first as if I could write out the whole thing; but the clear sequence of it all may be an illusion. I seldom have dreams, except travelling nightmares. This dream was not perturbing at all, but purely a matter of interest, like reading a story.

--Sir Oliver Lodge


Lodge focuses on the fact that his dreaming mind obviously planned the twin surprises at the climax that he as viewer is then duly surprised by--both the dud shot and the brother's death from sheer expectation. I'll concede the dream is a vivid example of the whole peekaboo game. But what about the content of this fatal little drama? Lodge focuses on dream (il)logic and this audience/director split during dreaming, but seems pleasantly oblivious to the possibility the dream's about him...

Who is this charming, irresponsible, criminal brother? When he can't fob off his guilt on his elder brother, his observant sister makes him destroy his own self-image. To me this all sounds symbolic of some very uncomfortable revelation. Though she softens it: by omitting the bullet, she only requires him to be willing to drop his mask. Yet merely pulling the trigger destroys him! Even the act of trying to smash his self-image without actually exposing his crime is fatal--literally "triggering" collapse. So I'd read this dream as: Lodge's unconscious wants to make him face an ugly guilt--like Hamlet setting dramatic snares for King Claudius. But this test scene convinces his inner director that this could badly misfire. So perhaps Lodge's apparent incuriosity about the personal implications of his dream is neither blindness nor discretion, but an unconscious heeding of the dream's conclusion: let sleeping guilts lie.

Since reading this dream, I assess my own blindness about certain dreams in a new light. Some dreams may not be messages but experiments; and if the outcome's disastrous, maybe not looking too hard at the dream's full meaning is wise. The shock of truth may devastate the unready.

Am I saying some dreams decide they don't want to be interpreted? Sure. Why not? A director who can concoct a play fooling the conscious twice may well decide that the final surprise--some ugly revelation smashing the ego--might best remain obscure for now. Lest it become, as in the dream, a final surprise.

Oops. Am I arguing myself round to Freud? A bit. But he (first) saw dream-obscurity as merely a way to get some undisturbed sleep, or (later) to avoid the uncomfortable process of maturation. But I think Freud, early or late, would be appalled by the idea that dreaming itself can have therapeutic judgment--to be, in every way that matters, a psychoanalyst.

Lodge's dream is from The Dream World (Ed. R.L. Megroz, 1939). The title is mine, and merely for convenience.

--Chris Wayan

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