Hard to believe in this 'Dream'
'Dream a Little Dream'
Tor Books, $23.95
Review by L.D. Meagher
April 6, 1999
(CNN) -- What little girl hasn't dreamed of being a fairy princess, living in a glorious castle with her Prince Charming, surrounded by a land populated with faeries? What little boy hasn't dreamed of being a noble knight, riding forth on a glistening steed to contend against dragons and saving the life of a fair maiden? Such dreams are the wellspring of fantasy fiction. But what if those dreams take on a life of their own, become a type of reality? Unfortunately, the result might put you to sleep.
"Dream a Little Dream" tries to bridge the gap between the mundane and the magical. Nola, a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship, seeks refuge in a dream world. There, she has the love of a handsome prince and the friendship of a winged unicorn. One day, they appear to her waking self, and explain that their world is in grave danger. They beg her to help them save it.
The story of Nola, her prince -- his name is Michael, but everyone calls him Mich -- and the steed called Spirit, is inspired by actual dreams. According to the notes at the end of the book, the story unfolded in a series of dreams for co-author Julie Brady. She wrote them down and passed them along the Piers Anthony, an acknowledged master of the fantasy genre. He describes his role in writing the book as doing "what is necessary to make it presentable, somewhat in the manner a stonecutter facets and polishes a raw gemstone." In this case, Anthony should have spent more time polishing.
Then again, he might not have had a gemstone to work with. The landscape of Brady's dreams is not a particularly interesting one. Oh, there are castles and dragons and a sorceress, but they appear to be little more than cardboard cutouts. Even Nola, the heroine, has trouble believing in them.
"Nola tried her best to understand and comprehend what Mich was telling her, but she still felt as if this weren't really happening to her. It wasn't until very late that evening that her belief strengthened enough to eliminate her sensation of disorientation. She had thought Mich was crazy, or a clever imposter who had somehow learned of her secret dream; now she knew that he was her real dream man."
The character of the prince is an example of the book's failure of imagination. He's big and handsome, as any Prince Charming should be. But he's also something of a dolt. And when the time comes to confront the bad guys, Mich hangs back and lets Nola do most of the work.
The plot of "Dream a Little Dream" is as predictable as the characters are wooden. There's little doubt how it will all turn out. Midway through the novel, one character -- a hooker from Nola's reality -- tips the authors' hand. She tells Nola, "You got a prince who loves you. It's like a fairy tale. It ain't right for a fairy tale to have a sad ending. It just ain't right."
In other hands, "Dream a Little Dream" might have turned into a wicked spoof of the genre. But its tone is drearily earnest, and there's no evidence the authors are having any fun with their material. For Brady, whose own life is apparently mirrored in some of the hardships inflicted on her heroine, writing the novel seems to have been a cathartic experience. Anthony's motives for bringing her dreams to print seem entirely noble. But the story they offer must be taken on its own merits.
Our dreams can be a source of enlightenment, even inspiration. "Dream a Little Dream" does little to enlighten the reader about what motivates its characters -- for good or ill. In the end, it inspires little more than a stifled yawn.
L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for 30 years.
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