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Strange Dreams

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Sleep is a physically and mentally vulnerable state; the body is unconscious, unsuspecting, and the mind is visited frequently by an array of distorted images called dreams. Only devilish and cruel predators hunt sleeping prey, when struggle is least viable and victory is guaranteed. The vampire, possibly the cruelest predator in English literature, often victimizes its prey in a dreamlike state; any suspicion of their presence may be mistaken for a strange dream, for weeks, while the vampire feeds, draining their victim of its blood, its life. The vampire has also been known to haunt its victim telepathically, through dreams, drawing the victim ever so closer to their doom. In Le Fanu’s Carmilla and E.F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower,” victimization in a dream has two distinct methods, adding to the intricate caricature of the vampire.

The history of the vampire within English literature has shown that the vampires who victimize their prey through dreams or dreamlike states are the vampires who have sought out their victim for quite some years, even decades. Carmilla first victimizes Laura when Laura is six years old, coming to her, as Laura recalls, in a dreamlike state Laura describes as an incident (Williams Le Fanu 90). More than a decade goes by before Carmilla can victimize Laura once more (Williams, Le Fanu 90-1). AlikeLe Fanu, Benson plays with a tedious and suspenseful hunt of the vampire. The vampire may take years to score their prized prey possibly because their victim must be developed to a certain extent. The vampire’s lust for and almost sexual emotions for the blood of their victim, the very blood that too will run through the vampire’s veins, assumes that the pleasure of the hunt is kin to the pleasure of the kill. Carmilla’s seduction of Laura is not a rapid process, but a long-term endeavor. Concerning Carmilla the vampire, it suggests the idea that draining enough blood to live the vampire lifestyle takes a great effort on the vampire’s part. Carmilla and Laura’s friendship is rather romantic and there are certainly lesbian undertones; bloodsucking is a pleasurable and almost sexual experience for a vampire.

Carmilla has a desire for Laura that Laura is uncomfortable with; after one of Carmilla’s episodes of affections, Laura describes Carmilla’s bouts of strange behaviors as infatuations, which embarrass and frighten Laura (Williams, Le Fanu 113). Carmilla possesses a love for Laura that is not human; their friendship appears to go beyond earthly bounds, Carmilla not only wants to feed on Laura’s blood but to have her as a companion in the afterlife. Alike the nature of Carmilla’s hunt, Julia has been long awaiting the nameless narrator as when they finally meet in the room in the tower she says, “I knew you would come to the room in the tower. . . I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together” (Ryan, Benson 223). Perhaps the nameless narrator is Julia’s first hunt; the use of the word “feast” suggests that Julia has not yet feeded at all since becoming a vampire and her hunt has been a long and sort of amateur styled victimization of the nameless narrator through dreams. Julia’s confession is one answer to the cause of the narrator’s dreams, but it is no consolation as to why she chose him and neither is there an answer to the question “why?” in Carmilla. It is not so obviously stated by Carmilla that she has been hunting Laura for all this time and that she wants her as a companion, but it is insinuated profusely. Despite the motif of dreams in either Carmilla the novel or “The Room in the Tower” the short story, it is Carmilla who enters Laura’s life while it is the nameless narrator who was seemingly prophetically destined to come to Julia.

The nature of Julia Stone’s victimization of E.F. Benson’s nameless narrator seems to involve no bloodsucking, but she has been reaching out to the narrator in reoccurring dreams over the course of twenty years. It is unclear whether Julia is feeding telepathically or luring in the kill to eventually drain him of his blood, the fact that the narrator wakes up from his dreams without any bite marks on his neck is a tell-tale sign that he was not visited by a bloodsucking vampire the night before, but the reader cannot rule out that sometimes vampires can drain life from the victim through other methods such as energy-draining and telepathic efforts. Although because the narrator experiences no fatigue from the dreams, it is more likely that Julia has truly waited that long for the opportunity to physically victimize the nameless narrator. Carmilla appears to be slightly more successful and less tedious in the hunt than Julia, while Carmilla begins to victimize Laura frequently over the course of many nights.

During the dreamlike state or strange dream of the victims, both Carmilla and Julia Stone manifest themselves to their victims in alternate forms. Secrets, deceit, and stealth are key to keeping Carmilla’s true identity unrevealed, while the narrator of “The Room in the Tower” experiences prophetic dreams that are rather obscure in and of themselves that no mortal could have foretold the seriousness of. Benson’s story, particularly, is one that advocates for the common belief that dreams can connect the mind to supernatural and divine entities, visions of sorts that the supernatural can use to haunt the mind. Possibly the nameless narrator is experiencing these dreams as a prophetic vision, which will inevitably lead him to the room in the tower. Julia appears in the narrator’s surreal dream as simply the mother of a boy the narrator went to prep school with, and the evil of the dream is initially connected to the tower, a three-story high tower modeled after the late medieval period. It is obvious to the reader later on that the vampire was to be Julia Stone all along, in that her line, “Jack will show you to your room: I have given you the room in the tower” is the only precise repetition of the dreams over the course of twenty years (Benson, Ryan, 215).

Carmilla appears to Laura in a different physical form than the young, charming, and beautiful women the reader sees by day. Laura describes a dream that begins “a very strange agony” which the reader knows is a result of Laura’s victimization. Carmilla takes the form of a “sooty-black animal that resembled a monstrous cat . . . four or five feet long” (Williams, Le Fanu 115). It is never explained why Carmilla appears to Laura this way. Vampires are characterized as having kin to or the ability to transform into dark creatures that are usually associated with hunting or evil, such as the wolf, the large feline, the rat, et cetera. The large cat image may be associated with sensuality of the hunt and the female is often compared to the feline, long sleek body and graceful. After seeing the large puma-like creature Laura feels “ a stinging pain as if two large needles darted, an inch or two apart, deep into (her) breast” and then she wakes with a scream, implying that she was woken from a dream (Williams, Le Fanu 116). Carmilla’s powers and the extent of her powers are never specified. Possibly Carmilla put Laura in a stupor that paralleled the reality of Carmilla’s bloodsucking with this terrifying creature of a disguise, one may use this argument because when Laura “awakes” she sees a “female figure standing at the foot of the bed” (William, Le Fanu 116).

Both Carmilla and Benson’s narrator make an effort to justify their dreadful experiences. In The Room in the Tower, dream analysis is a theme and at this time, 1912, modern psychology is emerging. On recalling his vampire experience the nameless narrator has an explanation he is satisfied with that explains the strangeness and the repetition of his dreams, he calls it a fulfillment of a dream and believes that “on the mere calculation of chances, it does not appear in the least unlikely that a dream imagined by anyone who dreams constantly should occasionally come true” (Ryan, Benson 213). The nameless narrator compares it to the experience of expecting a biweekly letter from a friend, dreaming about the occurrence the night before and receiving the letter the next day. This justification is all fine and dandy, but it does not account for the issue that the narrator never would have had his own victimization by a vampire on the brain, his mind has no vampire experience to create this “dreadfully (oppressing) and foreboding” dream (Ryan, Benson 215).

Meanwhile in Carmilla, Laura calls her nightly victimization dreams. She even believes that evil spirits make dreams, that horrifying dreams are natural and their visit is to be expected every now and then (Williams, Le Fanu 117). The result of Laura’s “dream(s)” unravels bouts of melancholy disposition. Laura does not admit she is ill, but Carmilla becomes more devoted to Laura than ever; Carmilla knows that Laura is close to death. Strange sensations become associated with Laura’s dreams, Laura describes them and their aftermath when she explains that “the prevailing one was of that pleasant, peculiar cold thrill which we feel in bathing, when we move against the current of a river. . . But they left an awful impression, and a sense of exhaustion, as if I had passed through a long period of great mental exertion and danger” (Williams, Le Fanu 119). What Laura is describing is most likely the sensation paired with the sucking of blood from her neck; the running river sensation is the feeling of the blood within her veins as it leaves the body and the exhaustion is the lack of blood in her system.

It is Laura’s and the nameless narrator’s not wanting to believe there is anything amiss about the strange dreams they have been having that maintains the vampires’ hold over the protagonists for as long as it does. Sheridan Le Fanu and E.F. Benson similarly play with the idea that the hunt of the vampire is a lengthy and artfully constructed act reserved for only the most valued prey. Besides facing the seriousness and lucidity of their dreams and the sensations the dreams are evoking, there is not much more the two could have done; after all, the vampire is one of the most cruel and relentless predators in the history of English Literature.

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