Follow TV Tropes


All Just A Dream / Literature

Go To

Stories that were merely dreams in literature.

  • In 1990 Degrees F, Shelby falls into a trap-door and crawls through the wet cave looking for her trainer, getting angrier and angrier that her trainer brought her to the tunnel. Just as she is about to curse her out, something wet and slimy, which turns out to actually be her trainer's true form, wraps itself around her and starts choking her, then she wakes up in her classroom and finds out she dreamed the whole incident.
    • However, she doesn't find out her trainer is actually an alien from Mercury until another dream she has when she's about to die from heat-stroke towards the end.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: If main characters are randomly killed by vampires, expect to soon read "Abe awoke with a start."
  • One of the classic uses of All Just a Dream in children's literature is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In its sequel Through the Looking Glass though, she is assured that she is just the Red King's dream, and after she wakes up in the end, she's still unsure if the dream was her's or the Red King's.
  • Advertisement:
  • Many scholars interpret The Aeneid, the epic Latin poem/propaganda piece commissioned by Octavian to Virgil, as the earliest example of a story being "all just a dream". Halfway into the poem, Aeneas visits the underworld to be instructed by his dead father in the foundation of Rome, after which he is confronted with two possible gates to exit back up, "one said to be of horn, whereby the true shades pass with ease, the other all white ivory agleam without a flaw, and yet false dreams are sent through". His father then sends him up through the ivory gate. This would imply that all of Aeneas' subsequent adventures leading up to and including the foundation of glorious Rome are all but a "false dream", contrary to Octavian's wish. Possibly Virgil's subtle way of Getting Crap Past the Radar.
  • Sent up by Robert Rankin in Armageddon, The Musical. A planet of aliens have been controlling Earth so they can watch us as a soap opera. Meddling executives decide that allowing World War III was a mistake and try to reboot the series by having Elvis wake up and discover it was all a dream of what would happen if he joined the army instead of lending his voice to the anti-war movement. In minutes, the whole story turns into an Anachronism Stew.
  • Advertisement:
  • Chapter 39 of Atlanta Nights reveals that the rest of the book was all a dream, and the main character is on death row. There are 41 chapters, and the last two follow the same plotline as the first 38 chapters.
  • Robert Bloch's "The Strange Flight Of Richard Clayton": Several times Clayton lands on Mars, only to die and realize that the ship hadn't landed yet. Clayton didn't even leave Earth; the rocket's engines failed in a way that made it too dangerous to approach for a week and the constant shaking was driving Clayton insane.
  • The Box Of Delights ends this way. The action supposedly takes place during Kay Harker's school holidays, but at the end he wakes up still on the train home from school.
  • One of Charles Dickens' lesser-known Christmas stories, The Chimes uses this. The main character, Toby Veck, discovers he's fallen from a bell tower to his death, and spends the next two chapters watching all kinds of disasters befall his loved ones because of their poverty. Just as his daughter is about to drown herself and her baby, and you think the only way to fix the situation is for it all to have been a dream, it turns out that it was all a dream. After a short happy scene, Dickens brings the mood down again by pointing out that even though he'd made his story turn out to be a dream, for many people the miserable parts were real life.
  • Advertisement:
  • Subverted in the original The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; Covenant starts out by believing that everything happening to him is a dream, and is then made to doubt this over the course of the trilogy. The question is deliberately left unresolved, although the Creator's intervention to save Covenant's life at the end strongly implies that the Land was real, as do the passages from the points of view of Hile Troy and Lord Mhoram.
    Unless it was all just a dream, and Covenant merely hallucinated the Creator offering to help save him. In that, his "miraculous recovery" in the hospital would simply have been because he had essentially regained his will to live (as established in his conversation with the Creator). This is even more implicit when you realize that Covenant is a writer (and thus, is a Creator himself), so both the Creator and the Despiser may simply be embodiments of his own personality. The Hile Troy and Mhoram POVs don't necessarily negate this, since Covenant never manages to prove that Troy was "real", and it's possible to passively dream things happening that the dreamer wouldn't necessarily be aware of. But as Covenant himself suggests, it doesn't matter whether it's a dream or not, because either way, it's important. The later books tend to make a much better argument for everything being real, but the original trilogy does a very good job, even right up to the very end, of keeping the paradox.
  • In Robert E. Howard's The Tower of the Elephant, Conan the Barbarian briefly wonders about this:
    He turned back uncertainly, to stare at the cryptic tower he had just left. Was he bewitched and enchanted? Had he dreamed all that had seemed to have passed? As he looked he saw the gleaming tower sway against the crimson dawn, its jewel-crusted rim sparkling in the growing light, and crash into shining shards.
  • Towards the end, Neil Gaiman's Coraline very briefly appears to pull this... however, it's almost instantly subverted; not only was it not just a dream, but Coraline's adventure isn't quite over, after all.
  • Discworld story The Wee Free Men:
    Tiffany sighed. "And then she woke up and it was all a dream."
    It was the worst ending you could have to any story.
  • Well, obviously The Divine Comedy is a dream. Unless it wasn't. Or perhaps it was. Dante scholars still argue about whether readers are supposed to consider the poem one big, complicated dream; or if Dante wanted us to "believe" that he went to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven and then came back (suspending our disbelief, of course — we're obviously not supposed to believe that he actually did those things, just to approach the text like he physically went rather than went there in a dream); or if he intended us to interpret the whole thing as a prophetic dream (i.e. a dream, but one that is in some way true or a representation of the truth, like a lot of dreams in The Bible — and indeed, there are a number of dreams like this in-story, particularly in the Purgatorio); or any number of variations on this.
  • Zig-zagged by The Girl from the Miracles District when it turns out that Nikita's entire visit to Asgard happened while she was in a magically-induced coma, but because Astral Projection and Talking in Your Dreams are both a thing in this universe, all of her interactions with gods, giants and so on are real.
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid has a dialogue ("Contrafactus") in which the protagonists win a raffle. The prize is a "Subjunc-TV", which has the ability to show them what would happen under various hypothetical circumstances. In the end, it turns out that they never actually won the raffle; the entire dialogue was itself a Subjunc-TV broadcast of what would have happened if they had.
  • Goosebumps:
    • This is played with in the TV ending to "Awesome Ants". The protagonist’s experience turns suspiciously nightmarish as the town is suddenly abandoned, there is a storm outside, and the ants are growing to enormous proportions. Just before he gets killed by one, he wakes up at home and all seems fine. Then he gradually remembers the reality of the situation: in the real world ants are actually mountain-sized, and keep humans secluded in the human equivalent of ant farms and force them to live on small pellets of blue food. In the book the ants just grew that big rather than always having been so.
    • For a true Mind Screw, count how many times this happens in "I Live In Your Basement". Unlike your standard use of this trope, each time makes things more confusing and dreamlike.
  • In C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, the narrator meets with George MacDonald — who solemnly warns him that it is All Just a Dream and he must make it clear when he tells the story in Real Life, so that people don't take his visions of Heaven and Hell and take them as religious doctrine.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya: Happens in-story in The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya. They're making a movie, and events have unfolded that require the title character to in some way admit that the film is fictional. Koizumi suggests to end the movie with an All Just a Dream ending, thus forcing Haruhi to admit that the movie is impossible.
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Harry wakes up the night after Hagrid's visit and thinks the visit with all the talk of magic and a school he gets to go to away from the Dursleys was all only a dream, and then Hagrid offers him some breakfast.
  • Justified in Frederik Pohl's short story "The Hated", in which the protagonist plots to murder a former co-worker, but before he can, he's awakened by a psychiatrist from an induced dream. The protagonist and his co-workers were astronauts on a lengthy voyage during which they developed a profound, murderous hatred for each other. The psychiatrist was working with all of them to enable them to control their rage. It's made clear at the end that at least in the protagonist's case, it wasn't working.
  • An in-story example occurs in one of the Henry Huggins books where Henry has to play the lead in the school Christmas program about a boy going to the North Pole to visit Santa. He hates the role—a six-year-old boy, the costume—footy pajamas, and the ending—where it turns out he dreamed the whole thing. Beverly Cleary didn't seem to like this trope, either.
  • Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang, by Mordecai Richler, has the children's prison island as a dream sequence.
  • Journey to Chaos, A Mage's Power: Eric fears this is the case when he wakes up in his apartment and not a second has passed during his stay in Tariatla. Then Tasio delivers his Magic Staff and Spell Book to his front door.
  • Reversed in The Lathe of Heaven. George Orr has “effective” dreams, meaning, when he wakes up, something that was in his dream is now part of reality. His psychiatrist tries to use this ability to improve life on earth, but when he suggests that George dream of an end to international strife, George dreams of an alien invasion!
  • Polish author Stanisław Lem:
    • The Futurological Congress features its narrator accosted by powerful mood-altering drugs that cause powerful hallucinations while he sleeps (perhaps they could just be called dreams?). He awakens from hallucination within hallucination, sometimes by degrees and sometimes suddenly, with such frequency that less than halfway through the book it becomes virtually impossible to tell whether he is really awake (one of the major themes of the book).
    • In Observation on the Spot Lem references The Futurological Congress and lampshades the trope. The protagonist tries to wake from the dream - explicitly mentioning his wakings up during the Congress. He fails, because his observation on the spot was not his dream.
    • Also, in Tales of Pirx the Pilot, the first story features this. Pirx's first spaceflight was just a simulation, he didn't know that though.
  • G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. You can't say he didn't warn you — and he woke very oddly.
  • Subverted in Maximum Ride. A group of scientists unsuccessfully attempt to convince the protagonist that the events of the entire past three books were all a dream.
  • In Metro 2033, Artyom is put on trial to be hanged by the Fourth Reich but is saved by Hunter, when the latter massacres everyone in the station. Aaand then Artyom wakes up only to find himself leaning against a door in one of the Fourth Reich's cells.
  • In the utopian novel News from Nowhere, the narrator goes to bed and wakes up in an Arcadian future, which he proceeds to describe at length; at the end of the novel, things start going strangely, and he wakes up again, back in his own bed in the present. But was it just a dream?
  • In Julio Cortázar's short story "The Night Face Up", this trope is played with. The narrative switches between two characters, one of which is a boy in a hospital, and the other a man about to be sacrificed by Aztecs. The ending reveals that the boy's life is actually a dream of the man, who keeps falling unconscious.
  • In the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce, the protagonist (a Confederate sympathizer lured into a Union trap) makes a daring escape from his hanging when the rope breaks! He swims to safety, evades pursuit from Union soldiers, runs 30-odd miles to his home, finally embraces his beloved family — only for him to suddenly die of a broken neck, where it's revealed that the whole escape was just a hallucination between the moments of him being dropped and the noose snapping his neck.
  • In his essay "On Fairy-Stories", J. R. R. Tolkien says that the "All Just a Dream" device automatically rules out any story that uses it, even an otherwise good one, from serious consideration as a Fairy Tale, likening it to "a good picture in a disfiguring frame."
    It is true that Dream is not unconnected with Faërie. [...] A real dream may indeed sometimes be a fairy-story of almost elvish ease and skill – while it is being dreamed. But if a waking writer tells you that his tale is only a thing imagined in his sleep, he cheats deliberately the primal desire at the heart of Faërie: the realisation, independent of the conceiving mind, of imagined wonder.
  • In Stephen King's Pet Sematary, not long after Gage's funeral, there is the line "But none of those things happened", clarifies that Louis did save little Gage from the speeding truck and then speeds through Gage's childhood and teen years until he becomes a gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer... and then Louis wakes back up to the reality that his infant son is dead.
  • The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan subverts this: The very first sentence is: "As I walk'd through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a Denn; And I laid me down in that place to sleep: And as I slept I dreamed a Dream." That this is All Just a Dream is reinforced throughout, to the very last sentence, which is: "So I awoke, and behold it was a dream." The book was written in 1675. Dream frames were a common medieval trope to explain that "I made this all up."
  • In The Queen and I by Sue Townsend, the election of the British People's Republican Party and subsequent banishing of the Royal family to a council estate turns out to be an election night nightmare by the Queen.
  • O. Henry's short story The Roads We Take is about a Wild West Train Job gone awry: one robber murders his friend and accomplice, justifying that their only horse "cannot carry double". It turns out to have been a stockbroker's dream. He wakes up and promptly betrays a friend of his for financial gain, repeating the phrase "Bolivar cannot carry double".
  • Star Wars Legends: Flipped in Galaxy of Fear: City of the Dead. Zak Arranda dreams that he's home in his room on Alderaan, and thinks for a moment that the last six months of traveling with his sister and distant uncle since Alderaan was destroyed were all a dream! But of course this dream quickly becomes much worse.
  • Deliberately invoked in John Varley's Steel Beach and Justin Lieber's Beyond Rejection when both protagonists discover they've been subjected to artificially induced "All Just A Dream" scenarios for therapeutic purposes. Lieber's protagonist is grateful for the intervention but Varley's is not.
  • In book four of Tales from the House of Bunnicula, Howie attempts to end the story this way after he inadvertently writes the protagonists into a situation they can't get out of. However, Harold tells Howie that ending the story like that is a cop-out, and tells him to try again. So Howie lets Delilah write the final chapter, ending the story on a much happier note.
  • Most of the novella A Taste of Honey is, more accurately, a dream-vision of the life Aqib would have lived if he had ended up making one very different choice. The ending reveals that Aqib did, in fact, leave Olorum with Lucrio and the story the book presents is the alternate life he could have lived had he remained, presented to him by the Sybil at Terra-de-Luce.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In Horus Heresy novel Vulkan Lives, Corvus comes to free Vulkan, but after the two are cornered by Curze's mooks and the Raven is killed, it turns out the entire rescue attempt was just a dream inflicted on Vulkan by Konrad's psykers as part of his torture.
    • Most of Space Marine Battles' Veil of Darkness turns out to be a nightmare Sicarius is suffering when in medical coma. The dream, however, turns out to be prophetic and enables Cato to stop a chain of catastrophic events before they even start.
  • Was is a 1993 Darker and Edgier take on Land of Oz mythos. L. Frank Baum was the substitute teacher of a troubled child named Dorothy Gael in the 1860s. Dorothy created Oz as a way of escaping her unfortunate home life. Years later Baum wrote a book inspired by Dorothy's life and stories.
  • Werther Has Already Been Written (1979) by famous Soviet writer Valentin Kataev, a novel about Cheka terror in Odessa in 1921, is an unusual example. The story is framed as an Author Avatar's dream and is written in Purple Prose, with heavy use of flashbacks and flashforwards. But the story itself is not dreamlike, it's completely realistic and evidently based on real events.
  • What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History lists the St. Elsewhere and Dallas examples (see below) at number 27 and 2, respectively.
  • Worlds of Shadow: One character is convinced the events of the story are a dream, and suffers a mental breakdown as a result since it becomes a full on psychological delusion.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The most famous anecdote by Chinese Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi has him relating how he dreamed that he was a butterfly, and upon waking was unsure whether or not he was a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamed it was a man. He lived around the 3rd century BC.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: