Beyond the Wall of Sleep – ★★★ 3.5 Stars
Written: Spring 1919
“We shall meet again – perhaps in the shining mists of Orion’s Sword, perhaps on a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia. Perhaps in unremembered dreams tonight; perhaps in some other form an aeon hence, when the solar system shall have been swept away.”
In dreams we hear songs which cannot be captured, yet which we will always long to hear while awake. We can hear in them our history, hidden away in other planets that are no longer our own.
In “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, a strange man from the boondocks, Joe Slater, is taken in for evaluation after a series of violent psychological attacks. A doctor there takes the opportunity to study the man’s mind more closely and notices that, while at first there doesn’t seem to be much to unravel, there seems to be two halves to his personality. There’s a weird and surprisingly heavy presence in the man at certain times which makes the doctor curious, and he begins to be obsessed with finding out who this is inhabiting Slater’s brain, because it’s certainly not him alone.
“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is an exploration into the relationship between dreams, madness and the interconnected nature of living things, with a twist of the paranormal. It reminds me, even though it’s not super similar, of the Hypnos and Thanatos myth, with sleep often thought of as being the only link to death that does not involve dying. I feel like at least one of the characters is driven truly insane by the end, though it’s hard to tell which, and when.
This idea… has been done better, I hate to say, and in this instance Lovecraft’s writing style can get pretty grating, being more obsessed with twirling vocabulary around rather than telling us what is happening. No doubt it’s creative, though, and I can see shades of my favourite author in it. I suspect Junji Ito is a big fan of this particular story, having done several adaptations of it. If it piques your curiosity, “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is worth looking at. I would recommend the original as well as Ito’s “Long Dream” and “Den of the Sleep Demon”, which are similar but also improve upon the theme.
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