Saturday, February 11, 2006

Night Terrors

Lovecraft at an early age - about 6 - had terrible dreams. In these dreams, night-gaunts came and lifted him up high and attempted to dash him against rocks below. He never lost that intensity, that dream-emotion placed within. Later, HPL contracted a serious disease, fever, St. Vitus dance, and later had poikilothermism – which made him pass out in low temperatures.

It seems clear where he got the night gaunt image – Dore’s woodcut images in Dante’s Comedy. The diseases may or may not have contributed, but after Lovecraft’s rejection of Sunday School, he quickly delved into child’s versions of mythology and read voraciously of Arabian Nights, Dante, looked at Dore pictures, and devoured Poe. Grandpa told him lots of gothic ghost stories and often made him sleep in the dark to cure him of his fear of it. Early on, his Grandmother passed, and his Father, too.

One thing that has always stunned me, is that he focused on the demons of Dore and totally ignored the naked bodies and decapitations so vividly portrayed int he gothic wood cuts. They never seem to come up, and Lovecraft is always surprisingly bloodless for a horror writer.

All this said, I noted recently, at that night terrors was the subject. My colleagues have given me permission to share their experiences.

Boyd … “At nine years old, I missed my first Boy Scouts soap box derby because I was at home, in bed with a … case of scarlet fever. My temperature rose to 103 … I lay in bed in my room for days, barely able to get up, and the dreams were not only vivid, but purely horrific. I remember screaming myself awake and my mother coming to my door … I couldn’t speak, but as she stood there … her silhouette in the doorway drew further and further away, she said, “I guess he’s just not going to make it.” She backed away from the door and closed it, leaving me in an auditorium of darkness. … Alone.”

“Within months of my recovery, my folks took me to the doctor, because I wasn’t sleeping well. Damn right, I wasn’t. Every night, throughout the night, I suffered intense dreams, and they led to paranoia during my waking life. I was literally a mess.”

“Well, the doctor told my parents I had a sleep disorder called Night Terrors or parasomnia, which is a condition that disrupts the normal pattern of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep stages. There are really five sleep stages - REM and the 4 stages of non REM, which work in a progression of depth 1-4. Night terrors typically occur during the transition from stage 3 non-REM sleep to stage 4 non-REM sleep. Somewhere around 60 minutes after falling asleep, the affected enters a light sleep stage and suddenly encounters symptoms of autonomic discharge.”

“Night Terrors are generally found in 4 to 12 year olds, and they affect about 2 - 6 % of the population of that age. They are a nightmare so intense, the child usually has no memory of them come morning. Not so with me. In fact, I still remember some of these dreams, and I often still experience short flashes of them.”

Jeff said...”I know what you mean. My daughter, who is almost five went through a stage where she was going through Night Terrors … there was nothing we could really do … except make sure she doesn't hurt herself. She would thrash about in her bed and scream and scratch at things that we couldn't see. Then she would just wake up and look at us like we were crazy because we were in her room all scared looking.”

“I explained to my wife that I went through something similar as a kid when I had an accident and was in a coma for a while. When I came [to myself] I was hallucinating … after that I had very vivid dreams. I still have those dreams, just about every night …”

Clara said... “I had night terrors; all my children had night terrors. My youngest brother had night terrors (horrific ones at that) and walked in his sleep. He also tended to run high fevers -- 105 was a seasonal routine for him -- when we were younger.”

Fran said... “I had the terrors, too, and I was an active sleep walker. I also had a lot of waking "hallucination" while falling asleep. I also had very high fevers, a brief coma and both my legs were paralyzed for several months when I was eight.”

Each of the above colleagues writes horror. Subsequent to these statements, others discussed this night terror and how it influenced their stories into adulthood. Lovecraft was one of the world's great dreamers. Could have a common childhood phenomenon impelled him to horrific genius?

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