Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is Ashaye Brown! Her YA fantasy debut novel, Dream Country, features a sibling rivalry between gods: the triplets Sleep, Dreams, and Nightmares, any of whom may have committed matricide. Dream Country will be out on April 27—exactly one week from today!

Dream Country by Ashaye Brown - Book Cover

Fantasy as Lucid Dream

The relationship between fantasy and dreams can be confusing. As words, we have no problem recognising them as synonyms, both signifying the imaginary, mental imagery, the fantastic as a whole. But it’s when fantasy becomes Fantasy, a genre with plot and intention behind it, that suddenly it is nothing like a dream. Because dreams are something that happen here in the real world and Fantasy never could. When most people think about fantasy, they think about the impossible. They think about impossible worlds and impossible creatures and impossible lives. They see fantasy as divorced from reality and that’s off-putting to them. They throw out words like “escapism”, “childish” and “useless”, as if these are insults; as if some people do not need to escape; as if there is nothing worth keeping from our childhood; as if all things must have their use.

And yet these same people who say these things, most nights of their lives will interact with the impossible. They escape, they become a child again and they never, not once, puzzle over their “use”. In short, they dream.

I’ve often wondered about this contradictory attitude and wondered why dreams aren’t treated with the same derision as fantasy. If they were, then they would be a social taboo, some awkward thing our bodies did every now and again that we prefer not to talk about, like going to the toilet or excessive sweating. Instead, we keep dream diaries in order to remember them better and we look into dream interpretation and symbolism as if it were a secret message slipped to us by our subconscious. We talk about our dreams, in the mornings, over the breakfast table and no one becomes embarrassed or repulsed.

But when our dreams become a voluntary creation — a fantasy — that’s when the problem arises.

When I was a child, I would wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, heart pounding, tears brimming, having narrowly escaped the clutches of a bad dream. I would pad softly (and a little shamefully — it was only a dream, after all, I seemed to tell myself) into my mother’s room and she would let me stay the night with her. Or, I would climb down from the top bunk and lay down head to toe with my brother, even the sound of his rumbling snores and the proximity of his feet to my nose being preferable to having to face that terrible dreamworld alone again.

No one ever judged me for my reactions. They understood that even though it was a fear of the imaginary, it was not an imaginary fear. Then, in the safety of the light of the following morning, when my heart had had its chance to slow down and the tears had stopped flowing, my mother or my brother would ask me, casually — what was the dream about? And if I chose to tell them, I would tell it like a story, I would give it structure and meaning and plot and these would be my first clumsy attempts to tell a fantasy story.

Now, as an adult, I gravitate towards fantasy, whether it’s fantasy as light and as safe as my recounting of my dreams in the morning, or as dark and as terrifying as the bad dreams of the night before.

My mother has asked me if I would ever write anything set in the “real world”. My brother has asked me why I don’t read more stories set in the “real world”. It’s as if they have forgotten how real a dream can be.

If, as a child, I could have taken hold of my nightmare — warped my dreamworld into a shape of my own choosing, something just as fantastic, yet infinitely more manageable — I would have. I would have been amazed that a superpower like this already existed, but that some adults looked down on it, shunned it and shamed those who used it. It was not that, as a child, I did not know what the fantasy genre was — I was simply unaware of its potential.

Fantasy is not a lesser version of reality, it is a greater version of a dream. It is a lucid dream. It is the dark and the light, the safety and the fear. It is escapist, it is childish and it is useless. Fantasy is not the realm of the impossible, it is the genre where everything is possible. It takes a dream to create a fantasy, it takes knowing what it is like to be in awe of what your mind can do when it’s free in order to have the confidence to let that freedom reign. To imagine. To create. To dream.

Photo of Ashaye Brown Ashaye Brown is a British author of Afro-Caribbean descent. Ashaye’s unparalleled passion for mythology led her to study a range of world cultures and mythologies, before exploring them further through her writing. Ashaye’s debut novel ‘Dream Country’ is the first in an intended series set in visionary realms themed around dreams, nightmares and rich mythologies.