In J.K. Rowling’s series of books on Harry Potter, the title character’s dreams play a significant, yet subtle role in furthering the story of a young boy who learns he is a wizard. From the earliest chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the last chapter in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the reader gets glimpses into Harry’s subconscious quest while experiencing his waking adventures.
From fanciful images of flying motorcycles and bagpipe playing professors to sober images of long corridors and graveyards, Harry’s dreams can be silly or serious, and some even border on visionary. To aid in assessing Harry’s dreams, one may classify them into three main categories:
1. Normal Dreams and Nightmares
2. Strange or Visionary Dreams
3. Connection or Telepathic Dreams
In an attempt to understand Harry Potters dreams, this essay will look at Harry’s three types of dreams from the perspectives of psychological dream analysis and dream-symbol interpretation.
Dream analysis has a basis in human psychology and a foundation in the works of Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung. Freud wrote that a dream is an “autonomous and meaningful product of psychic activity, susceptible, like all other psychic functions, of a systematic analysis” (Jung 3). Freud goes onto say that even one’s strange and incoherent “dreaming has a meaning.” C.G. Jung noted “in almost every dream certain details can be found which have their origin in the impressions, thoughts, and moods of the preceding day or days” (24). In many cases, Harry’s dreams relate to people and creatures he has only recently met or are triggered by events, which have taken or are taking place in his world.
Unlike Freud, who established fixed meanings to dream symbols, Jung recognizes “no fixed meaning of symbols” but that the “symbol in the dream has more the value of a parable: it does not conceal, it teaches,” thereby allowing us to “reach very dissimilar interpretation of the meaning of dreams according to the point of view we adopt” (32). While Jung believed that “typical dreams do actually exist,” he noted that they are “not very frequent” (33). Jung goes onto say that “typical motifs in dreams are of much greater importance since they permit a comparison with the motifs of mythology.” Such a viewpoint is significant since the Harry Potter books draw so heavily from mythology for creatures and other plot elements.
Finally, Jung purports that dreams express in the “figurative language” of images the “thoughts, judgments, views, directives, [and] tendencies” that the conscious self has either repressed or not fully realized (34). For the readers of Harry Potter, the dream sequences give insight into the protagonist’s state of mind, hide interesting plot clues, and foreshadow events that Harry either forgets or doesn’t recognize in his conscious state.
In addition to the views of Jung and Freud, there is long history of “dream interpretation” found in both biblical records and “new age” publications. For many people, prophetic or visionary dreams exist to reveal the future to the dreamer. In some ways these ideas come close to Harry’s study of dream interpretation in his Divination class with Professor Trelawney. Although we don’t have access to the fictional book, The Dream Oracle by Inigo Imago that Harry uses in his lessons, for the purposes of this paper, we will include interpretations of symbols from two contemporary books: 10,000 Dreams Interpreted by Gustavus Hindman Miller and The Dreamer’s Dictionary by Lady Stearn Robinson & Tom Corbett. Out of the many books available on dream interpretation, these two titles were selected because they have been in print for a reasonable period of time and because current editions are widely available. In addition, the individual interpretations are written in fairly straightforward manner and cover a wide range of dream symbols.
Although Harry Potter did a poor job of keeping his own “dream diary” in Order of the Phoenix, the six published books in the series give us ample material for interpreting the dreams of J.K. Rowling’s young wizard (238).
Normal Dreams and Nightmares
While most of Harry Potter’s dreams may seem unusual to the casual reader, many of them may actually be classified as normal dreams because they directly relate to his life experiences and daily routines. Just as some real-world adolescents’ dreams may include mundane elements from their waking lives, Harry dreams of things that are “normal” in the wizards’ world and therefore are not so unusual to him. Normal dreams can be silly scenes or dark nightmares brought on by tragic events or even small encounters in the books. Such dreams are best interpreted as manifestations of Harry’s subconscious working out issues while he sleeps. Nonetheless, interpreting the symbols in these dreams has interesting effects on their meaning.
The Flying Motorcycle Dream
The first time we see Harry, he is a baby sleeping. The next time we see him, Harry is almost 11 years old and waking up in his cupboard under the stairs where he had been dreaming.
He rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he’d had the same dream before. (Rowling, SS: 19).
For a Muggle (non-wizard) a flying motorcycle is an unusual dream image, but for a wizard like Harry, it is a “normal” dream in the sense that he is actually dreaming about something he experienced as a small child. The reader knows that Harry was brought to Privet Drive by Hagrid on Sirius Black’s flying motorcycle ten years before this dream. It shouldn’t be too unusual for Harry to have this dream since Jung notes that “theoretically the whole of a person’s previous life-experience might be found in every dream” (Jung 26).
The interpretation of the symbols in the Flying Motorcycle dream adds a small twist to the meaning this dream. One interpretation “of riding a motorcycle, denotes that you will be in control of your relationships” (Robinson and Corbett 224). Up until this point, Harry hasn’t had any friends because of Dudley’s efforts. However, as Harry goes to school, he chooses to be friends with Ron Weasley, despite pressure to the contrary from Draco Malfoy. Later, Hermione is added as a friend too. However, Harry limits his close friendships to these two classmates, and even his romantic relationships seem to require some level of approval by them too.
The Zoo Dream
A year later, Harry has another dream that seems extraordinary but psychologically is a normal dream:
He dreamed that he was on show is a zoo, with a card reading UNDERAGE WIZARD attached to his cage. People goggled through the bars at him as he lay, starving and weak, on a bed of straw. He saw Dobby’s face in the crowd and shouted out, asking for help, but Dobby called, “Harry Potter is safe sir!” and vanished. Then the Dursleys appeared and Dudley rattled the bars of the cage, laughing at him. (Rowling, CoS: 23)
The zoo dream ties to Harry’s current circumstances, and his subconscious is trying to deal with the situation of being wrongly accused and imprisoned in his own room. When Harry has this dream, he is locked in his bedroom because a house elf performed magic that put Harry in trouble with both the Dursleys and the Ministry of Magic. What is unusual about the dream is that Harry is “asking for help” from Dobby, whom he has only briefly met. Ultimately, Harry does ask Dobby for help in later books. This dream also reveals how Harry’s celebrity makes him feel like he’s in a “cage” for all the world to see and foreshadows the ever-increasing spotlight Harry goes onto endure in later books.
One dream guide gives this meaning: “You’ll be seeing new faces in far-off places if you dreamed of being at the zoo”(Robinson and Corbett 382). Shortly after this dream, Harry is rescued by the Weasleys and goes to the Burrow for the first time. Another interpretation source notes that “If you are in the cage... It denotes harrowing scenes from accidents while traveling.” (Miller 28) Is it coincidence that Harry and Ron can’t get on the Hogwarts Express? When they then take the flying car to school, they crash it into the Whomping Willow as they arrive.
In the zoo dream, another key image is that Dobby vanishes. “To be aware, in your dream, of the magical disappearance of yourself, others, and/or material objects predicts that though you will soon be perplexed by a variety of problems you won’t be overcome by them.” (Robinson and Corbett 118) After the zoo dream, Harry faces the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets and a whole series of problems that come with it, yet he withstands them all.
The Bludger Dream
As a sixteen-year-old, Harry has the following dream after seeing the girl he secretly likes (Ginny Weasley) kissing another classmate, Dean Thomas:
Harry awoke next morning feeling slightly dazed and confused by a series of dreams in which Ron had chased him with a Beater’s bat ... [after Harry was] trying his utmost not to allow his thoughts to stray anywhere near Ginny. (Rowling, HBP: 290)
The above is a normal dream because Harry has seen her brother’s (Ron’s) reaction to her dating Dean and because Harry is trying to come to terms with exactly what his feelings for Ginny are. An interesting aside is that Ron is using the Beater’s bat, which in Quidditch is used to protect the “Seeker.” Both Harry and Ginny are on the Gryffindor Quidditch team and have played the position of Seeker. Like a normal adolescent, Harry’s conscious and sub-conscious are trying to work out his relationships with the opposite sex. At this point Ginny is still together with Dean, but Harry is secretly hoping Ginny is unseated from this particular relationship so that he can move in. It’s almost as if Harry is the “Bludger” in this dream.
The symbol of a “Beater’s bat” most closely corresponds to a “club” in the dream dictionaries:
To dream of being approached by a person bearing a club, denotes that you will be assailed by your adversaries, but you will overcome them and be unusually happy and prosperous (Miller 264).
Shortly after this dream, the Gryffindor Quidditch team, of which Harry is the captain, wins its match against the rival Slytherin team. Harry also overcomes attacks by Malfoy and others before the book concludes. We also see Harry get together with Ginny for a short period of happiness and enjoyment in one another’s company.
Harry also has nightmares in the various books that can be tied to dark and emotionally charged events that our hero experiences. Harry has nightmares about a graveyard where he witnesses a fellow student, Cedric Diggory, murdered (Rowling, OotP: 8,15). Such dreams demonstrate the normal workings of the subconscious when dealing with emotions such as grief.
Throughout the books, Harry Potter’s dreams help to define his everyman qualities by having dreams, which may be fantastic out of context, but are actually normal for a young member of the wizarding world.
Strange or Visionary Dreams
In contrast to his “normal dreams,” Harry will occasionally have what he considers a “strange dream.” These are episodes where people, places and events aren’t so easily explained away by simple acts of the unconscious. The dreams in the early books even tend to foreshadow events in later books or reveal details of past happenings, which Harry is not aware of himself.
The first of Harry’s strange dreams occurs on the first night that he sleeps in his dorm room in the castle that is the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn’t want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully – and there was Malfoy, laughing at him as he struggled with it – then Malfoy turned into the hook-nosed teacher, Snape, whose laugh became high and cold – there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.” (Rowling, SS: 130)
Harry’s strange dream about Quirrell’s turban is quite prophetic for the following reasons:
· It foreshadows that the turban hides the second face --the face of Lord Voldemort.
· It reveals Harry’s concern over the Sorting Hat wanting to place him in Slytherin, which is very important to the story line of Chamber of Secrets.
· It’s the first revelation to the reader that Harry has a connection to LV and that the scar might be something more.
· And lastly, it seems to foreshadow events in Half-Blood Prince.
When Harry has this strange dream, he has only seen Professor Severus Snape from across the Great Hall. Since he doesn’t yet know Snape, Harry has no reason to tie him to Voldemort’s “high and cold” laugh or the “burst of green light” associated with the Avada Kadavra curse. Harry doesn’t really know Malfoy yet either. This dream appears to be warning Harry about future events and foes.
The Turban Dream can also be compared with a dream that Harry has in his sixth year. At this point Harry is obsessed with discovering Malfoy’s secret and has been charged with getting Slughorn’s secret memory when he has this dream:
Harry’s mind worked feverishly and his dreams, when he finally fell asleep, were broken and disturbed by images of Malfoy, who turned into Slughorn, who turned into Snape ... (Rowling, HBP: 456)
According to dream guides, “To dream of seeing anything metamorphose, denotes that sudden changes will take place in your life, for good or bad” (Miller 275). Certainly, Harry’s whole world changes when he first comes to Hogwarts and then is set to change again at the end of book 6. It cannot be coincidence that Malfoy and Snape are the key figures in these dreams and in the final scenes atop the Astronomy Tower in HBP.
He had a very strange dream. He was walking through a forest, his Firebolt over his shoulder, following something silvery-white. It was winding its way through the trees ahead, and he could only catch glimpses of it between the leaves. Anxious to catch up with it, he sped up, but as he moved faster, so did his quarry. Harry broke into a run, and ahead he heard hooves gathering speed. Now he was running flat out, and ahead he could hear galloping. Then he turned a corner into a clearing and – (Rowling, PoA: 265).
Harry wakes up before this dream can continue, because Sirius Black has made it into the Gryffindor dorm room and Ron calls out and wakes everybody up. Before Harry awakens, he is following his patronus, but at this point Harry doesn’t know what form his patronus takes. Still he hears its “hooves gathering speed”. Prior to this dream, he has already been taking patronus lessons with Lupin. But the only real patronus Harry has produced was the “Something silver-white, something enormous, [that] erupted from the end of his wand” during the match with Ravenclaw (Rowling, PoA: 262). However, Harry “didn’t pause to watch” it, so he doesn’t consciously know what form his patronus takes when he has this dream. However, Harry’s unconscious seems to know that his patronus is a stag.
Connection or Telepathic Dreams
Harry continues to have strange dreams after book 3 (PoA), but they change in their nature. Book 4 (GoF) begins with a dream of Frank Bryce, Wormtail and Lord Voldemort; then near the end there is a dream of Harry riding an eagle owl where he again witnesses Wormtail and Voldemort. Book 5 (OotP) is filled with dream images of long corridors, dead ends and locked doors; Harry also dreams of being inside Lord Voldemort’s snake, Nagini. While quite strange, these dreams appear to be what shall be called “Connection Dreams” because they are the result of a telepathic link between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort.
As a result of Voldemort’s attack on the baby Harry Potter, Harry has a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. The cursed scar flares up at odd times, and Harry awakes from certain dreams in great pain. As events unfold, Harry learns that the scar is a connection to Lord Voldemort, which gives Harry access to the Dark Lord’s feelings and emotions and ultimately his thoughts and activities while awake and especially while sleeping. The connection seems to be a type of telepathy between Harry and Voldemort. Consider this quote by Jung:
Another dream-determinant that deserves mention is telepathy. The authenticity of this phenomenon can no longer be disputed today. It is of course very simple to deny its existence without examining the evidence, but that is an unscientific procedure which is unworthy of notice. I have found by experience that telepathy does in fact influence dreams, as has been asserted since ancient times. Certain people are particularly sensitive in this respect and often have telepathically influenced dreams. (Jung 47-48).
However, the telepathy and the corresponding “connection dreams” seem to end in HBP when Voldemort begins practicing Occlumency against Harry and his dreams return to a more normal state.
Harry’s dreams are like an onion with multiple layers of meaning. One has the surface layer that can be understood on a very literal (psychological) level with the interpretation based on Harry’s current circumstances and mental state. Then beneath that, there are more layers that are only revealed by future events or by using methods of dream analysis to interpret the symbols and other elements. Harry’s dreams can have multiple interpretations based upon how many layers the reader has peeled back.
Interpreting Harry’s normal dreams is best done from a psychological perspective. Here one needs to understand what Harry’s relationships with these individuals are in context of when he has the dream and what role they play in the dream. For his strange dreams, identifying the symbols in the dreams can help to gather their meaning from a dream-divination perspective. Finally, Harry’s connection dreams are best understood as resulting from a psychic link with his enemy, Lord Voldemort.
Until the final installment is published, Harry’s dreams can give the re-readers of the books a chance to look for deeper meaning and clues to events and Harry’s actions in book 7.
Jung, C. G. (Translated by Hull, R.F.C.). Dreams. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Miller, Gustavus Hindman. 10,000 Dreams Interpreted. Dorset: Element Books Ltd, 1996.
Robinson, Lady Stearn & Corbett,Tom. The Dreamer’s Dictionary. Clayton: Warner Books, 1994.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (abbreviated as SS). New York: Scholastic paperback edition, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (abbreviated as CoS). New York: Scholastic paperback edition, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (abbreviated as PoA). New York: Scholastic paperback edition, 2001.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (abbreviated as GoF). New York: Scholastic paperback edition, 2002.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (abbreviated as OotP). New York: Scholastic paperback edition, 2004.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (abbreviated as HBP). New York: Scholastic, 2005.