Despite the efforts of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and many others we still have no well founded theory which might allow us to extract meanings from actual Dreams – or, indeed, to confirm that there are any consistent meanings to be extracted. Literary dreams are very different; if a character's dream had no relevance to the pattern of meanings contained in a story's plot there would be no point in describing it. Sometimes the connection is frivolous – the move by which a fanciful and ultimately incoherent plot is excused by declaring in conclusion that "it was all a dream" has been so overused as to be no longer acceptable (> Rationalized Fantasy) – but in many other cases the connections are more complicated, as when dreams are credited with divinatory and precognitive powers (> Precognition).
Meaningful literary dreams often serve a merely mechanical function within a plot, but there is a significant subgenre of VFs in which a natural or drug-assisted dream is used to provide an imaginary space within which a fiction-within-the-fiction can be displayed or enacted. Some of these fictions-within-fictions belong to other genres, but the most interesting are fantasies crammed so full of meaning as to be supersaturated. These may be moralistic exercises, as in the Christmas Books of Charles Dickens; metaphysical rhapsodies, as in A Night in the Luxembourg (1906) by Rémy de Gourmont; or satirical extravaganzas, as in The Cream of the Jest (1917) by James Branch Cabell. An important subcategory of VFs deals directly with the personal politics of Escapism, developing theses regarding the utilities of fantasy and the hazards of its overindulgence; an interesting spectrum of modified apologetic arguments can be found in A Dreamer of Dreams (1889) by Joseph Shield Nicholson, Peter Ibbetson (1891) by George du Maurier (1834-1896), The Hill of Dreams (1907) by Arthur Machen, Fantastic Traveller (1931) by Maude Meagher (?1895-?1977), Smirt (1934) by Cabell, "Typewriter in the Sky" (1940) by L Ron Hubbard, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943) by H P Lovecraft, Marianne Dreams (1958) by Catherine Storr (1913-2001) and The Neverending Story (1979) by Michael Ende. [BS]