On Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream”

“Please sit down.”

Partly an autobiographical story, Charles Beaumont’s original short story for “Perchance to Dream” (a title which alludes to Shakespeare’s Hamlet) shares a great deal in common with its accompanying Twilight Zone episode, absent some specific details like the names of “Maya” and “Dr. Eliot Rathmann,” however the short story introduces the idea that Mr. Hall has actually been cursed with an excessively vivid imagination from a young age (something which certainly affected author Charles Beaumont, as well).   

An agitated thirty-one-year-old man named Philip Hall has been suffering a rheumatic heart condition since childhood. After being prescribed a 30-35 dose of Dexadrine, despite his heart condition, Mr. Hall has been pushed to a new psychiatrist. He paces nervously and recounts a memory of a childhood tapestry that once hung in his bedroom displaying a group of Napoleonic soldiers on horseback. His mother once suggested the horses on this tapestry could be made to come alive if only he could focus on it long enough. After watching it intently, he finally sees the horses ride across the tapestry and over the side. He then begins doing the same with images in magazines, sending static images of locomotives and balloons in motion. However, his imagination soon runs amok –closet ghosts and mysterious villains suddenly come to life.

“I knew how powerful the mind was, then,” Hall continued. “I know that ghosts and demons did exist, they did, if you only thought about them long enough and hard enough. After all, one of them almost killed me!” (5).

Then Mr. Hall, a man with a disturbingly overly active imagination, begins having a recurring dream –he notices a striking young woman at a carnival located at the Venice Pier, cackling and informing Hall that she has been waiting for him. Each dream leads him a little bit further, as this mystery woman continues to lead him higher up in order to send him downward to his death. Now, Hall fears falling asleep. Then, back in the psychiatrist’s office, a Nurse steps into the room and Mr. Hall panics as he recognizes her face –she is the same woman who appeared in his recurring dream! Mr. Hall somewhat mistakenly stumbles through the room and falls out an open window, plummeting fourteen floors to his death.

Meanwhile, in reality, Mr. Hall initially entered the psychiatrist’s office and immediately fell asleep within seconds. Moments later, he let out a yell and suffered a sudden heart attack. Was it caused by his heart condition? Or his over-medication? Or was there something true about his dream? As with all Twilight Zone stories, Beaumont leaves us transfixed in a state of ambiguity and wonder.  

Beaumont, Charles. Perchance to Dream and other Short Stories. Penguin Classics. New York, NY (2015).  

Note: In the Foreword to this essay collection, Ray Bradbury offers some lovely reflections on the life of Charles “Chuck” Beaumont, from initially meeting a sixteen-year-old Beaumont at a bookstore in Los Angeles (where they discussed the Terry and the Pirates comic collection, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, and Prince Valiant), to helping Beaumont publish his first short story and embark upon a successful literary career –“His life revolved around a special desk which he had designed and had built by one of the finest cabinetmakers in the West. His files were beautifully stashed, labeled, and stuffed with a half-million notions, idle fancies, half-grown or full-grown dreams…” (xiii). His was a life that was cut short too soon –a great tragedy for American science fiction, and Ray Bradbury offers a fitting series of reflections, such as his thoughts on Charles Beaumont’s funeral: “The friends of Charles Beaumont, at gravesite, felt… above all that a time was over, and things would never be the same. Our old group would meet less often, and then fall away. What was central to it, the binding force, the conversational fire, the great runner, jumper, and yeller, was gone” (xiv).  

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to visit my review of the Twilight Zone episode “Perchance to Dream.”

2 thoughts on “On Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream”

  1. Charles Beaumont’s storytelling techniques were a most worthy contribution to The Twilight Zone and especially thanks to stories like Perchance To Dream. R.I.P., Charles, and thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

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