Dreampunk:

Recurring Motifs

If you consume any amount of dreampunk fiction, you’ll notice certain motifs repeating a lot, almost as if all the authors agreed to draw their imagery from a common pool of “dreamy” elements. Aside from the obligatory Alice in Wonderland reference that everybody tends to make, these are most common recurring motifs I’ve noticed. I’m not basing these on any systematic study of the literature, mind you, just my informal observations.

The Moon. See: 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami), American Gods (Neil Gaiman), Joe Versus the Volcano, The Mighty Boosh, Over the Garden Wall.

Mirrors, Twins. See: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (Lewis Carroll), Twin Peaks, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Masks, Heads. See: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Philip K. Dick), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum), Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace), Westworld.

Shadows, Silhouettes, Darkness. See: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Haruki Murakami), Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie), A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), Over the Garden Wall, Stranger Things.

Stars, Space. See: Ubik (Philip K. Dick), Dune (Frank Herbert), Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie), Your Name.

Spirals, Swirls, Vortexes. See: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum), Rick and Morty.

Doors, Gates, Portals. See: Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), The Dark Tower series (Stephen King), The Scott Pilgrim series (Bryan Lee O’Malley), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll).

Stairs, Ladders. See: Jerusalem (Alan Moore), 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami), “The Aleph” (Jorge Luis Borges), The Princess and the Goblin (George MacDonald).

Mazes, Labyrinths. See: The Zap Gun (Philip K. Dick), Pan's Labyrinth, “The Garden of Forking Paths” (Jorge Luis Borges), Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes), Westworld.

Games, Toys. See: The Dreaming Jewels (Theodore Sturgeon), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), The Game-Players of Titan (Philip K. Dick), Jerusalem (Alan Moore), Stranger Things.

Fire, Smoke, Fog. See: A Maze of Death (Philip K. Dick), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut), Twin Peaks.

Trees, Forest, Caves. See: Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami), A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness), Black (Ted Dekker), The Word for World Is Forest (Ursula K. Le Guin), Twin Peaks, Over the Garden Wall.

Flowers. See: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), The Neverending Story (Michael Ende), Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes).

Rivers, Ocean. See: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Haruki Murakami), Black (Ted Dekker), A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), Joe Versus the Volcano.

Falling, Floating. See: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Ubik (Philip K. Dick), Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie), Joe Versus the Volcano.

Tea, Coffee, Liquor, Drugs. See: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), A Scanner Darkly (Philip K. Dick), Dune (Frank Herbert), The Matrix.

Music, Especially Jazz. See: Dance Dance Dance (Haruki Murakami), The Darkening of the Light (Tessa B. Dick), The Divine Invasion (Philip K. Dick), The Mighty Boosh.

Birds, Bats, and Butterflies. See: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami), Black (Ted Dekker), Hoodoo (Ronald L. Smith), Twin Peaks, Over the Garden Wall.

Cats, Rabbits, Sheep, and Other Critters. See: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Donnie Darko, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K. Dick), The Darkening of the Light (Tessa B. Dick), 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami).

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve held back from mentioning my own work in these examples, but I will say that Adelaide in Ozghard uses every one of these motifs at one point or another. And not intentionally to be more “dreampunk” either. It’s just the aesthetic I love best, and so it naturally comes out in my work.


Next: A Dreampunk Manifesto