What Dreams May Come Summary

Richard Matheson

What Dreams May Come

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What Dreams May Come Summary

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Critically acclaimed and intensely popular science fiction author Richard Matheson said that What Dreams May Come (1978) was his personal favorite ofmore than twentybooks, because it soothed readers’ fears of dying. The novel was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie in 1998.

In the prologue, an unidentified man speaks about a book he received from a psychic woman. She claims the book was dictated by his dead brother, Chris. This prologue is the frame through which Chris’s observations of the afterlife are told.

Chris is a middle-aged, white man who dies in a car accident. For awhile, he thinks he has just had a bad dream.He watches as his dead body fails to resuscitate in a hospital.

His wife, Ann, is devastated. Chris watches her days of grief, including a séance she holds. She is further devastated when the séance fails, and it seems there is no afterlife for Chris.

In the afterlife, a random man keeps telling Chris to focus on what comes after death and to accept the fact that his life on earth is over. He ignores the guy; he loves his wife, Ann, far too much. But he does not see much harm in thinking of the special memories he and Ann shared. He dwells on them and starts to feel peaceful and sleepy.

Chris wakes up in a beautiful meadow. It is similar to a place he traveled with Ann on their honeymoon. Though he senses he’s dead, he is surprised at how good he looks and how alive he feels. He explores this new world where all sensation is heightened.

Eventually, he runs into his cousin, Albert. Albert says that he was that random guy who was trying to make him forget about life on earth. Albert tells Chris that this weird place they are in is called Summerland. Unlike earth, Summerland’s topography is based on the subject’s desires and state of mind. Pain and death are not necessary in Summerland; in fact, most people spend the rest of their days doing whatever fun activity they wish.

Through Summerland is mesmerizing, Chris remains worried about Ann. Soon, he learns that Ann has committedsuicide. Chris and Albert are both shocked. With great reluctance, Albert tells Chris that Annwill notbe entering this nicer part of Summerland. Because she took her own life, she is condemned to a “lower realm” where she will be trapped until she serves her intended lifespan. In Ann’s case, that is twenty-fouryears.

Chris begs Albert to take him to see Ann. Albert happens to have the job of visiting the lower realm, and Chrisen treats Albert to take him on the next visit. Initially, Albert refuses. He informs Chris that he could (and probably will) get stuck in the lower realm, i.e. hell. If he does get stuck there, Chris will have to spend more time away from Ann than he would if he were just content to wait twenty-four years. But Chris will not take no for an answer. With sadness, Albert relents and takes Chris to the underworld.

Hell is a wet, dark, miserable place. Chris and Albert can change their immediate surroundings with the positivity of their thoughts, but these transformations become harder and harder to do the further they travel into the underworld.

When they pass the area reserved for violent criminals, the duo is violently attacked by a mob. Fortunately, Chris realizes the attack only happened in his mind.

When Chris and Albert reach Ann, they find a deeply depressing version of her childhood neighborhood. Ann is spending her days mourning her husband in a house where nothing works, which is a more extreme version of the “hell” she endured on earth after Chris’s death.

Ann cannot recognize Chris, but Albert counsels that with time, Chris can get her to remember who she was. Albert leaves before hell inalterably changes him.

Chris poses as her neighbor. He tries to befriend her and relates details of his life so she will realize that he is her husband. Eventually, he tells her the truth point-blank. She yells at him and screams that he is lying. She does not believe in life after death, especially after the failed séance; she knows it is impossible that he could be her mourned for husband.

Hell begins working on Chris. He starts to forget who he is. He realizes that if he doesnot leave now he will be trapped there for an inordinate amount of time. He uses his last moments of sanity to give an ode to her love and their life together. He tells her that he will not go back to Summerland because he would rather be here with her. As he loses consciousness, Ann suddenly recognizes him and understands the situation.

In Chris’s next conscious moment, he is back in Summerland. Albert tells him that he saved Ann from hell but, because she was not yet ready for Summerland, she was sent back to earth to be reborn. Chris wants to be reborn to join her, but Albert says that is impossible. Albert tells Chris that he and Ann have had several lifetimes together, and their bond is too special to not join forces again sometime in the future.

As the manuscript closes, Chris writes that he will forget everything that happened in Summerland, in hell, and with Ann. He is scheduled to be reborn soon. He is giving this message to his sister, the psychic, so that people will not fear death as much because it is just a chapter in a never-ending journey. He knows that he and Ann will be united again in Summerland (or some form of heaven) even if they are different people who do not know each other, but feel as if they do.