I posted last week about Mark Twain’s precognitive dream of his brother’s death. This week I’ll talk about my own prophetic dream–the one I had when I was 9 years old, or possibly 10.
Of a “Blackhawk” comic book.
Remember “Blackhawk”? If you’re younger than about 55, you almost certainly don’t. The comic was discontinued in 1968; later attempts to revive it fizzled. In its heyday, though, it rivaled “Superman” in popularity.
The Blackhawks–there were 7 of them–weren’t superheroes in the strict sense of the word. They had no super powers, unless you want to count their ability to deliver devastating socks on the jaw to vastly larger crowds of baddies, calmly conversing among themselves all the while. They were a blue-uniformed team of fighters for justice, initially against the Nazis, later against Communists and assorted villains (terrestrial and extraterrestrial) aiming to take over the world.
The team was international. Its leader, named simply “Blackhawk,” was American. (Originally Polish, according to Wikipedia.) There was another American named Chuck, a Frenchman named Andre, a German (anti-Nazi) named Hendrickson, a Pole named Stanislaus, and a Scandinavian named Olaf. Also “Chop Chop,” Chinese and diminutive and without the standard blue uniform. Initially Chop Chop was a grossly racist caricature, stuck in for comic relief. By about 1957, when I became a “Blackhawk” devotee, he’d acquired a certain measure of dignity (though he was still half the size of his fellow-Blackhawks). He had a tendency to exclaim things like, “O wobbly woes!” which was evidently supposed to be a traditional Chinese expletive, comparable to Andre’s “Sacre bleu!” and Hendrickson’s “Ach du lieber!”
(Who says you don’t learn things from reading the comics?)
But enough of background. On to the dream:
I’m reading a “Blackhawk” comic book. A gigantic robot holds over its head a terrified man, whom the robot seems about to tear into pieces. The man cries out, “How can you destroy me, your creator? Have you no gratitude?” To which the radio-like gadget controlling the robot replies: “I am what you made me, a thinking machine. I have no emotions.”
That was my dream, in its entirety. Its fulfillment came on one of those occasions that were the joys of my later childhood, when a friend and I were trading old comic books. Amid my haul was an old “Blackhawk.” I opened the magazine–and there it was: the same precise scene that I’d dreamed about. It was the opening frame of a story, serving as preview of the action to follow.
(Now you can read the story too, as it appeared in the July 1956 issue of “Blackhawk,” under the title “Master of Mankind.” It’s been posted, along with all the pre-1957 “Blackhawks,” to the wonderful “Comic Book Plus” website. I attach the opening frame, the one I dreamed about, to the bottom of this post. You’ll see that I didn’t remember the dialogue exactly–but close enough.)
I remember the dream. I remember my pleasure when it came true, when the exciting, intriguing story that I’d dreamed about turned out to be for real, something that I could hold in my hands and read from beginning to end. And I remember telling about the dream in my elementary school class. In this respect, my experience was exactly parallel to Mark Twain’s. My memory of the dream comes encased within a memory of narrating the dream.
I think, but am not entirely sure, that I was in fifth grade. I remember our regular teacher was out that day, and we had a substitute (a woman). As often happened with a substitute teacher, we didn’t stick strictly to our lessons; and the talk turned, as it did many years earlier in Twain’s “Monday Evening Club,” to dreams.
Specifically, premonitory dreams.
And I told my story.
As I began to describe the comic-book scene, the teacher interrupted. Awful! she exclaimed. The violence of comic books! Yes, yes, I said, but that wasn’t the point–and I hurried on before she could interrupt again. I dreamed about this comic book, see? And then I got an old comic book in a trade, and it was the same comic book!
“The same comic book as in the dream?” one of the kids asked; and I said, “Yes! Yes!”
For the first time the other kids grasped the point of my story, and an awed hush fell over the room. As if this was a WOW!!! experience, one of those mysteries of our existence that we can never understand but only marvel at. No more was said about my dream, by the teacher or anyone else. What more could have been said?
Other than that I’m psychic.
But I really don’t think so. I’ve never had an experience like this any other time, in situations that were far more personally significant. People dear to me have died; I’ve had no paranormal awareness of their deaths, either prior to or during the events. I did have a strange experience almost exactly five years ago, in which I must have had some sort of unconscious awareness that something bad was about to happen to my body; I’ve told the story in an earlier post. But that was “precognition” of something inside my own skin.
If I have some psychic power to foresee external reality, would it never have exercised itself on anything more significant than a “Blackhawk” comic book?
I didn’t think much about my “prophetic” dream for another 25 years. Not until I read a paperback edition of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, with a neat little essay at the end which Freud wrote in 1899, but which wasn’t published until after his death. The essay was called “A Premonitory Dream Fulfilled,” and when I read it my reaction was: Yes! This is what happened to me!
“Frau B., an estimable woman who moreover possesses a critical sense, told me … that once some years ago she dreamt she had met Dr. K., a friend and former family doctor of hers, in the Kaerntnerstrasse [in Vienna] in front of Hiess’s shop. The next morning, while she was walking along the same street, she in fact met the person in question at the very spot she had dreamt of. …
“Analysis of the dream was helped by questioning, which established the fact that there was no evidence of her having had any recollection at all of the dream on the morning after she dreamt it, until after her walk–evidence such as her having written the dream down or told it to someone before it was fulfilled. On the contrary, she was obliged to accept the following account of what happened, which seems to me more plausible, without raising any objection to it. She was walking along the Kaerntnerstrasse one morning and met her old family doctor in front of Hiess’s shop. On seeing him she felt convinced that she had dreamt the night before of having this very meeting at that precise spot. According to the rules that apply to the interpretation of neurotic symptoms, her conviction must have been justified; its content may, however, require to be reinterpreted.”
(Or, to apply this to my experience: I opened a “Blackhawk” comic I’d acquired in a trade, and, upon seeing its opening page, felt convinced I’d earlier dreamed about seeing that page. And the question becomes: why?)
Freud’s “reinterpretation” was this: “Frau B.” really did have a dream prior to her chance meeting with “Dr. K.” That dream was powerful–and forbidden. She therefore repressed (“forgot”) it when she woke up, and could only let the memory out afterward, in a disguised form.
Seems the lady had once been madly in love, while her first husband was dying, with a lawyer who, like her old family doctor, was a “Dr. K.” She was ashamed of her passion. Yet once it was past, she longed for its return. Many years later she still carried the torch. Widowed for a second time, she dreamed–literally–in her loneliness and longing, of an unlooked-for meeting with her old love. Her dreams of him had to be imprisoned in her unconscious. They stirred up too much guilt, too much shame.
Then one day the meeting happened. Granted, with the wrong “Dr. K.” Yet the chance encounter evoked for “Frau B.” the memory of her dream, which clothed itself retroactively in the details of the actual event. I’ve seen this before, she told herself. I’ve dreamed it already. Which in a sense was perfectly true, she had.
Or, in Freud’s language:
“Thus the creation of a dream after the event, which alone makes prophetic dreams possible, is nothing other than a form of censoring, thanks to which the dream is able to make its way through into consciousness.”
Which is what I think happened to me.
Which is what I think happened to Mark Twain.
by David Halperin
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