Monday, October 19, 2009

What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson (1978)

Reviewer: Elle Ewok

Rating: 4 Piergoies

Review: People who know me are familiar with my... let's call it "acute interest"... in anything related to the afterlife and the paranormal. When I go to a new city my first stop is usually its main urban cemetary. When Boyfriend and I go to the Half-Price Bookstore on the weekend he heads to the Miltary History section and you will always find me in the Metaphysical aisle. I own more books than I care to admit written by psychics, mediums (yes, they are different), near-death experiences, ghost hunters and paranormal investigators. I own books about cemetaries, volumes of ghost stories and everything written by George Anderson. If you read enough of such things you start to see certain patterns and similarities emerge among what the various mediums and psychics teach and report. I call it "Alt-Spirituality", Boyfriend calls it "Blasphemy" and "One-Way Ticket to Hell." Regardless, most of these "Alt-Spirituralists" agree that (1) our souls are here on earth to learn and to further our spiritual evolution; (2) that we choose our lives in order to further whatever purpose we have in coming here; (3) that spiritual evolution happens faster on earth because of all the hardship and strife that must be endured; and (4) that our souls are eternal. Now whether you agree with them or not, this message is certainly comforting and it seems to make sense out of alot of the seemingly senseless pain and suffering that exists in the world.

After reading one of George Anderson's books last week (he is a very famous medium) I thought back to that 1998 Robin William's movie "What Dreams May Come." It won an academy award for uh ..... something and was celebrated at the time for its groundbreaking cinematography and beautiful presentation of heaven and the afterlife. I netflixed it last week and even though it is super-dramatic and emotionally overwrought to the point of ridiculousness it was successful in making me cry 6 separate times. I was running on the treadmill and crying like an idiot. It struck me how this movie is basically a full out color demonstration of the "Alt-Spiritual" teachings I described above. As desribed aptly by Cuba Gooding Jr:

So I decided to read the book. I read it in one sitting and it only took a couple of hours to complete. This book is not particularly well-written, I would not call it literature - but the story is fantasic.

Richard Matheson claims in the introduction that although the characters are fiction everything else is "true" - (based on research regarding death and the afterlife - obviously you can take that for what it is worth although he includes a bibliography at the end). The story is about a man named Chris who dies in a car accident and discovers that his soul is indeed immortal. He endures much hardship at first as his soul is not able to leave earth's plane of existence due to the suffering of his wife. Eventually, he does find heaven though (called "Summerland") and there he learns that a person's existence in the afterlife is completely self-imposed and created by the efforts of the individual mind (your dreams). As such, while there may be no hell in the conventional sense there surely is a space of terror and dispair in the afterlife for those who have done wrong and messed up the purpose of their life. Indeed, when Chris's wife committs suicide Chris literally leaves heaven and travels through hell to find her. Chris's wife is sent to a hell of confusion, loneliness and emotional/mental torment of her own making for the 24 years that she had remaining in her natural life which her suicide deprived her of living. Basically, she has to work out the same exact issues she would have had to deal with on earth, only under much worse circumstances. The lesson being of course, that suicide it not the escape some people hope for. You can not avoid learning the lessons you must for your soul to evolve.

The story is certainly romantic although I found Chris's wife to be co-dependant and annoying so I didn't really care much for their romance. I was kind of rooting for Chris not to find his wife because, frankly, I think these codependant people need some time apart and she definitely deserves/needs to deal with the consequences of actions.

Although I really didn't care for the characters all that much the graphic and complete description of the "Alt-Spirituality" conception of the afterlife in context was wonderful. Additionally, the ending of the book was much better than that of the movie. Obviously, the movie wanted the emotionally gratifying ending, but the book's ending was much more true to the spiritual philosophy of the book.

Reading this book may cause someone to look at the purpose of life and death in a different way. You may not believe it but there is always value in listening to different perspectives. At its core this is a very hopeful story. I think anyone who has experienced a loss and death in their lives would be comforted very much by this book.