Little Egg and Big Egg

 

Saint Jerome

 

 

There aren’t a lot of Easter eggs in The Dream Peddler, but I can think of a couple of things that most readers wouldn’t pick up on—they’re just there for me, or for anyone who happens to have the specific knowledge you would require to get my meaning.

The first is a small thing having to do with naming. I had a really hard time getting through a certain scene in the book, and the main character—in fact, almost the only character—in that scene is named Charles Bachmeier. Because I started the book when we were living in Michigan, and Michigan has a lot of German heritage in many areas (the city of Frankenmuth, for instance, is really just a gigantic Bavarian tourist trap), I decided that my little town would, as well. I don’t think I ended up exploring this idea at all, but as I looked through possible German names for the neighbor who lives on the farm adjacent to the Dawsons, I came across Bachmeier, which means “farmer by the water.” It couldn’t have been more perfect. Even though virtually no readers will probably ever realize this, it was fun to put that into the book just for myself.

The other thing that’s kind of hidden is a bit more elaborate, and it has to do with the research I did on the history of dreams. I was a churchgoer growing up, so I’m already familiar with a lot of biblical stories and the abundance of dreaming that goes on in the Bible. What I didn’t realize was how a series of mistranslations actually impacted the way many western Christians viewed dreams and their interpretation right up until the twentieth century. And I would never have known this if I hadn’t read Robert L. Van de Castle’s Our Dreaming Mind (a fascinating overview that I highly recommend if you’re interested in dreams).

There is a scene about three-quarters of the way through The Dream Peddler in which the Reverend Arnold, my town pastor, calls a prayer meeting and attempts to discredit the dream peddler with some biblical ammunition. Pastor Arnold is less than pleased with Robert’s business, and he worries that his parishioners are being led astray, and he thinks that some good old-fashioned bible-thumping will take care of it. I used a bunch of verses from the King James Bible, and my copy editor dutifully checked each and every one. Then she made her note saying they all checked out except one: Deuteronomy 18:10, which is referenced by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica as stating “Let there not be found among you him who observes dreams.” I made my own note, explaining that you wouldn’t find this in the King James Bible because Aquinas was working with a mistranslation made centuries before by Saint Jerome.

Saint Jerome was a well-known biblical scholar, and he was called to Rome in 382 by Pope Damascus I to translate the Bible into Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire). His translation later became known as the Vulgate, and it continued as the authoritative Latin version until the twentieth century. As Van de Castle explains, “This literary event had a cataclysmic effect upon how dreams were viewed by western Christians for the next fifteen centuries.” (p. 79) When I read this, I couldn’t resist making a reference, however obscure, to this history. Saint Jerome deliberately mistranslated the Hebrew word “anan” as “observing dreams,” rather than using a word such as “witchcraft,” which would have been much closer to the original intended meaning. We know his mistranslation was deliberate because he makes the correct translation seven times, while in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy we find the “observing dreams” translation instead. It’s not clear if he did this on his own impulse, or if the church perhaps directed him to, but either way, the result was the same: there was a clear message sent that studying dreams or trying to interpret them would be a violation of God’s laws.

The issue seems to be a concern with what might be the possible origin of human dreams. They could be divine, or they could just as easily be coming from demonic forces. The consensus seemed to be that the only way to be safe, and free of the devil’s influence, would be to pay dreams no mind whatsoever.

This is a subtlety that I think would only be noticed by a serious biblical scholar, but I put it into the book partly because it fit so neatly into the scene, and partly for my own satisfaction. Considering dreams and the role they might play in our lives, and the different ways we can be affected both by studying them or by ignoring them, was definitely one of the questions I wanted to put to the reader with this book. The pastor’s dark view of toying with dreams and placing too much importance on them has a long history in western Christianity—I was completely ignorant of this when I wrote my first draft, but I simply had to reference it even if most readers would never pick up on it.

So now you know! The Reverend Arnold’s misquote of Deuteronomy is not a mistake.

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Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master's degree in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

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