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The lucid dreams of Papillon

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posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 11:34 AM
Henri Charierre aka Papillon was a great storyteller. His famous book Papillon was released as an auto-biography though some folk claim it was full of exaggerations and other people's stories. He's been called a lying, murdering, safe-cracking pimp as well as "the greatest joker in world literature."

In his book he claims he made nine daring escape attempts from French Guiana penal colonies including his famous and final escape from Devil's Island by jumping of the rocks with a sack of coconuts. Some say devil's island has no cliffs and that Papi was interned on the mainland when he escaped.

At one stage a man came forward to claim that he was the real Papi and that Charierre was an imposter who had stolen his story and his identity. This man was Charles Brunier and he knew Charierre from prison.

Gerard de Villiers in his book A Butterfly Pinned claims that Charierre was indeed a prisoner in the penal colony but was well a behaved man who looked after the latrines, and not the tough guy he made himself out to be in his book.

Whatever the real truth is, the book Papillon is a masterpiece, told by a story-telling genius and what I found amazing about the whole book is that included in the Papillon story were his trips "among the stars". He explained in great detail his lucid dreaming and his methods for having them.

"Now at this point perhaps I have to be a little tedious,
but in order to make the rest of this long tale understandable
and in order to thoroughly explain what kept me going in my
struggle I must tell everything that came into my mind at that
point, everything I really saw with my mind's eye during those
first days when I was a man who had been buried alive...

...I still had my eyes closed, with the handkerchief keeping them
tight shut. Very clearly I could see the trunk, apparently
innocent but clearly crammed with explosives, and the exact-set
alarm-clock that would fire the detonator. Take care: it had to
go off at ten in the morning in the assembly room of the Police
Judiciaire on the first floor of 36, quai des Orfevres...

...those long hours during which I worked out my future revenge
were so vivid that I could see myself carrying it out exactly as
though the thing was actually being done. All through those
nights and even during part of every day, there I was, moving
about Paris, as though my escape was something that had
already happened."

"As I write these thoughts that came to me so vividly all those
years ago and that now come crowding back with such terrible
clarity, I remember how intensely total silence and complete
solitariness can stimulate an imaginary life, when it is inflicted
upon a young man shut up in a cell -- how it can stimulate the
imagination before the whole thing turns to madness. So intense
and vivid a life that a man literally divides himself into two people.
He takes wing and he quite genuinely wanders wherever he feels
inclined to go. His home, his father, mother, family, his childhood-
all the various stages of his life. And then even more, there are
all those castles in Spain that appear in his fertile mind with such
an unbelievable vividness that he really comes to believe that he
is living everything that he dreams.
Thirty-six years have passed, and yet recording everything
that came into my head at that moment of my life does not need
the slightest effort."

"...I had him directly opposite me: under my closed eyelids I could
see him with extraordinary exactness. Yes, I looked at him just
as he had looked at me in court. The scene was so clear and
distinct that I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face; for
I was very close, face to face, almost touching him. His hawk's
eyes were dazzled by the beam of a very powerful headlight I had
focussed on him. Great drops of sweat ran down his red, swollen
face. I could hear my questions and I listened to his replies. I
experienced that moment very vividly...

...I paced on and on and on. My head was spinning, but there I was,
still face to face with him, when suddenly the electricity went out
and a very faint ray of daylight made it's way into the cell through
the boarded window.
What? Morning already? Had I spent the whole night with my
revenge? What splendid hours they had been! How that long, long
night had flown by!"

"Where were the cops, the members of the jury, the assizes, the
judges, my wife, my father, my friends? They were there alright,
thoroughly alive, each one in his place in my heart; but what with
the intense excitement of leaving, of this great leap into the un-
known, these new friendships and new aspects of life, they
seemed to have less importance than before. But that was only
a mere impression. When I wanted, and when my mind chose
to open each one's file, they were all instantly alive once more."

"My life passed before my eyes like a film -- childhood in a family
filled with love, affectionate discipline, decent ways and good-
heartedness; the wild flowers, the murmur of streams, the taste of
the walnuts, peaches and plums that our garden gave us in such
quantities; the smell of the mimosa that flowered every spring in
front of our door; the outside of our house, and the inside with my
family there-- all this ran by before my eyes. It was a talking
picture, one in which I heard the voice of my mother (she had
loved me so), and then my father's-- always affectionate and kind--
the barking of Clara, his gun-dog, calling me into the garden to
play. The boys and girls of my childhood, the ones I had played
with during the happiest days of my life. All this-- this film I was
watching without ever having meant to see it, this magic lantern
that my subconscious had lit against my will-- all this filled the night
of waiting before the leap into the great unknown with sweet,
gentle memories and emotions."

"One, two, three, four, five... Mechanically I returned to this endless
walk, and with tiredness helping, I took off easily and travelled back
into the past. It must certainly have been by way of contrast to the
darkness of my cell, but there I was in the full sunlight, sitting on the
beach belonging to my tribe...

...I was no longer in my cell. I did not yet know anything about the
Reclusion, nor saint-Joseph, nor the islands. I rolled on the beach,
cleaning my hands by rubbing them in the coral sand, as fine as

...I spent the whole of that night with the Goajiras. I didn't sleep at
any time whatsoever. I did not even lie down so that behind my
closed eyelids I might see the scenes I had lived through. It was
during this pacing up and down in a kind of hypnosis that I was taken
back, without any effort on my part, and set down once more in
that extraordinarily beautiful day I had experienced nearly six months

"I was thoroughly used to getting out of myself, and I had a sure-fire
way of taking off for a journey among the stars or for an effortless
vision of the various stages of my life as a child or a man on the run
or for a session of building wonderfully real castles in Spain. What I
had to do was to get very tired in the first place. I had to walk for
hours without sitting down, without stopping, and thinking of ordinary
subjects in the usual sort of way. Then when I was absolutely all in
I'd lie down on my plank, rest my head on one half of my blanket, and
cover my face with the other. Then the already stale air of the cell
would filter slowly through to my mouth and nose. This started off a
kind of smothering in my lungs and my head would begin to burn.
I'd stifle with heat and lack of air and then suddenly I'd take off. Oh,
what indescribable journeys my spirit made and what sensations
I had during these voyages! Nights of love, truly more vivid and
moving than when I was free, even more stirring than the real ones,
the nights I'd actually experienced. Yes: and this power of moving
through space and time allowed me to sit there with my mother, who
had died seventeen years before. I played with her dress and she
fondled my curly hair...

...I was actually there: it wasn't just imagination. I was there with her,
standing on a chair behind the music stool she was sitting on, and I
closed her great eyes firmly with my little hands. Her nimble fingers
ran on over the notes, and I heard the Merry Widow right through to
the end...

... absolutely no person and no thing, not even these thick walls or
the remoteness of this island lost in the Atlantic Ocean, could pre-
vent my exquisitely happy, rose-pink journeys, when I took off for
the stars."

"I went to bed very early and as quickly as I could I took off from my
cell. Yesterday I was in Paris, at the Rat Mort, drinking champagne
with friends...

...The friends who passed before my eyes during this imaginary
journey were so utterly convincing that I had no doubt that they were
really there, any more than I doubted my presence in all those night
spots where I'd had such fun."

"So with this very low diet, and without much walking, I reached
the same result that I used to get from fatigue. These pictures of
my former life had such a power of taking me out of my cell that I
really spent more hours a free man than a convict in solitary confine-

"Walking did me good; the tiredness it produced was healthy, and I
even managed to take off while I was still going to and fro. Yester-
day, for example, I spent the whole day in the meadows of a little
district in the Ardeche by the name of Favras...
...As far as society was concerned, I was in one of the many punish-
ment cells of the man-eater. In fact I had stolen a whole day from

[edit on 7-6-2010 by wigit]

posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 11:42 AM
"Last night I was lying in my hammock: at the far end of the room the
gambling was so hot that my two friends, Carbonieri and Grandet,
had been obliged to join forces to keep control; one man would not
have been enough. As for me, I was trying to revive my memories
of the past. They wouldn't come:...
...The only one to appear in all his harsh reality was the prosecuting
...I was arguing with the prosecutor when two men came up to my
'You asleep, Papillon?'

So there we have it. Hope it wasn't too long a post.

Whether the whole Papillon story was stolen from other prisoners or only some of it, there's no doubt that Henri Charierre had a wonderfully fertile mind. And whether the dreams were the whole truth or only partly true, I still think he was a gifted lucid dreamer. Only someone who could lucid dream could tell it like he did.

posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 01:25 PM
I read the book not too long ago. He's a skilled writer, yet you feel the book is unpolished and the work of a man who has experienced some things.

I didn't feel it was the work of an artist trying to create from other people's testimonies, yet it wasn't without mendacity.

Overall, I enjoyed it very much and think it should be believed as is, taken as autobiography. Afterall, no man can recall his past memories in an objective factual sense. He needs those extras that give impetus to the narrative.

posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 01:51 PM
I think it's a diamond of a book. The best I've ever read. The story is told so well I believed it all, and while reading it I was behind Papi's shoulder looking on all the way, lol.

The lucid dreaming. Something I've been trying and failing to do since my first attempt at about 5 years old. I'm 46 now, and I still can't do it. And I very much want to.

posted on Jun, 7 2010 @ 02:16 PM
reply to post by wigit

He definately had a strong mind if that has anything to do with lucid dreaming.

From what I could tell his sole objective was always the cavale, even during his respite among the native americans he was on cavale. The lucid dreams were created by him to get through the really hard stretches when there was no direct action he could take concerning the cavale (such as 7 years solitary confinement). Even then, he concentrated upon his revenge, his freedom, his past leading up to banishment, anything to stay centered and sane.

As you know, after a while he got it down to somewhat of a science. He knew how much physical exertion would get him in the right mindset, he made a game of it. It reminded me of Shakespeare's quote "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."

Anyway, far from escapism, there was always that higher motive behind his actions and inactions. He was a real man whose heart inexplicably bounded towards the achievement of that goal.

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