Paul M. Willenberg
4 January, 1996
Literary Echoes in Film
Monsieur Christensen
The King Listens ... To Himself

The king is not conscious that he is dreaming, and therefore, cannot actively make decisions in his dreams. The king does not move because he is sleeping, dreaming. “You are king; everything you desire is already yours” (34). The order is that his desires are filled before he knows them, not he desires and then it becomes reality. In our awake state, we can make decisions that effect reality. The king, however only dreams but never realizes those dreams. His paranoia is a direct result. The King is a dreamer. His Palace is the state of dream.

The story takes place in the bed of the king. Calvino writes that, “there are no tables beside the throne, or shelves, or stands to hold, say, a glass, an ashtray, a telephone” (33). These are all objects one finds next to a bed. The throne then, is a bed. The palace is his dream state. By dreaming he negates the real world around him. “The palace is the body of the king” (43). His dreaming is contained in himself, which is also the palace. “Nothing happens in the palace unless the king has some part in it, active or passive” (44). Thus, the king is the “king” of his dream, in that he is the focal point and omniscient being.

By dreaming, the king stops time. Just like in myth and poetry time ceases to have consequence to the king: his desires have already been met. Calvino suggests that time is only useful in measuring the waiting period to realize desire. Faulkner writes in “The Sound and the Fury” that, “time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Similarly, “kings do not have watches: it is assumed that they are the ones who govern the flow of time; submission to the rules of a mechanical device would be incompatible with regal majesty” (36-7). For the king, dream becomes reality. “The palace is a clock” (37). Calvino shows how time has become the gauge for reality. “A King Listens” emphasizes that not only does dream not conform to time, but dream creates a new clock for itself.

Calvino captures the essence of paranoia when the shows how the king’s imagination produces it. Calvino further reveals that imagination has another dimension of effect. It also enhances, and perhaps is the essence of, dream. The king’s imagination both makes him paranoid and creates an elaborate palace around him. His imagination creates everything the king hears: “you want absolute proof that what you hear comes from within you, not from outside” (49). The ultimate proof that the king’s imagination in his dream state creates his kingdom of noises comes when Calvino writes that, “you have had walls and floors soundproofed, and have sheathed this hall with draperies ... You need not bother covering your ears with your hands: you will go on hearing them all the same” (49). The king’s Palace is contained in his head, in his dream state.

Calvino proposes that every person is a king, a sovereign of a kingdom that exists entirely in our heads. Our palace is our own special reality. We are its king because we do the perceiving.