The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1817)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror July 9, 2013
A 200-year old story. German Romantic Literature. Fantasy. Horror. Alchemy. Madness. And a hint of Frankensteinian fiction. Are you game for this one?
Some of you may know this author from The Nutcracker & the King of Mice, which was adapted into the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky or his novel The Devil’s Elixir. Hoffman is famous for his supernatural tales with the most sinister characters and The Sandman, with its dramatic but very realistic narrative style lives up to that reputation.
Did your mom ever tell you the story of The Sandman? A fairy-type image of a good soul who sprinkles sand over your eyelids while you slept so you stay asleep? Well, this sandman by Hoffman is nothing like that.
The sandman comes to children who won’t go to sleep and “throws handfuls of sand in their eyes until, streaming with blood, they pop out of their heads. Then he throws the eyes in a sack and carries them off to the dark of the moon to feed his little ones with; they sit there in a nest with their hooked beaks, like owls’, with which they peck away at the naughty human children’s eyes.”
Try that for a bedtime story.
Our character, Nathanael, poor dear sweet Nathanael is told this bedtime story by his wicked nurse. Take this tale, add to it a fevered imagination, a father who dabbles in alchemy, a visitor named Coppelius with repulsive sneering lips, red ears, and dark glittering eyes who hates children (“the little beasties”) and watch it launch into a horror story that blurs the lines between phantasm and madness.
Symbolically, Freud wrote that The Sandman was about fear of castration. There might be a psychopathology going on here, especially when Nathanael grows up and falls in love with a strange stiff-backed woman named Olympia who is kept behind a locked glass door by her father. And there’s Klara, the beautiful and smart young maiden who truly loves Nathanael with her whole heart … but can Klara save our Nathanael from his phantoms? Will he let her?
Read the full text at The University of Adelaide Library
Leave a comment. Tell us about your childhood scariest bedtime stories. Do they compare to Hoffmann’s The Sandman?
Art is by Paul Gavarni