As winter approaches and the semester comes to a panicked frenzy, it is not uncommon to have a nightmare or two along the way. These may often consist of but not limited to: getting a C, D, or F on a paper that you don’t even remember writing, getting the wrong exam but then getting a panic attach because maybe it was you that didn’t study properly what was on the exam, walking into an exam and having no idea where the semester went, and (my favorite) walking into a classroom for the first time and realizing it is the last day of school and everyone is turning in beautifully stacked, thirty-page research papers.
While this tends to be a common occurrence among students, especially at the graduate level, if we lived in a time before we analyzed tales told out loud by the campfire, we would probably be familiar with the old folktale Ole Lukøje, or more commonly known as, the Sandman.
From what we now know of this mythical creature, from a wide variety of originating telling’s, it is the story of the master of dreams and nightmares—a Santa Claus of sorts. The tale usually involves Ole Lukøje coming to sleeping souls and standing over them, bestowing lovely dreams to those who are deemed worthy and nightmares for those who have behaved poorly.
As many folktales became methods of interpellation for children, this specific tale took a variety of forms and still can be seen as a way of scaring children into going to bed when told. Before Hans Christian Andersen published his children’s tale version, E. T. A. Hoffman published his own version in 1816. The difference between the two is drastic: with Hoffman including a Sandman who comes for naughty children and gouges a child’s eyeballs out if they are opened when they are supposed to be sleeping and the Andersen version includes a sweeter but still creepy Sandman who tells stories to a boy over the course of a week. In Andersen’s version, the Sandman tells the boy on the last day that his brother, Death, will be visiting him the next day. Ideas of death were common in early publications of children’s fairytales, which became a way of teaching children that if death finds them, it is merely a way that they will be able to see God sooner. Though Andersen’s version of this tale only implies death, it still holds a few sadistic qualities that are most often glanced over.
If we looked at Andersen’s version, even though he includes “But Ole-Luk-Oie does not wish to hurt them, for he is very fond of children, and only wants them to be quiet that he may relate to them pretty stories, and they never are quiet until they are in bed and asleep,” he also is telling the story of a male mythical creature that comes and stands over sleeping children, forcing them into a dream world. And while this suggests a sort of power dynamic, one that comes from a dominating male creature, the story presents children with a terrifying idea that they give up all control of their own minds while they sleep. The use of terror in this tale therefore produces good behavior—a seduction of sorts into this reward worthy behavior through a use of terror within the child’s imagination.
So as the dreams start clouding your mind, as deadlines creep upon us, we must wonder what naughty behaviors have given passage for the Sandman to grant us the nightmares that just won't go away.