“Who Is the Sandman?”
“It’s a bit difficult to trace his origins because stories about the Sandman are part of an oral tradition,” says Dr. Maria Tatar, professor of German Studies, Folklore, and Children’s Literature at Harvard University. “I don’t think you can trace the Sandman to Denmark or Germany. I feel confident that there are similar figures in other cultures because so many of the jolly, child-friendly creatures are shadowed by a disciplinary evil person. Who invented the Sandman? Who knows!”
The Sandman’s first foray onto the page was in 18th-century German dictionaries, which briefly described the German idiom “der Sandmann kommt”—”Sandman is coming”—which was used to tease particularly sleepy-looking children. The first story about the Sandman and his doings was published in 1818 by German writer E.T.A Hoffman. “Der Sandmann” begins with an exasperated nurse telling a story about a mythical creature who throws sand in the eyes of little children who won’t go to sleep, causing them to fall out of their sockets. The Sandman then collects the eyeballs in a sack and carries them to his home on the dark side of the moon, where he feeds them to his children.
“‘Der Sandmann’ became an important story in psychoanalytic circles because Freud made so much of it in his essay ‘The Uncanny,'” says Tatar. “Hoffman’s story is a fairy tale for grownups, really—his Sandman is this dark, predatory monster. It definitely wasn’t written for children.” . . .
Jesslyn Shields, How Stuff Works, January 28, 2019