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Literature / The Sand Horse

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Taking "sandblind" to its literal extreme.
A huge wave rolled up onto the beach. It reared, curled over and smashed down upon the sand horse, washing away his mane, his head, his legs, his body, and went hissing back down to the sea dragging the sand horse with it.

The Sand Horse is a 1989 children's book written by Ann Turnbull. Michael Foreman is listed as the illustrator, but is likely to have had some influence on the script considering between the two he's the one who grew up near the sea and the one who has had a home in St Ives in Cornwall, the setting of the The Sand Horse, for most of his adult life.

A sand sculptor, who lives by the sea at St Ives, has a particular talent for making horse sculptures. One windy day, when the sea is rife with white horses, the sculptor decides to work outside and make a relief of a galloping horse at the beach. From sunrise to sunset, he works on the sand horse and receives a nice payment from the tourists. Once the day closes and the humans return home, the sand horse becomes conscious and asks a seagull about the noises coming from the sea. The seagull answers that he's hearing the white horses playing and the sand horse longs to join them. The feeling is mutual as the white horses call for him to join them and waves come crashing onto the beach to erase the sand horse's form and drag what's left into the sea. The sand horse refinds himself as a white horse and blissfully joins the herd on their run "to Sennen, Land's End, and Longships Light!" The next morning, the tourists are saddened that nothing is left of the beautiful sand horse, but his sculptor knows his creation is with the white horses now and happy for it.


The story can be read straightforwardly as a literary Fairy Tale, but there's a strong subtext dealing with death too. This turns up in how the sand horse's existence aligns with the passing of the day, how the sand horse's body gets destroyed piece by piece to make him an ethereal being, and how the humans react the next morning to the sand horse's disappearance.

"The Sand Horse" provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Afterlife Welcome: Whether the afterlife is literal or symbolical, the white horses don't just welcome the sand horse but somewhat insistently invite him to their herd.
  • Art Initiates Life: The sand horse is a sand sculpture that comes to life. It's all but outright said that this is a unique occurrence and no reason is given why specifically, among all of the sculptor's creations, it's the sand horse that comes to life. However, an interpretation is that the sand horse was infused with the essence of a white horse, because his creation was directly inspired by them and water from the sea at the time the white horses were playing was used to make the beach sand moldable.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: The sand horse is happy to be a free white horse and the sculptor is happy for him, but the sand horse is gone from St Ives and may very well never return.
  • Happily Married: The sand sculptor happily lives at the beach with his wife and baby. It's his wife who points out the white horses that inspire the sculptor to make a sand horse.
  • Herald: Shortly after coming to life, a seagull lands atop the sand horse. The sand horse asks them about the noise he hears coming from the sea, which the seagull explains are the ever-traveling white horses. The sand horse then
  • "Join Us" Drone: A non-malevolent version is provided by the white horses, who don't speak on an individual basis during the story. Of the four lines they have, three are "Come with us!" The vocal invitation is accompanied by the sea "grabbing" at the sand horse.
  • Living Statue: The sand horse is a sand sculpture that comes to life. Because he's only a relief, only half of him exists, he's stuck in place, and his view is limited to the sky.
  • Painful Transformation: Played with. While the transformation isn't said to be painful, the description of the sand horse's form being destroyed is pretty violent.


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