– Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
References to sand castles and their temporariness go back at least as far as 1843 (Memorials of Miss Mary Fishwick, of Springfield, Near Garsfang). Jimi Hendrix observed more recently that castles made of sand “fall in the sea, eventually” (1967).
In Atwood, the sand castle undergoes a double transformation: it is re-imagined as a doll made of sand, and as a toy brought to life. The latter is a familiar theme in children’s stories, from The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) to Corduroy (1968), not to mention “Puff the Magic Dragon” (1963):
A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.…
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
The plight of the toy who is brought to life and then abandoned seems pitiable because of an old storyteller’s trick. In fact, it’s the oldest trick in the book: persuading an audience to suspend disbelief and accept an imaginary life as real. The woman made of sand was never real; she existed only in the mind of the narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale – who herself was never real but only imagined by Margaret Atwood and her readers.
Photo: Cannon Beach (Bellevue, WA) by Curt Smith, via Wikipedia